Calcium and Heart Disease Risk

June 11, 2012

Calcium and Heart Disease Risk 

 Reference:  Rohrmann, Heart, May 23, 2012 ,  BMJ Heart

 Finally, we are beginning to debunk the calcium myth!  We have been so simplistic, it’s just painful to watch.  Our bones are white, calcium carbonate is white, ergo: calcium must be good for you.  If you eat it, it will work.  That has been the level of our logic when it comes to bone and calcium.  We have recommended for years that you take calcium to make your bones stronger.  And indeed, there is a tiny shred of evidence that it helps for bone strength.  

But, women in most of the world consume as little as 25% of the calcium we consume in America and have denser bones with as few as 1/80th the number of fractured hips.  Our frantic consumption of calcium just leads us down the road of constipation and more broken hips. 

 But this study was about heart disease and calcium.  What Dr. Rohrmann found was that calcium in food may lower heart disease risk, calcium in supplement form made it worse.  Following 24,000 people for eleven years with 354 heart attacks, 260 strokes and 267 deaths from cardiovascular disease, this study was part of the huge EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) study.  Folks who ate a moderate amount of calcium in their diet from natural food sources did better.  Moderate meant about 860 mg a day.  But folks who took a supplement of calcium had an 86% increase risk of heart attack. 

 What’s the truth to parse out of this study?   Before I get 100 panicked emails from readers who want to know what to do?  Bone health is all about vegetables.  The truth is that bones need much more than calcium, but vegetables are a great source of calcium.  In fact, when you compare 500 calories of animal products such as beef, pork, chicken and milk versus 500 calories of spinach, limas, potatoes, tomatoes, and peas you get 252 mg in the animal products but 545 mg of calcium in the plants.  But the plants also give you 548 mg of magnesium versus 51 and on and on with virtually every nutrient needed for bones.  Plants contain more!  Vegetables give you all 17 critical nutrients needed for bone except B12. 

 Finally, vegetables don’t make you acidic.  Animals net acid load requires buffering capacity and your buffer is calcium bicarbonate from your bones.  We have now measured the net acid load from eating meat, eggs, milk and cheese.  For every gram of animal you eat, you lose 1 mg of calcium from your bones.  You can’t eat enough calcium to make up for what you lose by eating all that acid.  If you have a bathtub that’s running empty, you don’t bring in a second hose to refill it, you first plug up the drain.  What’s still not explained is how the Inuit have healthy bones…… 

 WWW:  What will work for me.  If you want healthy strong bones, you eat spinach, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, and less cheese, meat, milk.  And this study says, you shouldn’t take calcium supplements.  I suspect the folks who took the supplements had the best intentions.  Let’s stop the misguiding.  Popeye and Olive Oil had it right. When you stop your calcium supplement, reach for the frozen spinach instead.

Pop Quiz

1.   Europeans who take a calcium supplement have fewer heart attacks.   T or F.         Answer: False.  They have more heart attacks.

2.   If you want supplemental calcium for your bones, where should you get it from?  Animal products or plants.                         Answer:  Hands down Plants.

3.    Why are plants better for bones?                       Answer: their biological ash is alkaline whereas animals ash is acid. The acid sucks bicarb out of bone. Calcium follows.

4.    Which food source has the most bioavailable calcium: Milk or Spinach?                 Answer: spinach

Column written by Dr John E Whitcob, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI