Warning: The ‘widely used’ mineral supplement that increases the risk of a heart attack

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Many Britons take dietary supplements to top up their daily intake of vitamins and minerals. While this may seem benign, you should be able to get all the nourishment you need via your diet. In fact, taking dietary supplements may not only prove superfluous – it may also prove harmful.

Mounting evidence suggests taking calcium supplements can increase your risk of a cardiovascular event.

One of the most worrying studies to date was conducted by the BMJ in 2007.

Researchers conducted a meta-analysis on studies of calcium supplementation.

To do this, they sifted through several databases to find eligible studies.

These studies were randomised, placebo controlled trials of calcium supplements, with 100 or more participants of mean age more than 40 years and study duration more than one year.

The lead authors of eligible trials supplied data. Cardiovascular outcomes were obtained from self reports, hospital admissions, and death certificates.

During their meta-analysis, a worrying trend emerged. In the five studies contributing patient data, 143 people allocated to calcium had a myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, compared with 111 allocated to placebo.

The meta-analysis of trial data showed similar results: 296 people had a myocardial infarction (166 allocated to calcium, 130 to placebo), with an increased incidence of myocardial infarction in those allocated to calcium.

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The researchers concluded: “Calcium supplements (without co-administered vitamin D) are associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction.

“As calcium supplements are widely used these modest increases in risk of cardiovascular disease might translate into a large burden of disease in the population.”

Additional evidence

This is not the first or last study to find an association between calcium supplementation and cardiovascular events.

A recent BMJ study sought to identify the associations between supplemental calcium and vitamin D with mortality and progression of aortic stenosis (AS).

Aortic valve stenosis — or aortic stenosis — occurs when the heart’s aortic valve narrows.

The valve doesn’t open fully, which reduces or blocks blood flow from your heart into the main artery to your body (aorta) and to the rest of your body.

In this retrospective longitudinal study, patients aged 60 and above with mild-moderate aortic stenosis were selected from the Cleveland Clinic Echocardiography Database from 2008 to 2016 and followed until 2018.

Groups were divided into no supplementation, supplementation with vitamin D alone and supplementation with calcium and vitamin D.

The researchers concluded: “Supplemental calcium with or without vitamin D is associated with lower survival and greater AVR in elderly patients with mild-moderate AS.”

How to top up your calcium intake

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, you should be able to get all the calcium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

“If you take calcium supplements, do not take too much as this could be harmful.

Calcium can be found in the following foods:

  • Milk, cheese and other dairy foods
  • Green leafy vegetables – such as curly kale, okra but not spinach (spinach does contain high levels of calcium but the body cannot digest it all)
  • Soya drinks with added calcium
  • Bread and anything made with fortified flour
  • Fish where you eat the bones – such as sardines and pilchards.

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