Don't Take Calcium!

June 17, 2013

Calcium, Why You Shouldn't Take it Anymore 

 Reference.  Bolland: British Medical Journal 2011 

 Heart attacks with Vitamin D and Calcium!  Help.  We thought those things were necessary for good health.  Just about everyone thinks they have to take calcium.  The advice is so widespread, and calcium supplementation is so ubiquitous that it’s hard to find someone who isn’t taking calcium.  I’ve taken it for over 10 years. This study, published two years ago, was a new look at the Women’s Health Initiative data looking at some 37,000 women and combining that data with eight other studies that looked at the issue of calcium and heart attacks.  

The meta-analysis of all the studies taken together provided the statistical power to be “significant” and therefore considered scientifically valid.  We take calcium for bone health.  Calcium ends up in coronary arteries instead.  Now, the effect of the calcium seemed to be independent of the use of Vitamin D.   I would think so because the amount of D they were taking was 400 IU.  400 IU of Vit D will raise your blood level about 4 ng if you take it consistently.  It’s the same amount of D you will make on your own with 24 seconds of sunshine in June.  

My read is that the D effect is completely unrelated, and indeed, the studies found it to be nonconnected because it happened to folks with or without the D.  The dose of D was too small to make a meaningful difference.  But the calcium is disturbing. The net effect was that the extra supplementation of a gram of calcium resulted in 3 fewer broken bones per thousand women per 5 years, and 6  MORE heart attacks.   

Oops.  What does this mean?  It means that taking calcium is not really helpful when you look at it in isolation and combine all its effects. Of course, I want fewer broken bones, but heart attacks kill too.  We get plenty of calcium in our diets.  Force-feeding ourselves more is not natural.   In many indigenous societies, calcium consumption is on the order of 20% of what we have in America, with denser bones and fewer fractures. 

 My interpretation of this study is that it is extremely important and a seminal study.  It indicates the critical importance of understanding all of human physiology.  I was stumped when it came out.  The Vitamin K2 story turns on the lights and gives us a whole new insight.   For calcium to end up in bones, we have to have activated osteocalcin.  Vitamin D stimulates the production of osteocalcin, but it is not activated until we take K2.  Same story with calcium in coronary arteries. We now know that K2 activates matrix GLA protein that effectively chelates calcium and pulls it out of coronary arteries.  

This study in the BMJ does not look at Vit K2.  If we did it all over again and had K2 measures in it, I would hazard the premise that K2 would explain both the extra heart attack and the more broken bones.  We don’t know that for sure until it’s done.  Hold onto your seat belts. This will be the story of the 2020s.  This is how research moves forward.  A new light gets turned on and we have to reconsider the whole kit and caboodle. 

 WWW. What will work for me?  Stop taking your calcium.  Did you get that?  Stop.  Yes, I mean stop.  Last week we gave evidence that it’s magnesium you need to supplement with.  Reread the COMB study.  It combines fish oil, D, K2, strontium, and magnesium with no added calcium.  Calcium you should get from food.  Eat spinach.  And take K2 (or drink lots of grass raised milk).  No kidding.  No added calcium beyond vegetables and food.

 Pop Quiz 

 1.  When you take added calcium you get how many extra heart attacks per 1000 women every 5 years?  ________ Six 

 2.  And taking that calcium does prevent broken bones?  T or F                          Answer. True 

 3.  Ratio of heart attacks to broken bones is?                                  Answer:  2 to 1 

 4.  This study is very significant because Vitamin K2 was included in the study. T or F             Answer:  False. K2 is a whole new ball game and may, in fact, explain the conundrum.

 5.  The COMB study gave women added calcium and magnesium from vegetables.   T or F Answer:   Backwards.  The COMB study gave magnesium as a supplement and got calcium from vegetables and dairy. 

 6.  The protective effect of K2 is proven to a level of scientific validity?  T or F                        Answer:  True, is you are willing to accept smaller studies. But we likely will be better served with larger and more complete studies.  For example, this one should be redone, with K2 taken into account.  K2 may explain the whole shebang.

The Column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, 53122