Volume 11, Issue 88 October 10, 2014
The very common supplement
that can cause brain lesions
For years now I have been begging people to stop taking calcium supplements unless they have a documented calcium deficiency. Twenty years ago, when almost all of my colleagues were prescribing calcium supplements to their patients to prevent bone loss, I was alone in preaching against them. My readers know this. But my lone voice hasn't made all that great of a difference.

Even last week, I had a new patient who was taking huge doses of calcium that an "expert" nutritionist had recommended to prevent osteoporosis. Apparently, this so-called expert hasn’t read all the literature.

Studies have unequivocally proven that all that calcium in calcium supplements DOES NOT go to your bones. Repeat: It does not go to your bones. And it doesn't prevent osteoporosis. Instead it goes to your arteries and causes calcified arteries and heart valves and increases your risk for heart disease. But that’s not all. A new study shows that calcium supplements lead to brain lesions.

The researchers in the study start by saying it themselves, "Recent studies have implicated calcium supplements in vascular risk elevation and, therefore, these supplements may also be associated with the occurrence of brain lesions in older adults. These lesions represent damage to brain tissue that is caused by ischemia."

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Ischemia means decreased circulation usually due to atherosclerosis. One of the most common causes for these lesions is high blood pressure. But since calcium supplements are also known to decrease circulation, the authors of the study wondered if they could cause similar brain lesions.

They looked at 227 men and women 60 years or older. They used MRI scans to determine the total amount of brain lesions each person had. Then they correlated the results with calcium supplements. The results are scary.

The results "revealed that supplement users had greater lesion volumes than non-users." And this was true regardless of calcium intake from food, age, sex, race, years of education, depression, and even hypertension.

In fact, the researchers stated, "The influence of supplemental calcium use on lesion volume was of a magnitude similar to that of the influence of hypertension, a well-established risk factor for lesions." What they are saying is that as bad as having high blood pressure is for your brain, calcium supplements seem to be every bit as bad! Once again in their own words, "The present study demonstrates that the use of calcium-containing dietary supplements, even low-dose supplements, by older adults may be associated with greater [brain] lesion volumes."

Hopefully this study will put the final nails in the coffin of calcium supplements for bone health. That said, I have to also say that there is a place for calcium supplements. On a daily basis, taking 500 mg or less per day is fine for general health. Taking more than that should be reserved for when there is a medical reason for them. But here's the point. Osteoporosis is NOT a reason. If you want to prevent or treat osteoporosis, why don't you use the supplement that I give to all of my patients. It doesn't have any calcium for obvious reasons. But what it does have is all of the nutrients in the right doses that have been shown to improve bone health. It’s called Ultimate Bone Support.

Yours for better health,

REF: Payne ME, McQuoid DR, Steffens DC, et al. Elevated brain lesion volumes in older adults who use calcium supplements: a cross-sectional clinical observational study. Br J Nutr. 2014 Jul;112(2):220-7.

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