Industry : Calcium research “cherry picked” results

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Calcium supplements, Vitamin d

Following publication of new research suggesting calcium supplements could increase the risk of heart attack, industry has been keen to give its response to

One of the main responses to the study’s findings is to point out that the adequate intake of calcium plays an important role in building and maintaining bone mass, and that the study published in the BMJ ​should not cause consumers to doubt the importance of calcium supplements in maintaining bone health.

Adequate calcium intake is vital to building and maintaining healthy bones, and to preventing osteoporosis. Most people do not get enough calcium from diet alone, and this is where a calcium supplement can be important to consumers of all ages,”​ said Andrew Shao.

Both Shao, Ph.D, Senior Vice President of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), and Daniel Fabricant Ph.D, vice president of scientific regulatory affairs for the Natural Products Association, have told that the results of the recent study go against years of research that show the benefits of calcium supplementation. Mr. Fabricant suggests that the authors of the research ‘cherry picked​’ the fifteen studies from hundreds of available research studies in the area.


The authors of the BMJ​ meta-analysis called for a reassessment of the role of calcium supplements for osteoporosis, and suggested to NutraIngredients that the whole supplement market should test their products for safety and not just efficacy.

According to CRN, such conclusions are ‘dramatically overstated​’. Shao said: “Seven of the 15 trials evaluated had no, or incomplete, data on cardiovascular outcomes, and only five of the 15 studies accounted for almost all of the cardiovascular outcomes. Further, the researchers chose to exclude any trials administering calcium plus vitamin D – including the Women’s Health Initiative which found calcium plus vitamin D had no effect on the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.”

Professor Ian Reid, the lead researcher of the new research responded to these claims by telling NutraIngredients that they are currently conducting further research that will look at vitamin D with calcium supplements. Reid said that early indications show that the research, which should be published later this year, may have similar findings to the present study.

Fabricant pointed out that none of the original studies included in the meta-analysis were designed to evaluate cardiovascular events, and even if they had been “one meta-analysis on eight studies, will never prove to be conclusive evidence.”

“Meta-analysis can be a useful tool for scientific evaluation, but we have to recognize its limitations, and keep in mind that its findings are based on a collection of past studies that may have different designs, doses and study populations,”​ added Shao “This analysis should not dissuade consumers, particularly young women, from taking calcium supplements”.

Diet or supplements?

However, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), food will always be the best source of calcium: “People who get the recommended amount of calcium from foods do not need to take a calcium supplement. These individuals still may need to take a vitamin D supplement. Getting too much calcium from supplements may increase the risk of kidney stones and other health problems.”

But Shao drew attention to other health benefits that may be associated with calcium supplementation, such as reduction of colon cancer risk. “This is not even considered by the authors” he said.

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1 comment

Calcium without adequate magnesium intake can manifest as cardiovascular disease

Posted by A. Rosanoff, Ph.D.,

We are not surprised by the meta-analysis results of Ca supplement studies showing a possible rise in cardiovascular disease. Calcium is, indeed, low in intakes from foods, and is, indeed, important in bone health; however, over 50% of adults in USA do not get adequate nutritional magnesium from foods, and fewer take Mg supplement than do Ca supplements. The long term results of low magnesium being associated with cardiovascular diseases, especially in the face of high Ca intakes, is well reviewed in the book, "The Magnesium Factor", by M.S. Seelig and A. Rosanoff, 2003, Avery- Penguin as well as more recent peer-reviewed articles. Calcium supplements need to be balanced with adequate magnesium intakes, often low in populations consuming a processed food diet. An overall balance of all essential micro-nutrients is emphasized by the recent BMJ results. A. Rosanoff, Ph.D., Director of Research, Center for Magnesium Educ & Res.

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