We all know we need calcium for strong bones. However, recent headlines have pointed to concerns that calcium supplements may raise your risk of heart disease.

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Understanding Your Calcium Needs

Most of us rely on food sources to get the calcium we need. If your body doesn’t get enough calcium, it takes it from your bones, causing them to lose mass and become weaker over time. This can, in turn, lead to health problems such as osteoporosis.

Our calcium needs increase with age:

  • Women younger than 50 and men under 70 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily.
  • Women older than 50 and men older than 70 need 1,200 milligrams daily.
  • That amount should be spread throughout the day.

Your body also needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. That’s why many foods are fortified with both.

Calcium Supplements and Heart Health

Some people take supplements when they aren’t able to get enough calcium through food. There’s been some recent concern that supplements may hurt your heart health.

One study in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) found that people who took calcium supplements were more likely to develop heart disease. However, in the same study, people who had the highest calcium intake, even with the help of supplements, had lower rates of heart disease. It also found that those who took more than 1,400 milligrams of calcium per day through supplements had higher rates of heart disease and other problems.

In another study, the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Society for Preventive Cardiology brought a panel of experts together with an independent review team to analyze the impact of calcium on cardiovascular health. Based on their findings, both organizations believe that calcium intake from food or supplements will neither harm nor help improve cardiovascular health in generally healthy adults.

Feeling confused?

The primary concern with supplements is that they may cause more plaque to build up in your arteries, leading to heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. This may be because your body doesn’t know how to handle the supplements as well as it does calcium from food.

No studies have shown negative effects when getting calcium from food. In fact, the JAHA study found that those who met their calcium needs through food sources alone saw the most benefit and had a lower risk of developing heart disease.  Also note, the study was not designed to prove that the supplements were the cause of increased heart disease.  More research is needed to know for sure.

Getting Enough Calcium

Getting your calcium intake through food is always best. Pay attention to your diet and talk with your registered dietitian or doctor about where you might be falling short.

Change up your diet to include more calcium-rich foods, such as fat-free milk, low-fat cheese, yogurt, or green leafy vegetables. Also, include vitamin D sources (ex. fortified dairy, salmon, eggs) and get a little safe sun exposure to help you to use the calcium you take in.

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If you and your doctor feel you need a supplement, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends starting with a small dose of about 200 to 300 milligrams daily, taken with food. Work your way up to what’s needed. Your body is able to absorb small amounts at a time, taken throughout the day.

Calcium and vitamin D needs vary from person to person. Be sure to talk with your doctor about your risk for heart disease and osteoporosis to decide what’s best for you. Supplements should always be used with the advice of your doctor to make sure they don’t interfere with any other medications you’re taking.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.