Calcium and heart disease: What is the connection?

There's no good evidence that taking calcium supplements can harm your heart. Still, it's best to get this mineral from foods, not pills.

calcium pills milk heart disease
Image: sasimoto/Thinkstock

For decades, doctors have encouraged people to consume plenty of calcium, a mineral best known for building strong bones. About 43% of people in the United States, including close to 70% of older women, take supplements that contain calcium. Concern about osteoporosis—the bone-weakening disease that leaves older adults prone to fracturing a hip, wrist, or other bone—has driven this trend.

Calcium also keeps your muscles, nerves, and blood vessels working well, and it's one of the key minerals involved in blood pressure control. With regard to heart disease, though, there's one potentially confusing aspect of the calcium story. A test researchers often use to look for early signs of heart disease is known as a coronary artery calcium (CAC) scan (see "Seeing calcium specks inside arteries"). There's no direct connection between the calcium you consume and the amount in your arteries. But in recent years, several studies have observed a link between the use of calcium supplements and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

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