Study raises new concerns about
safety of calcium
The Washington Post , April 20, 2011
A study is raising new questions about the safety of calcium, which many women take to
protect their bones.
An analysis of data collected about more than 16,000 women who participated in the
landmark Women's Health Initiative found that those who started taking calcium as part
of the study were at increased risk for heart attacks and strokes.
The federally funded Women's Health Initiative is the big study that, among other things,
stunned doctors and women in 2002, when it determined that the risks of taking hormones for menopause outweighed the
When the data from that study were originally analyzed, it found no increased risk for
heart problems among women taking calcium and vitamin D. But most of the women in the study were already taking calcium
on their own, which may have hidden any risks.
So Ian Reid of the University of Auckland and his colleagues reanalyzed the data to try
to take that into account. The new analysis of data from 16,718 women, published in the British medical journal known as
BMJ, found that the women who were not taking calcium when the study started but began
taking it when they got into the research project were at 13 to 22 percent increased risk. The risk occurred
regardless of whether the women were taking calcium alone or combined with vitamin D, the researchers found.
The researchers also analyzed data from 13 other studies involving 29,000 people all
together and found increases in the risk for heart attacks and strokes among those taking calcium.
The researchers speculate that there may be something about suddenly starting calcium
that boosts the risk, perhaps by causing calcification, or hardening, of the arteries. Calcium also may make it more
likely that blood clots will form, they said.
"These data justify a reassessment of the use of calcium supplements
in older people," the researchers wrote.
In an editorial accompanying the analysis, however, Bo Abrahamsen of the Gentofte
Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Opinder Sohota of Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, England, argue that there
is still too little information to know if calcium boosts the risk.
"Clearly further studies are needed and the debate remains ongoing," they wrote.
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