The Jury is Still Out on Calcium Supplements

The jury is still out on calcium supplements

by Margery Gass

Recently, women trying to keep their bones healthy by taking calcium supplements got what seemed like bad news. Last May, a widely reported study linked calcium supplements with an increased risk of heart attack. Then in June, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) put out a draft recommendation on calcium and vitamin D supplements that did not send a positive message. Women started calling their menopause practitioners asking if they should stop taking their supplements. But only days later, another widely publicized study concluded that calcium and vitamin D supplementation cut the risk of death.

So who’s right? Well, maybe that’s the wrong question because, even though these events made big news, we can’t draw firm conclusions yet. So don’t stop taking your calcium supplement just yet. Perhaps take a cue from the conclusion that the National Osteoporosis Foundation drew from this and much more research—that you try to meet your daily calcium needs through diet first and take a calcium supplement if you aren’t getting enough.

Do calcium supplements have risks?

Calcium supplements aren't for everyone. For instance, if you have a health condition that causes excess calcium in your bloodstream (hypercalcemia), you should avoid calcium supplements.

It's not definitive, but there may be a link between calcium supplements and heart disease. The evidence is mixed and more research is needed before doctors know the effect calcium supplements may have on heart attack risk.

A similar controversy surrounds calcium and prostate cancer. Some studies have shown that high calcium intake from dairy products and supplements may increase risk, whereas another more recent study showed no increased risk of prostate cancer associated with total calcium, dietary calcium or supplemental calcium intakes.

Until more is known about these possible risks, it's important to be careful to avoid excessive amounts of calcium. As with any health issue, it's important to talk to your doctor to determine what's right for you.