In a study published January 16th, in the British Medial Journal (BMJ) [equivalent to our New England Journal of Medicine (ENJM)] found that postmenopausal women receiving extra-dietary supplements may be at increased risk of myocardial infarction, stroke and sudden death.

The study was down out of the University of Auckland, New Zealand. They looked at data from a research done on 1,471 postmenopausal women over the age of 55 (average age 74) randomized into a placebo and calcium supplement arm to look at calcium supplement’s effect on bone fracture. The study followed the medical history of these women over five years.

The results showed that:

  • Reports of myocardial infarction (heart attack) were significantly higher in the calcium group than in the placebo group (45 events in 31 women versus 19 events in 14 women).
  • The occurrence of any three vascular events, myocardial infarction, stroke, or sudden death was also significantly more common in the calcium group (101 events in 69 women versus 54 events in 42 women).
  • Because the results were so important, the researchers went back and checked hospital records and death certificates to look for any unreported events.
  • After adjusting the figures for the newly found and previously unreported events, they discovered that myocardial infarction (heart attack) was still more common in the calcium group (36 events in 31 women versus 22 events in 21 women on placebo).
  • The figures for heart attack, stroke or sudden death also went up in the calcium group (76 events in 60 women versus 54 events in 50 women on placebo) but were shown to have borderline significance.

The researchers concluded that:

“Calcium supplementation in healthy postmenopausal women is associated with upward trends in cardiovascular event rates.”

However they cautioned against rash treatment decisions by saying that:

“This potentially detrimental effect should be balanced against the likely benefits of calcium on bone.” This was particularly important in the case of elderly women they said.

You can read the whole article at BMJ.

So what does all this information mean? There are experts out there who have came out publicly saying that this data is a fluke and should be disregarded. I don’t think this view point is wise to judge the data so harshly, one way or the other. Clearly this data is unnerving, especially when it goes against the commonly recognized practices in medicine, but this data is significant and should be treated with care. In my opinion, something like this should call for is more researchers to look into the problem. A retrospective analysis could quickly be done on previous data done on this patient population.

The women in the study specifically took Citracal (Mission Pharm., San Antonio, TX) perhaps it is this specific formulation that is causing the adverse results, we just don’t know.

If you’re a patient currently on calcium supplement therapy, I would recommend printing out the article and making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your particular situation before making any therapy changes.

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