Are calcium pills really killing us?

Is there anything sacred anymore? For years researchers have stressed that people are not getting sufficient calcium to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis (brittle bones). But now a research report claims that calcium supplements increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Nevertheless, a largely unknown vitamin can prevent this tragedy.

Dr. Ian Reid and his colleagues at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, studied 14,000 women who were taking 1,000 mg (milligrams) of calcium daily. They report in the British Medical Journal that these women showed a 31% increased risk of coronary attack, stroke and death. This means 14 extra heart attacks, 10 more strokes and 13 more deaths over a two- to five-year-period than women not taking calcium pills.

Why does this happen? Dr. Reid says that people look on calcium supplements as a natural remedy. But that is not the case as the supplement has a different effect on the body than dietary calcium. His studies show that when people take calcium pills, their blood calcium level shoots up for four to six hours to the top end of the normal range. This may result in calcium being deposited in coronary arteries. It does not happen with dietary calcium since food is slowly absorbed.

This is shocking news as, unlike some supplements, there’s never been a major controversy about taking calcium. So should North Americans stop popping calcium pills?

Not so quick, says Dr. Dawson-Hughes, director of Tuft’s University Bone Metabolism Laboratory, in Boston. She points out that there were 143 heart attacks in the calcium group and 111 in the placebo group not taking this supplement. Not a huge difference.

Hughes adds that the most glowing error was not including studies where calcium was taken along with Vitamin D. For instance, the Women’s Health Initiative, a major New England study, showed taking calcium along with Vitamin D had no effect on the risk of heart attack or stroke. According to Dr. Dawson-Hughes, on no occasion should calcium be taken without also taking Vitamin D, as this vitamin is crucial to putting calcium into bone where it should be.

But does taking Vitamin D solve the problem? Not so fast again, says Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, an expert on natural health remedies. In her book Vitamin K2 and The Calcium Paradox, she reports calcium must remain in the bones just as gasoline belongs in the tanks of our cars. And that there is a safe way for both sexes to take calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis without succumbing to heart attack.

Unlike most physicians, Rheaume-Bleue says it’s not saturated fat and cholesterol that cause heart attacks. Rather, the culprit is a lack of the little known Vitamin K2. She agrees that Vitamin D is necessary for the intestinal absorption of calcium. But once in the circulation, D lets calcium, like a raging bull, run wild, allowing it to be deposited in the heart, thus causing an increase in coronary attack.

She says Vitamin K2 fights the nation’s number one killer by putting calcium into bones and teeth where it belongs and keeps it out of arteries. For instance, if calcium enters the wall of the aorta, the largest artery that carries blood to the rest of the body, this causes increased risk of rupture and sudden death.

Most people get adequate amounts of Vitamin K1 present in leafy vegetables, green tea and soy beans. But many lack K2 because its major source is steamed and fermented sticky soy, not an enticing breakfast meal. The second best source is cheese.

All researchers believe it’s best to get calcium from dietary sources. But if a dietary deficiency exists, don’t stop calcium supplements as it’s now possible to protect bones from osteoporosis and your heart from calcium infiltration. Rather, make certain you take 3,000 milligrams of Vitamin D along with 100 micrograms of Vitamin K2. It’s available in most health food stores.

If you have had a stroke or are using a blood thinner, you should check with your doctor before taking Vitamin K2.

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