This week, we have a question from one of our readers:
Dear Dr. Prescott: Since this is American Heart Month, I have a question about women's heart health. Should women stop taking calcium supplements because of the potential problem with calcification of the arteries? I have heard pros and cons.
— Sue, Oklahoma City
Dr. Prescott prescribes
With life spans extending, osteoporosis has become increasingly prevalent. Who among us doesn't know an older person who has fractured an arm or a hip in a simple fall? Too often, these fractures can lead to life-threatening complications.
As with so many health conditions, we've pinned much of our hope of preventing osteoporosis on a pill. In this case, the pill is a calcium supplement.
Calcium is the mineral responsible for building our bones when we are young. So, the thinking went for many years, continuing to supplement our diets with this mineral as we age should help the body maintain bone mass and density. But research hasn't borne out this theory.
Last year, the United Preventive Services Task Force — a panel of experts in prevention and primary care — recommended that healthy postmenopausal women avoid taking supplemental calcium and vitamin D (which was taken to help calcium absorption). Based on a review of research studies, the panel concluded that there was little evidence these supplements prevent fractures in healthy women.
In 2012, the same task force concluded that there was insufficient evidence to recommend that healthy premenopausal women take low doses of calcium supplements. Research studies in this group of women also failed to show that the supplements were effective.