Many doctors still do not recommend taking dietary supplements, despite the data showing widespread deficiencies in several key vitamins and minerals among millions of Americans.
But, ironically, most doctors make an exception for calcium and iron supplements. As I’ve said many times before, these two are among the few supplements you should not be taking (unless you have been specifically diagnosed by a doctor with clinical iron deficiency anemia).
Over the years, I’ve shared several studies with you showing the dangers of calcium supplements. And today, I have two more.
Calcium capsules may boost your risk of dementia
The first study shows that calcium supplements increase the risk of dementia in older women with cerebrovascular disease.1
Researchers in Sweden analyzed 700 women, ages 70 to 92, who were all free of dementia at the start of the study. About 14 percent of the women (98) took calcium supplements.
After five years, the researchers found that the women who took calcium had a whopping 46 percent increased risk of developing dementia, and particularly stroke-related dementia, compared to the non-calcium supplement group.
Why? Well, calcium supplements (but not dietary calcium) appear to increase hardening (calcification) of the arteries, which is well known to be the major cause of strokes.
It also makes sense that hardening of the arteries leads to poor blood circulation throughout the body and brain. And, of course, good blood circulation is an important factor for brain health and preventing dementia.
An “all-natural” heart hazard
The second study found that older adults who supplemented with calcium had an increased risk of hardening of the arteries—a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease.2 Researchers studied 5,448 men and women, ages 45 to 84, for 10 years. All of the participants were free of heart disease at the beginning of the study.
The researchers found the people who got calcium from their diet actually had a lower risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease compared to the people who got their calcium in supplement form. But, as I mentioned earlier, the supplement takers had an increased risk.
Bottom line: Getting more calcium from the diet was beneficial for the heart and vascular system, but getting high calcium levels from supplements was detrimental. This is a striking example of the fundamental differences between dietary calcium and supplemental calcium.
To put it another way, calcium is a mineral, and minerals ultimately come from inorganic sources, such as shells, rocks, and soil. So if you don’t have the right organic sources from food, it can be like trying to get your essential minerals from eating rocks.
And, as we’ve seen from these new studies, calcium supplements actually can turn your blood vessels and internal organs into rocks!
Why calcium supplements don’t really help fight osteoporosis
So, we’ve learned that taking calcium supplements is a risk to the health of both your heart and brain—two of the biggest concerns as you get older. And calcium supplements alone appear to do nothing to help prevent osteoporosis (the third biggest concern, especially among older women).
As I reported last year, research shows that osteoporosis is actually a deficiency of vitamins C and D. So taking calcium supplements without adequate supplies of other micronutrients is not the “magic bullet” for this problem.
And there’s a bigger problem…
You simply can’t fit all of the calcium you need each day into a pill…unless you want to swallow a horse pill. Not only that, but most calcium supplements don’t have the bioavailability to actually get into your bones, where they belong. Instead, they head to other parts of the body, like the arteries and brain.
The calcium supplement marketers like to brag about their marine sources from the earth’s oceans. But there is so much hype about these various exotic (and largely meaningless) sources that it drowns out the science (if the marketers even have any).
The best way to get the calcium you need
You should get your calcium from a balanced diet that includes plenty of organic dairy, meat, and seafood.
It’s very difficult to achieve optimal levels of calcium and other minerals, such as magnesium, selenium, and zinc (not to mention fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and E) from a purely plant-based diet.
Which is why you should disregard the government’s “all-wrong, all along” faulty advice to avoid dietary cholesterol and saturated fats by limiting your consumption of healthy dairy, meat, and seafood.
This misguided advice has been thoroughly debunked for all to see over the past couple of years (although the evidence was plain enough for some of us to see for the past three decades).
So focus on calcium-rich foods, and tell your doctor to skip the nonsensical calcium supplements.
1 “Calcium Supplementation and Risk of Dementia in Women With Cerebrovascular Disease.” Neurology. 2016 Oct 18;87(16):1674-1680.
2 “Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10-Year Follow-up of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).” J Am Heart Assoc. 2016 Oct 11;5(10).