Calcium and Heart Disease

Calcium and Heart Disease:
Reason for Caution

Recent medical studies have raised concern about the link between calcium and heart disease, especially for women after menopause. While the experts are still debating the exact significance of the findings, the news almost immediately began changing the way doctors were recommending calcium supplements for bone health.

And here’s why: preliminary evidence over 2 years ago began to show that older women who took calcium for bone health had an increased risk of heart attacks. In order to confirm those surprising findings, the researchers looked at the medical records of over 12,000 people and found a 20 – 30% increase in risk of heart attacks in those who were taking calcium supplements for bone health. Specifically, the supplement of concern was over 500 mg of calcium, and it was not combined with vitamin D.


Why would there be a link between calcium and heart disease anyway? Researchers are not sure still of all the ways they are linked, but one thing has been well known for a long time. As the inside of an artery becomes increasingly clogged with atherosclerotic plaque, the layer becomes calcified, that is hardened with calcium deposits. The hardening, calcification, takes away the necessary elasticity of the artery which allows it to function in a healthy way at different pressures.

While the link between calcium and heart disease has been raised, I want you to remember that this has only been shown for supplements, not for foods. Eating a calcium rich diet for bone health is still a good thing, and safer than getting your calcium from pills. Experts recommend somewhere around 1200 mg per day of calcium from foods for people over the age of 51. This is not only safe, but actually quite healthy. Remember too that it does not need to come from milk, as there are many excellent non-dairy sources of calcium.

Remember also that other dietary factors play key roles in the prevention of heart disease: maintaining a lean body mass, avoiding high blood sugar and foods that lead to it, avoiding trans-fats and excess saturated fats in the diet, and enjoying plenty of healthy fats and oils such as olive oil and fish oils. Along with regular physical activity and avoiding cigarette smoke, a heart healthy diet (such as the Mediterranean Diet) is the best approach for avoiding heart disease.

Whether you are male or female, heart attack prevention starts with a heart healthy lifestyle. But it appears now that especially for older women, taking calcium supplements without vitamin D may add to risk. As research evolves, the link between calcium and heart disease will become more clear; but for now, if you must take calcium as a supplement, make sure you take it along with vitamin D, and ask you doctor for specific recommendations.


To your health and wellness,




Robert Pendergrast, M.D.

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Medical disclaimer: While these heart attack prevention guidelines will reduce risk of heart disease events whether you have diagnosed heart disease already or not, they are intended to be followed in addition to your usual medical care. If you are already on medications for diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, please continue these and follow your doctor’s advice on treatment. If you have been told you are in need of diagnostic testing such as a stress test, please get it done. The guidelines presented here are not meant to substitute for your medical care..