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Breast Cancer and Heart Attacks: A Deadly Side Effect of Calcium Supplements?

January 30, 2012 | 236,461 views
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By Dr. Mercola

Calcium is one of the most popular dietary supplements on the market, largely because of the widely circulated mantra that mega-doses of this mineral are essential for building and maintaining healthy bones.

As a result, many people believe that taking a calcium supplement is a simple way to prevent bone fractures associated with osteoporosis.

What they have not been told is that while you can force increased bone mineral density with calcium supplements, you cannot be sure that this will result in greater bone strength.

Be Careful In Interpreting Bone Tests Results

Bone density, while an excellent measurement of compressive strength, does not reveal tensile strength, i.e. whether or not your bone will resist breaking from being pulled or stretched, as commonly occurs in a fall or similar trauma.

Moreover, "osteoporosis," as presently defined by bone scans (DXA scan) using the T-score, inappropriately defines "normal bone density" according to the standard of a 25-year old, young adult.

In other words, if you are 40, 50, or even 100, the T-score-based system says your bones are not normal, or even diseased if they are not as dense as they were when you were a young adult.

If in fact they used the age-appropriate Z-score, most cases of "osteopenia," and many cases of "osteoporosis," would suddenly disappear because they were inappropriately classified from the start.

Do Calcium Supplements Predispose You to Breast Cancer?

Ultimately, the "calcium is good for your bones" mantra is yet another example of a good theory gone wrong, and represents how broadly deluded the mainstream medical community is about bone health and the nature of osteoporosis, and its highly fabricated twin condition "osteopenia." 

There are actually a number of studies indicating that mass market calcium supplements increase your risk for cardiovascular incidents and other problems, while offering little benefit to your bones. Only because something can increase your bone density: eating what amounts to chalk or pulverized bone meal, or worse, chemicals like the drugs Fosamax and Evista, does not mean this will translate into improved health for your bones, or any of your other organ systems.

Indeed, before jumping off the lemming-like cliff of conventional medical wisdom, consider there is a solid body of research indicating that higher bone density may actually increase the risk of malignant breast cancer by 300% or more! Considering that close to 1 in 4 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lives, with breast cancer top on the list, isn't the neurotic fixation on increasing bone density with calcium supplements misplaced, especially when it may increase the overall risk of dying from cancer and, as we will see, cardiovascular disease (the #1 killer), as well?

Taking Calcium Might Increase Your Heart Attack Risk

Heart attacks may be caused by supplemental calcium from elemental sources, which include limestone, oyster shell, and bone meal, according to two meta-analyses of available research (a meta-analysis is a review and summary of the results of many clinical studies on the same subject).

The first, conducted in 2010 and involving over 8,000 people, showed that taking this kind of inorganic calcium supplement in amounts of 500 mg or more would increase your relative risk of heart attack by 27 percent.

Critics of the study pointed out that it only looked at calcium supplementation without vitamin D administered at the same time (vitamin D helps you absorb and utilize calcium). However, the second analysis showed that even when co-administered with vitamin D, elemental calcium still increased heart attack risk by 24 percent, with researchers concluding:

"Calcium supplements with or without vitamin D modestly increase the risk of cardiovascular events, especially myocardial infarction … A reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in osteoporosis management is warranted."

In fact, the second analysis was even more disturbing, as it found the calcium supplementation (in addition to vitamin D) increased the composite risk of heart attack and stroke by15%!

Calcium Can be Beneficial or Deadly Depending on Where it Ends Up in Your Body

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body, necessary for not only bone health but also regulating your heartbeat, conducting nerve impulses, clotting blood and stimulating hormone secretions. Your body does not make calcium, and in fact loses calcium daily through your skin, nails, hair, sweat and elimination, which is why you must replace it via your diet.

It has been estimated, however, that your body excretes as little as 100 mg a day, making the current recommendations by the National Osteoporosis Foundation for women over 50 to take 1200 mg a day, a bit troubling.  When we compare our calcium-rich diet to the traditional calcium-poor Chinese peasant diet, which was free of cow's milk and calcium supplements, approximately 250 mg a day of plant-based calcium was all that was needed to fulfill their bodily needs – and this is a culture with no word for "osteoporosis" in its 3,000+ year old language!

Due to the fact that about 99 percent of your body's calcium is stored in your bones and teeth, if you don't get enough calcium, your body will take calcium from your bones to perform necessary functions. This is where the idea that supplementing with calcium could prevent calcium loss from your bones comes from -- but it is an overly simplified theory that lacks solid evidence to back it up, especially in Western, modernized cultures which consume unprecedentedly large amounts of dairy-derived, fortification-based and supplemental calcium.

For instance, one 2010 article presented evidence for a total lack of support in the research for calcium supplements reducing fracture risk!

Moreover, in the Harvard Nurses' Health Study, a review tracking 78,000 nurses for 12 years found that the relative risk of hip fracture was 45% higher in those women who drank two or more glasses of milk per day versus those who drank one glass or less. Indeed, in countries where both dairy consumption and overall calcium levels in the diet are the lowest, bone fracture rates are also the lowest; conversely, in cultures like the United States where calcium consumption is among the highest in the world, so too are the fracture rates among the highest (see: The China Study).

The truth is that taking any calcium in excess or isolation, without complementary nutrients like magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2, which help keep your body in balance, can have adverse effects, such as calcium building up in coronary arteries and causing heart attacks. Even taking calcium with vitamin D does not appear to be enough to prevent these types of adverse effects.

So when you take a biologically foreign form of calcium (such as limestone, oyster shell, egg shell and bone meal (hydroxylapatite), or when your body's ability to direct calcium to the right places becomes impaired (as when you are deficient in vitamin K2), calcium may be deposited where it shouldn't be, which can lead to multiple health problems.

Often, much of the burden of removing the excess calcium falls on the kidneys, which is why it has been proven on numerous occasions that calcium carbonate rapidly calcifies arteries in those with compromised kidney function, especially hemodialysis patients.  Calcium deposits are, in fact, major contributors and even causative factors in many conditions, including the following:

Cellulite and scar tissue Coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis Dental plaque and gum disease Hypothyroidism
Obesity and diabetes Alzheimer's disease Breast cancer and cysts (fibrocystic breasts) Gallstones, colon cancer and Crohn's disease
Kidney stones Ovarian cysts Cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration Bone spurs, stiff joints, osteoarthritis, tendonitis and bone cancer

Too Much Calcium May Create Mineral Deficiencies that Promote Disease

Robert Thompson, M.D. wrote a book on this subject called The Calcium Lie, which explains that bone is comprised of at least a dozen minerals, and the exclusive focus on calcium supplementation is likely to worsen bone density and actually increase your risk for osteoporosis. Dr. Thompson believes overconsumption of calcium creates other mineral deficiencies and imbalances that will increase your risk of heart disease, kidney stones, gallstones, osteoarthritis, hypothyroidism, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

If your calcium supplement is being turned into "little rocks" that are being deposited in your soft tissues and arteries, you can begin to understand how this could be increasing your risk for a heart attack, stroke or other health condition.

Many believe that arterial plaque is simply a buildup of cholesterol. But in reality, more than 90 percent of these fatty plaques are calcified. Cholesterol is soft and waxy and does not impair the elasticity of your arteries. But calcium deposits are like concrete, "hardening" your arteries and impairing their ability to expand. It is calcium -- not cholesterol -- that induces arterial stiffness and makes the plaque less stable and more prone to chipping off and subsequently inducing a life-threatening clot.

This is particularly important for postmenopausal women because hormone balance is necessary for proper calcium signaling -- directing your body to deposit calcium into your bones. When hormones fall out of balance, this signaling causes calcium to slowly exit your bones and become deposited in your arteries instead. Simply taking a calcium supplement will not solve the problem because if your body cannot direct the calcium to the right spot, it will cause far more harm than good.

Why Vitamin K2 is Crucial if You Take Vitamin D and Calcium …

Vitamin K2 engages in a delicate dance with vitamin D; whereas vitamin D provides improved bone development by helping you absorb calcium, there is new evidence that vitamin K2 directs the calcium to your skeleton, while preventing it from being deposited where you don't want it -- i.e., your organs, joint spaces, and arteries. As mentioned, a large part of arterial plaque consists of calcium deposits (atherosclerosis), hence the term "hardening of the arteries."

Vitamin K2 has also actually been found to decalcify certain tissues undergoing pathological (also known as ectopic) calcification.

Vitamin K2 activates a protein hormone called osteocalcin, produced by osteoblasts, which is needed to bind calcium into the matrix of your bone. Osteocalcin also appears to help prevent calcium from depositing into your arteries. In other words, without the help of vitamin K2, the calcium that your vitamin D so effectively lets in might be working AGAINST you -- by building up your coronary arteries rather than your bones. This is why if you take calcium and vitamin D but are deficient in vitamin K, you could be worse off than if you were not taking those supplements at all.

Food is the Best Source of Calcium

In order for calcium to do your body good, it must be in a bioavailable form and balanced out with vitamins D and K and other important trace minerals, as part of a total nutritional plan.

It's more likely your body can use calcium correctly if it's food-based calcium. Good sources include raw milk and cheese from pasture-raised cows (who eat the plants), leafy green vegetables, the pith of citrus fruits, carob, sesame seeds and wheatgrass, to name a few. It's worth mentioning that the studies done about calcium from dairy products are all done with pasteurized dairy, rather than raw dairy products that have more of their nutrients intact, and this muddies the results of these studies.

Calcium from dietary sources is typically better absorbed and utilized than calcium from supplements, which is why studies involving calcium from natural food sources have shown favorable results, including a 25 percent lower risk of dying from all causes, and a 23 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease.

You also need sources of silica and magnesium, which some researchers say is actually enzymatically "transmuted" by your body into the kind of calcium your bones can use. This theory was first put forth by French scientist Louis Kevran, a Nobel Prize nominee who spent years studying how silica, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals are related and transmutable into one another through low-energy nuclear transformation only found within living systems.

His theory explains how cows and chickens produce far more calcium in their milk and eggs than is found in their diet, or why, workers exposed to extremely high temperatures (130 degrees F) in the Middle East are known to consume salt tablets, which their bodies convert to potassium (as measured by their excreta), resulting in a reduction in their bodily temperature.

Good sources of bone-strengthening silica are cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and a number of herbs including horsetail, nettles, oat straw, alfalfa, and raw cacao, which is also extremely rich in highly bioavailable magnesium.

Dr. Thompson recommends the use of natural unprocessed salt as a far better alternative to calcium supplements because it provides the trace minerals you simply cannot get from food grown in today's mineral-depleted soils. My favorite source of trace minerals is pure, unprocessed Himalayan salt, which contains 84 elements needed by your body.

The bottom line is, optimize your vitamin D levels through sun exposure and consume a variety of fresh, local organic whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, organic meats and eggs, unprocessed salt, and raw organic unpasteurized dairy, which will give you the bioavailable calcium your body needs along with the trace minerals and other cofactors it needs to be absorbed and properly utilized by your body.

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