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Are calcium supplements a good idea?

Published : Friday May 25, 2012 | Posted in : General Health

As we grow older our bone density tends to decrease, however, ensuring that you build bone density while your bones are still growing can reduce the loss of bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis, as we age. It’s generally recommended by health experts that people consume a sufficient amount of calcium in their diet or, if they aren’t getting enough calcium, take supplements. However, research has shown that calcium supplements don’t provide a high benefit and can actually increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease.

So if calcium supplements are potentially placing our lives at risk, should it not be up to our health service to investigate further and review their recommendations? Recent research published in the medical journal Heart has found that the risk of heart attacks is significantly increased in people who take calcium supplements. The researchers followed 24,000 middle-aged and elderly German people for a total of eleven years and discovered that calcium supplements significantly increased their risk of developing heart attacks. The researchers consequently recommend that people should take care when taking calcium supplements. There has also been other research that shows a similar correlation between calcium and heart attacks.

Although the NHS claims that there is no direct risk to people taking too much calcium, it does recommend that people try and get their calcium from the food they consume and that supplements should be the last resort. This is the standard advice for any kind of supplement being taken, to avoid too much entering the system. This is because the body metabolises vitamins and minerals consumed naturally through the food so much better, which means that it can provide more of a benefit overall.

How good is taking vitamins and minerals supplements really for us? Nobody is saying that we should take them, but people choose to on the basis that they feel that they should somehow use extra supplements to provide extra benefits. This isn’t true; your body will use and the rest goes to waste. In the case of calcium, this excess can build up in arteries, increasing the risk of blockages and damage to healthy arteries. This tends to happen most often in the coronary arteries of the heart. As we age this becomes more likely and scientists have known this for years, which is why it’s hardly surprising that calcium supplements could pose a risk to your health. So ideally we should be taking in calcium more naturally to benefit our bone density. It’s recommended that a person take in 700mg of calcium a day and below is a table of foods and their calcium content:

Food Calcium content
Glass of semi-skimmed milk297mg
30g of Cheddar cheese204mg
Half cup of humus 64mg
Cup of orange juice22mg
Four sardines with bones242mg
Half a cup of firm, uncooked tofu258mg
A tablespoon of dried sesame seeds88mg
One cup of rasberries27mg

These are just examples of some of the many foods that contain calcium, although you should speak to your doctor if you are currently taking calcium supplements and worried about their effects. The information in the study mentioned may be subject to further research to further validate the findings, however it's always a good idea to get the nutrients needed from a balanced diet, rather than supplements.

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