Calcium pills linked to heart problems in women

Posted at: 02/10/2014 1:45 PM
By: Erika Edwards, NBC News

Photo: NBC News

(NBC News) -- Many women take calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis, but the pills have come under fire recently for potentially increasing the risk for heart problems.

Nancy Dennis took calcium supplements for 25 years, but started to question her daily dose once studies showed the pills might increase the risk for heart problems.

She has a family history of heart disease, so she asked her doctor for guidance.

"She was very clear: discontinue taking the calcium supplements. There was no upside in my continuing to take it," she says.

Dr. Karol Watson is Nancy's cardiologist. She says many of her female patients want to know how they can prevent osteoporosis and heart disease.
"We know both of these things are going to happen as we age, but what is your own personal risk? What is your greatest threat to life?" she asks.

For at least a third of all women, that's heart disease.

Dr. Watson says women can get calcium from other sources.

"There is absolutely no evidence that calcium from dietary sources, like milk, like green leafy vegetables, those have never been associated with harm," she points out.  "It's only the calcium supplements that have been associated with harm."

Nancy is making sure to include these healthy foods in her diet and doesn't feel the need to supplement with anything else.

"The only guilt I felt was literally when I poured the pills out into the trash I thought about how much money I was wasting," she says.

A government advisory panel recently recommended against postmenopausal women taking a low-dose calcium supplement to prevent fractures.

There isn't enough evidence yet to say whether the pills benefit young women.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition, which represents the supplement industry, says calcium is necessary at every stage of life, and for women who are not getting enough from food, calcium supplements are a safe option to achieve optimal bone health.