Skip to content

Image result for calcium rich foods, wikipedia Once again, research shows that a supplement is not beneficial and may have some health harms, while eating foods rich in the mineral or vitamin being measured has health benefits. A ten year study found that calcium supplements are not beneficial and linked to health harm - they raised the risk of atherosclerosis, as measured by "coronary artery calcification" or plaque buildup in arteries, while a diet high in calcium rich foods was linked with health benefits (a protective effect). Other studies have found a higher risk for other health problems with calcium supplements (heart attacks, kidney stones, death),

Currently an estimated 43 percent of American adults take a supplement that includes calcium. Instead, for health benefits, focus on eating calcium rich foods. Some calcium rich foods are: dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir), sardines, salmon, broccoli, collard greens, kale, edamame, figs, oranges, white beans, okra, tofu, and almonds. From Science Daily:

Calcium supplements may damage the heart

After analyzing 10 years of medical tests on more than 2,700 people in a federally funded heart disease study, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and elsewhere conclude that taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage, although a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears be protective.

In a report on the research....the researchers caution that their work only documents an association between calcium supplements and atherosclerosis, and does not prove cause and effect. But they say the results add to growing scientific concerns about the potential harms of supplements....But our study adds to the body of evidence that excess calcium in the form of supplements may harm the heart and vascular system.

"The researchers were motivated to look at the effects of calcium on the heart and vascular system because studies already showed that "ingested calcium supplements -- particularly in older people -- don't make it to the skeleton or get completely excreted in the urine, so they must be accumulating in the body's soft tissues," says nutritionist John Anderson, Ph.D., professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health and a co-author of the report. Scientists also knew that as a person ages, calcium-based plaque builds up in the body's main blood vessel, the aorta and other arteries, impeding blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attack.

Their study focused on 2,742 of these participants who completed dietary questionnaires and two CT scans spanning 10 years apart. The participants chosen for this study ranged in age from 45 to 84, and 51 percent were female. Forty-one percent were white, 26 percent were African-American, 22 percent were Hispanic and 12 percent were Chinese. At the study's onset in 2000, all participants answered a 120-part questionnaire about their dietary habits to determine how much calcium they took in by eating dairy products; leafy greens; calcium-enriched foods, like cereals; and other calcium-rich foods....The coronary artery calcium tests were repeated 10 years later to assess newly developing or worsening coronary heart disease.

Next, the investigators focused on the differences among those taking in only dietary calcium and those using calcium supplements. Forty-six percent of their study population used calcium supplements. The researchers.....found that supplement users showed a 22 percent increased likelihood of having their coronary artery calcium scores rise higher than zero over the decade, indicating development of heart disease....Among participants with highest dietary intake of calcium -- over 1,022 milligrams per day -- there was no increase in relative risk of developing heart disease over the 10-year study period.

Excerpts from the original study (Please note:  CVD = cardiovascular disease, CAC = coronary artery calcification) in the  Journal of the American Heart Association:  Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10‐Year Follow‐up of the Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)

Recent evidence derived from randomized, controlled trials, including the Women's Health Initiative, have raised a concern for an association between calcium supplement use and increased risk for CVD events.12, 13, 14 Among calcium supplement users, a high intake of calcium greater than 1400 mg/day has been reported to be associated with higher death rates from all causes, including from CVD.15

The purported CVD risk associated with total calcium intake may depend on the source of calcium intake.3 Intake of calcium from food sources has not been shown to increase CVD risk, whereas a signal for increased risk of myocardial infarction (MI) among calcium supplement users has been reported.7 In a similar fashion, dietary calcium intake may decrease risk of kidney stones, whereas calcium supplementation may increase risk.16 One explanation for this apparent paradox may be that large boluses of calcium intake through supplements may transiently elevate serum calcium concentrations,17, 18 which, in turn, may lead to vascular calcification and other adverse health effects.

In summary, results from this long‐term study of 10 years showed a protective relationship between total calcium intake and incident coronary atherosclerosis, particularly among nonsupplement users. Even though mean total calcium intake in quintile 5 was greater than the upper limits of current recommendations, no increased risk of CAC progression was found, and the highest quintile of calcium intake actually had decreased risk of incident CAC among those without prevalent CAC at baseline. However, we found evidence that calcium supplement use was independently associated with incident CAC, whether or not we adjusted for total calcium intake.

Foods with trans fats. Credit: Wikipedia.

Finally the FDA is phasing out the use of artificial trans fats in foods (found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) within 3 years. It turns out that even though for many years scientists and the medical community pushed foods such as margarine (which have trans fats) as healthier than saturated fats such as butter, they were wrong. Instead the trans fats are linked to cardiovascular problems.

We can thank 100 year old Frank Kummerow for the ban, and for warning about trans fats for six decades! He is still drinking whole milk, eating eggs and butter, but he does avoid "fried foods, margarine, and anything associated with partially-hydrogenated oils". Other foods that are currently viewed as healthy by the medical community are extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. However, please note that canola oil, currently viewed as a healthy and safe alternative to partially hydrogenated oils, also contains trans fats (due to the manufacturing process) and should be avoided. Also keep in mind that companies are allowed to say they have zero trans fat of they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving (which means the trans fats can add up over the course of a day). From The Washington Post:

The 100-year-old scientist who pushed the FDA to ban artificial trans fat

No one was more pleased by the Food and Drug Administration's decision Tuesday to eliminate artificial trans fats from the U.S. food supply than Fred Kummerow, a 100-year-old University of Illinois professor who has warned about the dangers of the artery-clogging substance for nearly six decades."Science won out," Kummerow, who sued the FDA in 2013 for not acting sooner, said in an interview from his home in Illinois. "It's very important that we don't have this in our diet."

In the 1950s, as a young university researcher, Kummerow convinced a local hospital to let him examine the arteries of people who had died from heart disease. He made a jarring discovery. The tissue contained high levels of artificial trans fat, a substance that had been discovered decades earlier but had become ubiquitous in processed foods throughout the country.

Later, he conducted a study showing that rats developed atherosclerosis after being fed artificial trans fats. When he removed the substance from their diets, the atherosclerosis disappeared from their arteries.

Kummerow first published his research warning about the dangers of artery-clogging trans fats in 1957. More than a decade later, while serving on a subcommittee of the American Heart Association, he detailed the massive amounts of trans fat in the shortening and margarines lining grocery shelves, and helped convince the food industry to lower the content in certain products.

Despite Kummerow's research and warnings over the years, artificial trans fats remained a staple of processed food for decades. Well into the 1980s, many scientists and public health advocates believed that partially hydrogenated oils were preferable to more natural saturated fats. And the food industry was reluctant to do away with artificial trans fats, which were cheaper than their natural counterparts, extended shelf life and gave foods desirable taste and texture.

Frustrated by the lack of action, Kummerow filed a 3,000-word citizen petition with the FDA in 2009, citing the mounting body of evidence against trans fat. The first line read: "I request to ban partially hydrogenated fat from the American diet."

In the 1990s, more and more studies had shown that trans fats were a key culprit in the rising rates of heart disease. The advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest also petitioned the FDA in 1994 to require that the substance be listed on nutrition labels -- a move that the agency put into place in 2006. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine found that there was “no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible.” As the dangers of trans fat became clearer, public opinion also shifted, and food companies increasingly removed the substance from products, though it remained in a broad range of foods, from cake frostings to baked goods.

Four years after filing his petition and hearing nothing, Kummerow sued the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services in 2013, with the help of a California law firm. The suit asked a judge to compel the agency to respond to Kummerow's petition and "to ban partially hydrogenated oils unless a complete administrative review finds new evidence for their safety."

Three months later, the FDA announced its plans to effectively eliminate trans fats by saying that the substance no longer would be assumed safe for use in human foods. Tuesday's action finalizes that initial proposal, and manufacturers will have three years to reformulate products or to petition the agency for an exception.

Red meat,bacteria, and atherosclerosis.From Medical Xpress:

Why does red meat increase the risk for cardiovascular disease? Blame our gut bacteria

New research provides details on how gut bacteria turn a nutrient found in red meat into metabolites that increase the risk of developing heart disease. Publishing in the November 4th issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, the findings may lead to new strategies for safeguarding individuals' cardiovascular health.

Previous research led by Dr. Stanley Hazen, of Lerner Research Institute and the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic, revealed a pathway by which red meat can promote atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Essentially, bacteria in the gut convert L-carnitine, a nutrient abundant in red meat, into a compound called trimethylamine, which in turn changes to a metabolite named trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), which promotes atherosclerosis. Now Dr. Hazen and his team extend their earlier research and identify another metabolite, called gamma-butyrobetaine, that is generated to an even greater extent by gut bacteria after L-carnitine is ingested, and it too contributes to atherosclerosis.

The discovery that metabolism of L-carnitine involves two different gut microbial pathways, as well as different types of bacteria, suggests new targets for preventing atherosclerosis—for example, by inhibiting various bacterial enzymes or shifting gut bacterial composition with probiotics and other treatments.