Getting the goods on both sides of the calcium controversy

Michelle, 45, came into my office last month and said she had stopped taking the calcium supplement that I had given her.

She said she had heard about some research that calcium supplements can increase the risk of heart attack by 25-30 per cent and so was afraid to take it. She wondered what my thoughts were on the subject.

First of all, this was not a study designed to measure the heart disease risk of calcium but a review of 15 previous studies that looked at this risk after the fact. The increased incidence of heart attacks that was observed was only borderline statistically significant and when this happens in secondary analyses, as in this case, the findings are more likely due to chance.

On the other hand, when taking calcium alone without other nutrients such as magnesium, it would not be surprising if over time the heart disease risk went up. Administering large doses of a single nutrient has the potential of causing deficiencies or imbalances with other nutrients. This is the case with vitamin E. If alpha- tocopherol is taken without the other four naturally occurring tocopherols found in vitamin E, there results a deficiency in gamma tocopherol which might explain the increased risk of heart failure with alpha-tocopherol alone. Naturopathic physicians have for years been recommending the mixed tocopherol form of vitamin E to avoid these types of deficiencies.

The same holds true for magnesium. I explained to Michelle that I have never in my 26 years of practice, prescribed calcium without magnesium and other minerals such as boron, manganese and zinc. Magnesium is one of the most common deficiencies in North America. Magnesium has a number of cardioprotective effects: it inhibits clot formation, promotes vasodilation of arteries, regulates the rhythm of the heart, plays a role in production of ATP (the main energy source of the body), promotes the uptake of potassium within the cells, lowers blood pressure and raises HDL, the good cholesterol. Magnesium deficiency is rampant in our society due to low dietary intake,  depletions by physical and emotional stresses, and taking a calcium supplement alone can cause a magnesium deficiency over time.

Calcium supplementation has also been associated with the increased risk of kidney stones. Once again, it was found that taking magnesium inhibits the crystallization of calcium oxalate in the urine and taking magnesium supplementation has been reported to decrease the recurrence rate of kidney stones by 90 per cent in recurrent stone formers.It has been clearly established that adequate calcium intake is important for achieving optimal peak bone mass and for preventing osteoporosis. I told Michelle that this calcium containing mineral supplement that I had recommended is also my number one remedy for treating general aches and pains and helping people sleep at night.

I assured Michelle that the reporters forgot to report that calcium supplementation “when taken alone” is the risk and when taken with magnesium in a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium there would be no risk. There are many over the counter calcium products on the market in chewable form advertised to prevent osteoporosis and treat heart burn but these are all calcium carbonate products that do not contain magnesium. It is these products that I do not recommend. It was found that when vitamin D was added to these calcium supplements that the heart disease risk did not go down.

Michelle was happy to get back onto the mineral supplement that I recommended to her, as she did feel much better when she was taking it.

Dr. Ingrid Pincott, Naturopathic Physician, has been practicing since 1985 and can be reached at 250-286-3655 or www.Dr

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