I don’t worry much about vitamins. I take a big ol’ multivitamin every day and eat a lot of fruits and veggies, so I’m reasonably certain I’m covered when it comes to A, B, C, et al. But my multivitamins only have half the recommended daily allowance of calcium for a woman my age, and I do worry about that. My grandmother spent the last few years of her life in a wheelchair, unable to stand on her brittle bones; my dad, in his last year or so, broke bones with startling regularity. I’d like to avoid those fates. It’s hard, though, when you don’t drink milk, don’t eat yogurt, don’t like cheese all that much. You have to eat a lot of broccoli, at 21 milligrams of calcium per serving, to hit the target 1,200 milligrams a day. It doesn’t help that in the initial post-menopause years, women frequently lose three to five percent of their total bone mass every year. So—calcium supplements, right?
Not so fast. Back in 2010, a meta-analysis by the Women’s Health Initiative indicated a link between calcium supplements and heart attacks. Some scientists carped at the methodology, however, and as of Monday, the National Institutes of Health website stated: “The recent suggestions of potential harm from calcium supplements to the cardiovascular system have generated debate within the scientific community. Further investigation is needed, but overall, the totality of evidence to date does not support a link between calcium and cardiovascular disease risk.“
That statement may be revised in the wake of a brand-new study done in Sweden, with results published by BMJ Group. Researchers at Uppsala University followed more than 60,000 women born between 1914 and and 1948 for over an average of 19 years apiece. Their study found the highest death rates occurred among those whose calcium consumption was more than 1,400 milligrams a day. In fact, those women were twice as likely to die compared to women whose intake lay between 600 and 999 milligrams. Women whose consumption was higher than 1,400 milligrams a day and who took supplements had a higher death rate than those whose intakes were that high but who didn’t use supplements. The most common cause of death: cardiovascular disease.
For the more than 60 percent of American women who are middle-aged or older and taking calcium supplements, this is serious news. The researchers say it appears too much calcium wreaks havoc on the body’s natural system of checks and balances for levels of calcium in the blood, and that affects the heart. They suggest that physicians focus on bringing up the calcium levels of women who are getting less than the RDA, and not getting the rest of us to swallow more. This appears to be one very real instance in which too much of a good thing is bad.