31 July 2010
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India
An international panel of researchers – many of them from New Zealand’s Aberdeen and Auckland University – claim those who take calcium supplements to improve bone density face a 30% higher risk of heart attacks. It could also increase the risk of minor episodes of stroke and mortality.
The researchers, who published their study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Friday, came to the conclusion after reviewing 11 random controlled trials of calcium supplements, which involved 12,000 patients.
The findings were consistent across trials, and were independent of age, gender and types of supplement. The researchers maintained calcium supplements could rapidly increase calcium levels in blood, leading to arterial disease. Interestingly, the study has been rubbished by Indian doctors, arguing such episodes of heart attacks could occur in the West since calcium intake in diet is anyway optimum, thanks to the food habit.
Most Indians, the doctors said, are calcium deficient. Dr Ambrish Mittal, president of Endocrine Society of India, said, "This study applies to the westerners, who are calcium rich."
"Except Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh, the intake of dairy products – a rich source of calcium – are abysmally low across the country," he reasoned to bolster his claim.
"While, a healthy adult may require 900 mg of calcium a day, a staple Indian diet provides just about 400 mg, that also if the individual has two glasses of milk along with paneer, cheese and curd with every meal. Hence, it is premature to say popping a 500–mg of calcium pill a day will cause heart attacks," Dr Mittal explained.
Dr Sushil Sharma, president of the Arthritis Foundation of India, said the normal level of calcium in human body should be between 8.8 mg/dl–10.8 mg/dl per 100 ml of blood.
If it goes above 10.8 mg/dl, it could cause hypocalcaemia and cause heart attacks. But, that only happens when a diet provides optimum calcium requirement and on top of that an individual is taking a 500–mg pill.
Ian Reid of the University of Auckland – one of the lead researchers – disagreed with the Indian doctors’ assertions. He claimed that calcium supplements are not necessarily the ideal way to protect bones since that could reduce chances of fractures by only around 10%.