Integrative Health Blog

What to Know Before You Take Calcium Supplements

Posted by admin on Wed, May 11, 2011

by CE Gant MD, PhD

Calcium supplements may increase heart risk. 

So what can you do for your bones?

I have never been comfortable prescribing calcium supplements, so over the last 35 years of practicing integrative and functional medicine I have not generally recommended them.  If my patients want to supplement with calcium though, I usually don’t object, since I want to support their efforts to be healthier.  It seems that the longer I practice medicine, the more likely it becomes that my clinical intuition ultimately gets scientific support, and now we have fairly conclusive evidence coming to us from the British Medical Journal (BMJ)  that calcium supplements "modestly" increase cardiovascular risk, and their use in managing osteoporosis “ought to be reexamined.”

Researchers first examined data from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study on calcium and vitamin D supplementation. They found that half the participants were taking personal calcium supplements at randomization, whether they were assigned to calcium plus vitamin D or placebo.

Among the women not taking personal supplements at randomization, assignment to calcium supplements was associated with increased risk for cardiovascular events. When data on those women were combined with data from eight other randomized trials, calcium remained a source of risk. The authors estimate that treating 1000 people with calcium supplements for 5 years would lead to six additional MIs (heart attacks) or strokes (that’s a lot! – its 6,000 per 1 million women!), while preventing only three fractures!  Hey, if you give me a choice, I’ll go with the fractures any day – at least I would still be alive.

Bones Need More than Calcium

First of all, calcium is but one of 16 nutrients needed for bone formation, as has been pointed out by my friend Dr. Susan Brown in her book “Better Bones Better Body.”  Also, if one is eating lots of stuff which grows from the earth (called vegetables), especially the organic variety, one should be getting plenty of calcium.  Now that the whole world has figured out that many of us need 5000 iu of vitamin D3 a day, the needed calcium should be getting into everyone’s body more efficiently.

More Help for Osteoporosis

Calcium is often taken to prevent or treat osteoporosis, but I have found that 3 other kinds of interventions are much more important and may even reverse osteoporosis. 

1)  Progesterone supplementation at about 25 mg. a day as a transdermal cream is much more important than estrogen.  Progesterone can be purchased over the counter, it opposes the carcinogenic potential of estrogen metabolites, and progesterone is the precursor for testosterone and cortisol, which are stress hormones.  If it is supplemented postmenopausally, you will need to get your blood levels (simple conventional lab test) up to around 2.0 to start growing new bone effectively. 

2) Exercise, which stresses the little cells laying down new bone and tells them to get to work. 

3) Managing ones pH, which usually entails eating more alkaline foods. Get more green vegetables, fruit, almond milk and green tea into your diet.

Even more problematic though, and the reason I never liked calcium supplementation, is that it may be a factor in coating the insides of arteries (hardening of the arteries).  Having chelated thousands of patients with EDTA, which helps to reverse the number one killer, arterial disease, by helping to remove the “metastatic calcium,” I have wondered as post-menopausal women enter the heart disease risk phase of their life, if calcium would be doing more harm than good.  Now the evidence from the BMJ is in, and I don’t have to wonder anymore.

Eat lots of veggies, exercise, use a little progesterone and get your pH (acid base) up to about 6.5, and your bones should do well.  A bone scan done every few years should improve.  You can also see the positive changes by getting a relatively inexpensive urine test every 6 weeks or so, called a bone resorption assay.  Once that test is in the normal ranges, you can be pretty sure that the bone density will improve. If these measures ultimately don’t get results, that usually means you have some quirky genes (called polymorphisms) which are easily tested.  Any quirky genetic expressions can then be modified and subsequent bone resorption testing and dexa scans should prove success in reversing osteoporosis.

Topics: supplements, heart disease