Following the publication of research suggesting calcium supplements could increase the risk of heart attack, the industry responded with the assertion that the research was “cherry picked.”


According to the authors of the study published in the British Medical Journal, the findings indicate that while calcium supplementation is helpful in treating osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), calcium should be reconsidered in the treatment of osteoporosis, due to their finding a link with an increased incidence of heart attacks.


Calcium supplements are often recommended to enhance bone health, but a recent clinical trial suggested they might increase the number of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems in healthy older women.


To investigate further, New Zealand’s University of Auckland’s Ian Reid, led a group of  international researchers. They reviewed 11 independent clinical studies with a total of 12,000 patients.


They determined that calcium supplements is associated with almost a 30 percent rise in the risk for having a heart attack.


The possibility of having a stroke and dying also increased, but to a lesser extent.


They also found the relationship was present in all of the trials and it was independent of age, sex, and type of calcium supplement.


While the added risk is modest for any individual, the widespread use of calcium supplements could translate into a significantly larger disease burden across an entire population, the authors warn.


Previous studies have found that upping calcium intake through changes in diet does not increase cardiovascular problems, suggesting that the risks are restricted to supplements.


While spokespersons for the Natural Products Association (NPA) and the Scientific & Regulatory Affairs for the Council for Responsible (CRN) nutrition noted the study’s results are contradictory to years of research that’s demonstrated the benefits of calcium supplementation.  Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., VP of scientific regulatory affairs for NPA suggested that the investigators, ‘cherry picked’ the studies from hundreds of available ones in the area.


The CRN notes, that these conclusions are overstated. According to Dr. Andrew Shao, the organization’s Senior VP of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, “Seven of the 15 trials evaluated had no or incomplete data on cardiovascular outcomes, and on 5 of the 15 studies accounted for almost all of the cardiovascular outcomes.  Further, the researchers chose to exclude any trials administering calcium plus vitamin D- including the Women’s Health Initiative, which found calcium plus vitamin D had no effect on the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.”


He went on to ad, that “ Meta-analysis can be a useful tool for scientific evaluation, but we have to recognize its limitations, and keep in mind that its findings are based on a collection of past studies that may have different designs, doses and study populations.”