Post-menopausal women who take calcium supplements may up their risk of a heart attack, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal. This isn't the first time that taking calcium has been linked with heart problems, but each time findings like this are announced the experts are quick to tell us that more research is needed, and that we shouldn't suddenly shun our calcium pills without consulting our doctors.
This time, researchers re-analyzed data from the much-analyzed Women's Health Initiative, and found that women who began taking calcium as part of the study were significantly more likely to suffer a heart attack than women taking a placebo. But, women who were already taking calcium supplements before the study began, and then began taking the study's supplements, were not at increased risk. According to Science Daily:
The authors suspect that the abrupt change in blood calcium levels after taking a supplement causes the adverse effect, rather than it being related to the total amount of calcium consumed."
The subject of calcium and bone health seems to be growing increasingly controversial, and the only thing that's clear is that it's all very murky. Whether you decide to take calcium or not, keep in mind these other tips for maintaining healthy bones:
- Eat lots of dark green vegetables—kale, collards, bok choy, spinach. These contain calcium and vitamin K, a nutrient that's nearly as essential to bone health as calcium is, plus countless other health-promoting compounds.
- Get enough vitamin D—get some sun every day, and consider taking a supplement (though how much D you should be getting remains controversial). Egg yolks and salmon are two good dietary sources of vitamin D.
- Do weight-bearing exercise multiple times per week. Walking, dancing, yoga, tennis, yoga—anything that has you on your feet getting your heart rate up is good for your bones.
- Lift weights. Strength training is an essential part of bone health.
- Avoid cola drinks. There seems to be a link between cola consumption and osteoporosis.
- Eat less red meat. Writes Loren Fishman, MD, "Surprisingly the digestion of animal protein actually takes up some of the calcium bones need. Paradoxically that puts vegetarians and those who don't eat red meat in a good position with regard to bone health."
- Don't drink too much alcohol. But you knew that already.
- Don't smoke. Obviously.
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