Calcium supplements may increase risk of heart problems in osteoporosis patients

While health experts almost universally recommend that Americans with osteoporosis take calcium and vitamin D supplements, recent research suggests that this regimen may increase the risk of heart problems for elderly women with the bone disease.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that among female patients who had not previously begun calcium and vitamin D supplementation, initiating such a regimen increased their likelihood of adverse cardiac events, especially heart attacks, by between 13 and 22 percent.

Researchers came to this conclusion after examining data collected in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Calcium/Vitamin D Supplementation Study, which was conducted among more than 36,000 females between the ages of 50 and 79.



Previous findings had indicated that as a preventative measure or treatment for osteoporosis, calcium and vitamin D supplementation has no significant side effects.



However, the authors of the new study noticed that many women who responded to the WHI investigation had already been taking calcium supplements prior to being surveyed.

In order to control for this factor, scientists from the University of Auckland reexamined the WHI report and calculated the risk of adverse health effects solely for women who had started taking supplements for the first time.

The team discovered that among this group of participants, the risk of cardiovascular events increased by approximately one-fifth.

For aging women with osteoporosis who began vitamin supplementation for the first time, the likelihood of heart attack increased by 21 percent and the risk of stroke by 20 percent. Researchers theorized that the sudden increase in blood levels of calcium may have contributed to arterial calcification, in which the blood vessels harden over time.

That being said, an editorial published in the same issue of the journal noted that multiple studies have reached contradictory conclusions on this topic, pointing to the need for further scrutiny of the issue.

Many healthcare professionals note that the benefits of taking calcium and vitamin D supplements appear to outweigh the risks, particularly in individuals with advanced osteoporosis.

Adults over age 50 should consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium and between 800 and 1,000 international units of vitamin D each day, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
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