For more than twenty years, combinations of a range of nutrients such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, boron, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin K2, folates and Vitamin B6, have been essential for maintaining bone health. Why suddenly does the BMJ question calcium supplements? It is the favoured treatment for osteoporosis.
The BMJ review of 11 trials involving 12,000 people, found those taking calcium supplements equal to 500mg or more per day had a 27 per cent greater chance of suffering a heart attack, compared with people not taking them.
However, very important factors have been left out of the media reports and indeed also from the meta analysis. These include:
1. A careful review of the 11 studies in the trial data, reveals that subjects had very low levels of vitamin D3, an essential nutrient that protects against heart attack. Vitamin D is also important for the absorption of calcium and it is often recommended that the two are taken in conjunction with each other. Indeed, calcium supplements are rarely recommended in isolation.
Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to increase cardiovascular risk and since vitamin D insufficiency was observed in the trial data, the finding of an increase in heart attack risk is not surprising.
2. Major clinical trials showing that those with higher calcium intakes have significantly lower cardiovascular disease rates, were not included in the BMJ meta-analysis. The data from these excluded studies showed:
• Calcium supplementation, as well as dietary calcium, reduces blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
• Calcium supplementation increases the ratio of high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the ‘good’ form of cholesterol) to low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the ‘bad’ form of cholesterol) by almost 20 per cent in healthy postmenopausal women.
• Calcium supplementation reduces body weight and promotes reductions in blood pressure in ageing women.
The exclusion of calcium trials (like the ones mentioned above) showing the beneficial effects of calcium supplements on cardiovascular disease risk (as well as blood pressure and body weight) suggests author bias and in effect makes the findings of the BMJ report flawed and incomplete. In fact, the Council for Responsible Nutrition has already highlighted the limitations of this type of analysis.
Most of all, it deceives the public, and the next thing we’ll have is an osteoporosis epidemic!
It is important to remember that osteoporosis is rarely treated with calcium in isolation, because osteoporosis is a complex disease whose development often involves multiple factors.
A characteristic of normal ageing involves calcification in soft tissues throughout the body such as heart valves, glands, and blood vessels.
One can be forgiven for thinking that dietary calcium is the culprit behind this calcification process. However, as we age, we lose our ability to regulate calcium balance and suffer the lethal consequences of systemic calcification.
Arterial calcification and osteoporosis often occur simultaneously in postmenopausal women – called the “calcification paradox”. This is why ageing people, in particular women, should supplement with vitamin K. Vitamin K regulates a protein (matrix Gla-protein) in the arteries and protects against arterial calcification.
The importance of vitamin K, along with vitamin D, for bone and cardiovascular health was not discussed by the BMJ meta- analysis.
Along with vitamin K and vitamin D, magnesium and potassium are also crucial for calcium absorption, and deficiencies in vitamin D and magnesium in particular, are unfortunately widespread. These nutrients often prove to be vital in strengthening and maintaining bone health. They enable optimum absorption of calcium already present within a reasonable diet.
Weight-bearing exercises are also important for maintaining bone health, and the avoidance of high protein intakes. A high protein diet, typical in western countries, generates excess acid, which necessitates vital neutralisation through the use of sacrificial calcium, which the body will obtain from bone tissue. Fruit and vegetable intake, providing alkaline potassium salts, are recommended in order to offset any possible bone-damaging excess acidity.
Ridiculously, among the side-effects of a new osteoporosis drug called Prolia, was the risk that it can cause calcium levels to drop, cutting back on the mineral the bones need most. Other side effects included risk of serious infections leading to hospitalisation, including heart infections!
With the mainstream bashing proven natural supplements and Big Pharma producing new drugs that end-up causing the very problems they’re designed to treat, where does this leave osteoporosis sufferers?