Based on a lack of clear evidence, experts from the National Osteoporosis Foundation and American Society for Preventive Cardiology declare that calcium has no proven impact on risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke or death.
Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, this statement addressed the impact of calcium, both in food and/or supplements, on cardiovascular health. Some studies have found that calcium may help prevent heart disease, while others suggest that higher levels of calcium intake could harm heart health. While calcium is critical for bone health, mixed messages have left many patients confused about whether to take supplements or to change calcium intake in their diet.
To help resolve this important issue, the National Osteoporosis Foundation and American Society for Preventive Cardiology put together an expert panel to review all available evidence. Evidence included relevant studies published in peer-reviewed journals as of July 2016.
After reviewing findings, experts ultimately decided that there is moderate-quality evidence that calcium has no effect—good or bad—on risk for heart disease and death. So, healthy patients taking calcium supplements for bone health shouldn’t stop taking them for fear of negative cardiovascular effects. And healthy patients shouldn’t increase calcium intake in hopes of improving heart health, since evidence on the association is unclear.
Authors also state that consuming up to the recommended amount of calcium, defined by the National Academy of Medicine as 2,000–2,500 mg a day, is safe from a cardiovascular standpoint.
However, there are some important details to consider regarding these new guidelines. First, their statement applies to healthy adults—meaning calcium intake appears to have no clear impact on heart health in adults without heart disease. Calcium can have different effects in patients with existing health conditions, so it’s always best to discuss any concerns about calcium intake with a provider. Experts also note that while calcium supplements can be used to correct shortfalls in intake, getting calcium from food sources is always preferred. Thus, if we can get enough calcium from items like dairy and vegetables, it’s recommended over taking supplements.