ANDERSON, Ind. —
Doctors and medical organizations are somewhat in limbo when it comes to advising women on dietary and supplemental calcium because of a recent spate of conflicting studies weighing its effect on heart health.
Women often are encouraged to consume adequate calcium for the proper bone formation of a fetus while pregnant and to promote their own bone health later in life.
Dr. Chad Feldman, board certified invasive cardiologist at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital, said further study of the role played by calcium in the heart health of women is crucial.
“Calcium is not only important for the heart. It’s an ion that’s important for many different processes,” he said.
Recent studies conducted by researchers throughout the world have come to a wide number of conclusions when it comes to too much calcium or its source:
- A Harvard University study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition appears to demonstrate no link between the use of supplements and hardening of the arteries.
- A study published in the journal Heart by Zurich University’s Institute for Social and Preventative Medicine reported mineral changes caused by calcium in blood vessels that could double the risk of heart attack.
- The British Medical Journal reported women with calcium intakes greater than 1,400 mg per day have twice the risk of dying of a coronary event than women who take between 600 mg and 999 mg per day.
“What’s really dangerous about studies like this is people will stop taking their calcium supplements when it may be indicated,” Feldman said. That’s why he recommends that women discuss their risks and options with their doctors.
In the meantime, Feldman said he believes women probably are safe consuming high-calcium foods like dairy products, vegetables like spinach or broccoli, and seeds or nuts.
“I think the weight of the evidence shows dietary calcium is not something we have to worry about,” he said.
Many cardiologists including those who conducted a controversial National Institutes of Health study published last year were surprised and skeptical when it revealed chelation therapy may benefit those with heart disease by removing calcium. Typically used to remove heavy metals like lead, arsenic and mercury to prevent long-term effects of poisoning, chelation therapy also has been used as an alternative treatment for heart disease since 1954.
The $30 million study, partially funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, revealed chelation therapy may reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death by 18 percent. The results were most striking among the one-third of study patients who had diabetes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the use of chelation therapy grew by 68 percent to 111,000 people between 2002 and 2007. Though covered by Medicare from 1967 to 1996, chelation therapy now is an out-of-pocket expense of $800 to $5,000, depending on the method used.
Dr. Thomas George Eyrich, a naturopath in Indianapolis, the closest place where chelation therapy is available, said objections of mainstream practitioners to the use of chelation therapy stem from its inability to generate as much income as bypass surgery.
“I’ve never seen one case where the calcium got dangerously low,” he said. “If your body is low in calcium, it will break it down from your bone and your teeth and dump it into your blood stream. Your doctor has no idea whether calcium in your blood comes from a bone.”
Eyrich, whose father and grandfather each had heart disease, said most average people and even mainstream doctors have little knowledge of how vitamins and minerals interact with one another in the body. That’s what can bring on dangerous imbalances, he added.
“What I think is people buy the cheap calcium, the calcium bicarbonate, and that probably is causing stones and other blockages,” he said. “They throw their magnesium off and they throw their phosphorous off, and bam, they have a problem.”
Though he agrees with Feldman that each person should consult with his or her doctor, Eyrich also suggests sitting down with a nutritionist or dietitian.
“The public doesn’t have enough knowledge to put the whole package together. You can’t just do one thing and think it will solve all your problems,” he said.