Scientists from Johns Hopkins Medicine and elsewhere found that a calcium-rich diet could be beneficial for the heart, but calcium supplements seem to increase the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage.
Heart disease happens when coronary arteries struggle to supply the heart with enough blood, oxygen, and nutrients. Cholesterol deposits, or plaques, are almost always to blame.
These buildups narrow your arteries, decreasing blood flow to your heart. This can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or even a heart attack.
Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits. Plaque buildup causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time. This process is called atherosclerosis.
Coronary artery disease is caused by plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries).
The body needs calcium to build and maintain strong bones. The heart, muscles, and nerves also need calcium to function properly.
Some studies suggest that calcium, along with vitamin D, may have benefits beyond bone health: perhaps protecting against cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
But recent research suggests that calcium supplements may be linked to an increased risk of heart disease events.
In the current study, researchers examined the association between calcium intake, from both foods and supplements, and atherosclerosis.
The team measured coronary artery calcification in the participants.
Coronary artery calcification is a collection of calcium in your heart’s two main arteries, also called your coronary arteries.
This happens after you’ve had plaque (fat and cholesterol) forming in your arteries (atherosclerosis) for about five years.
The researchers studied 5448 people free of heart disease. Their calcium intake was assessed from the diet (using a food frequency questionnaire) and calcium supplements (by a medication inventory).
The team found generally women had higher calcium intakes than men.
Total calcium intake was linked to a decreased risk of atherosclerosis, but calcium supplement use was linked to an increased risk for heart disease events.
The team suggests that higher calcium intake may benefit heart health, particularly if achieved without supplement use.
However, calcium supplement use may increase the risk for heart disease events.
The study was published in The Journal of the American Heart Association and conducted by Erin Michos et al.
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