You can't hurt yourself simply by taking something as simple as a nutritional supplement. Have you heard statements like these before? Guess what? It's not true. Even though I have been prescribing nutritional cures for my patients for over 40 years, I will be the first person to tell you that they are not always completely harmless. A case in point is calcium supplements. A new study is once again emphasizing that calcium supplements need to be taken with caution. There are some real dangers.
A recent study looked at the effect of calcium supplements on carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) in women taking calcium supplements. CIMT is the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery. Doctors can measure it easily using an ultrasound. And here's the point. The thicker these two inner layers are, the more at risk you are for having a heart attack or a stroke. The most common cause of having a high CIMT level is just getting older. The older you are, unless you are busy doing something about it, the more gunked up your arteries are going to be. Other causes are high blood fats, especially oxidized LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and no exercise program. But there is one more risk factor that these researchers found. It's taking calcium supplements.
The researchers looked at 182 postmenopausal women between 50-60 years old. All of them had high blood fats. They gave half the women a calcium supplement containing 800 mg of calcium carbonate every day for two years. The other half got the placebo. At the end of the study, the calcium group had a 10% increase in the total cholesterol levels and a significant increase in their CIMT. The results were so significant that the researchers said, "In postmenopausal women with elevated blood fats, calcium supplements should be prescribed with caution."
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Those of you who have been my readers for years already know that for over 20 years I have been warning patients about taking calcium supplements. Most of the people taking these supplements are women who mistakenly believe that the calcium they are taking is going to strengthen their bones. Nothing could be further from the truth. The largest study in the world on this matter, the Women's Health Initiative, clearly showed that calcium supplements do nothing for your bones. Instead they only provide a way for calcium to be deposited on your joints and arteries. And the study also illustrates another important point.
People who get their nutritional advice from pop magazines and conventional doctors are playing with fire. These sources are more often wrong than right. Doctors learn literally nothing in medical school about nutrition. So unless your doctor has made it a point to become a nutritionally grounded doctor, he cannot be trusted to give you the information you want. And that's one more reason to keep on reading Second Opinion. I'll not only tell you about the dangers and limitations of conventional medicine. I'll also give you the straight info on nutritional medicine. But that's not all.
There are going to be some out there who will say that this calcium problem doesn't happen if you take the "right" calcium supplement. That's hogwash. While it's true that the calcium carbonate used in this study is one of the poorest calcium supplements out there, here's a simple fact — calcium is calcium no matter what form it comes into your body in.
If you are a postmenopausal woman and you are concerned about your bone health, there is something that you can do beside exercise that is not only safe but scientifically based to help strengthen your bones. It's a great comprehensive formula my colleague nutritionist Nan Fuchs, PhD developed several years ago. And it's the one I use for my patients. It's called Ultimate Bone Support. And guess what? It has absolutely no calcium in it.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Li S, Na L, Li Y, Gong L, et al. Long-term calcium supplementation may have adverse effects on serum cholesterol and carotid intima-media thickness in postmenopausal women: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Nov;98(5):1353-9.