IOF response to study linking calcium supplements to increased risk of heart attack

A solid body of evidence shows that calcium is an important mineral for bone health in people of all ages. In early life, calcium helps to build stronger and denser bones. In later life, it plays a critical role in reducing the risk for osteoporosis and fractures.

In response to a study in the June issue of the journal ‘Heart’ which suggests that there may be a link between calcium supplementation and heart attack risk, the International Osteoporosis Foundation position is as follows:

  • The study highlights the need for care when taking supplements, but its findings are inconclusive. In contrast, the importance of calcium, together with vitamin D, in preventing fractures has been well documented. Osteoporosis places individuals at increased risk of painful and debilitating fractures and this risk needs to be weighed against any risks and benefits of supplements. A woman’s risk of fractures due to osteoporosis is greater than the combined risk of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined.
  • Food sources of calcium are preferred, but supplementation to help achieve a total calcium intake within recommended levels is warranted if an individual is unable to get enough calcium from his or her diet.
  • Increasing calcium intakes above recommended levels should be avoided because doing so provides no added benefit and may possibly increase risk of adverse side effects.
  • IOF recommends that you discuss your personal risks with your doctor when weighing the benefits of taking any supplement or medication. People who have been prescribed calcium supplementation should not stop taking their calcium supplements without first consulting their doctors.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Chair of the IOF Committee of Scientific Advisors stated, “People of all ages should ensure that they have sufficient calcium intake. By paying attention to food choices, most people can ensure they are have sufficient calcium intake from their daily diets, and in this case supplementation is not required. People who require supplementation in addition to food sources of calcium should remain within recommended daily levels.”

Recommended levels of calcium vary according to sex and age and are slightly different around the world. The FAO/WHO recommendations* are:

Infants and Children Calcium (mg/day)
0-6 months 300-400
7-12 months 400
1-3 years 500
4-6 years 600
7-9 years 700
Adolescents Calcium (mg/day)
10-18 years 1300
Women Calcium (mg/day)
19 years to menopause 1000
Post-menopause 1300
During pregnancy (last trimester) 1200
Lactation 1000
Men Calcium (mg/day)
19-65 years 1000
65+ years 1300

*Figures based on Western European, American and Canadian data. Source: FAO/WHO: Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements, 2002.

The calcium allowance figures for children and adolescents take account of skeletal growth  and those for postmenopausal women and the elderly take account of a lower intestinal calcium absorption efficiency.

There are various sources of easily accessible calcium-rich foods. These include dairy products (preferably low in fat), green vegetables such as kale, watercress or okra, pulses and beans, sesame paste, almonds, apricots and figs, certain fish, and mineral water with high calcium content.

For further information about calcium and bone healthy nutrition, consult the IOF website:

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