I've railed against calcium supplements for years.
In October 2016, I wrote:
"Calcium supplements are ineffective at best and deadly at the worst."
At the time, researchers had just performed a heart test that measured something called "coronary artery calcium" levels.
Increased levels of coronary calcium indicate heart disease and a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes. That's because when we have a buildup of calcium in our bodies, it contributes to the plaques that form in our arteries. These plaques build up and slow blood flow, leading to heart problems.
Folks who took calcium supplements had a 22% higher risk of developing increased levels of coronary calcium over the 10-year study period.
Even more impressive... people who had the same calcium intake from food instead of pills had no increased risk at all.
I have to repeat this now: Calcium supplements are ineffective at best and deadly at the worst.
And now that also appears to apply to some types of colon cancer.
A randomized clinical trial run over about 10 years looked at colon polyps. Polyps are pre-cancerous growths that may develop into cancer.
Researchers took folks who had a colon polyp removed. They excluded those with a family history of colon cancer or any other colon conditions (like inflammatory bowel disease). The remaining folks received one of four treatments: calcium, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin D, or no pills.
The participants followed their treatment plan until their next colonoscopy – about three to five years, depending on the patient. After their colonoscopy, they stopped the treatments.
But here's where it gets interesting... The participants had another colonoscopy six to 10 years after the start of the trial. At that point, there was a clear difference between the groups.
Those who took calcium supplements – both with and without the added vitamin D – had a significantly higher number of a certain type of colon polyp called serrated adenoma.
This type of polyp accounts for about 15% of all colon polyps, but cause 20% to 30% of all colon cancers. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. (after bladder and breast cancers).
There are a few points to remember about this study...
This study was a secondary analysis. We prefer to see direct randomized trials with better controls. This helps establish a stronger causal link.
However, knowing what we do about calcium supplements interfering with our circulatory system and our kidneys, we wouldn't be surprised to see this connection proven in further tests.
Another point – the participants all had a history of polyps, so we'd really have to see this repeated in a larger, more varied group.
The medical community has long thought calcium benefits colon health. In reality, many studies show that there's no benefit at all – it's useless to protect against colon cancer. Now, with this study, we have a suggestion that it may actually increase the risk of polyps, at least in certain groups of folks.
The important point to remember is that this study looked at calcium supplements. Natural food sources do not cause any of the problems we see with calcium supplements.
Instead of throwing back a bunch of useless supplements, ramp up how much calcium you get in your diet.
For starters, the recommended intake for calcium is about 1,000 mg to 1,200 mg per day.
And you can find it not only in the usual foods like cheeses and whole milk, but also a number of other naturally high-calcium foods and foods with added calcium (think orange juice, soy milk, and cereals).
If you have cereal with soy milk and a glass of orange juice for breakfast, that's already 76% of your daily recommended amount.
Here's a breakdown of some of the more surprising foods that pack on the calcium...
|Calcium in Common Foods|
|Food||Serving||Calcium (mg)||% Daily Value|
|Almonds||1 ounce||75 mg||7%|
|Cheerios||1 cup||112 mg||11%|
|Collard greens, cooked||1 cup||268 mg||27%|
|Silk Soymilk, original||1 cup||299 mg||30%|
|Minute Maid Orange Juice||1 cup||350 mg||35%|
|Sardines||3.75 oz can||351 mg||35%|
|Yogurt, low-fat||1 cup||448 mg||45%|
Making a few simple dietary changes is far safer on your heart and on your colon. Let us know your favorite natural ways to add calcium to your diet by writing to us at [email protected].
What We're Reading...
- In case you missed it: Another takedown of calcium supplements.
- Something different: Meet your new chef, Flippy.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
March 6, 2018