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Calcium Supplements May Increase Heart Attack Risk

August 2, 2010

This semester was my first nutrition class in my master’s degree. I learned a lot about macronutrients and micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, deficiency and toxicity. But one of the points that kept coming up again and again is that nutrient supplements are not the same as nutrients in food.

1. It’s almost impossible overdose on vitamins and minerals in food, but not difficult to do with supplements.

2. Your body uses the nutrients in food more effectively. Nutrients in food are packaged perfectly with substances that help in absorption.

3. You don’t know what you need…but your body does. Most people taking nutrient supplements don’t actually know what or how much of those nutrients they actually need. If you get your fix from food, your body is supplied with the right amounts at the right rate.

There are definitely times when supplements come in handy. People who can’t eat a balanced diet because of disease often benefit from supplements…the ones determined to be medically necessary by a professional not the ones they *guess* might help. Pregnant women and infants also need a few supps for temporarily increased nutrient needs.

For the rest of us, it’s better to get what we need by using meals as an opportunity to have some lean protein, whole grains and fruit/veg. If these are the basis of your diet, you will be pretty well covered. A diet assessment we did in class even led me to ditch my multivitamin – I was already getting far beyond the recommended levels of nutrients in my diet from the foods I eat.

Diet-based nutrients present all of the benefits and none of the risks of vitamin supplements. The news today is that calcium supplements may increase heart attack risk. But guess what? The same amount of calcium from foods shows no increase in risk at all.

Calcium is so crucial to health that the FDA recommends THREE CUPS of milk per day for every person over the age of 9. Most of us aren’t getting that and have been trying to make up for it with pills. I think this really drives home the point that we need to focus on what we are eating. If our food doesn’t have the nutrients we need, getting them somewhere else is not an option.

Are you taking supplements to get the nutrients you need? How many cups of milk are you putting down a day? Can Americans be convinced to get their nutrients from food instead of from a pill bottle?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2010 8:22 am

    Why is the calcium in a supplement different? I eat a calcium-supplement chew when I remember to, because I know I’m not getting enough in my diet.

  2. August 3, 2010 3:10 pm

    I don’t think it is chemically different, it’s just delivered in a different manner. A lot of the problems we have with nutrition stem from the fact that our bodies haven’t caught up to the food that’s available. We haven’t been getting megadoses of calcium for long enough to make an adaptation that would allow us to use a large quantity of isolated vitamin in an efficient (and safe) manner.

    The study shows an increased risk of heart attack, which may be of more or less concern to you based on your personal risk factors. Same goes for osteoporosis which might result if you don’t get enough calcium.

    If you can, try to get your calcium through dietary sources. Milk isn’t the only source out there but it’s a pretty good one since calcium needs vitamin D to be absorbed.

    If you can’t meet recommended levels, you’ll have to weigh your personal risks of heart attack and bone loss (gender, age, family history, lifestyle).

    Thanks for your comment!


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