Scientists from Cleveland Clinic found that calcium supplements, frequently given to older people to lessen the risk of brittle bones (osteoporosis) and fractures, are linked to a heightened risk of death among those with aortic valve stenosis.
This is a progressive and potentially fatal condition.
What’s more, these supplements seem to worsen the condition, which is the most common form of heart valve disease in adults in the developed world.
Aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve, the main outflow valve of the heart, stiffens and narrows.
This means it can no longer open fully, reducing or blocking blood flow from the heart into the main artery (aorta) and the rest of the body.
The only effective treatment is the replacement of the faulty valve, a procedure known as AVR (aortic valve replacement).
In the study, the team tracked the heart health of 2657 patients (average age 74;42% women) with mild to moderate aortic stenosis between 2008 and 2018: the average monitoring period was more than 5.5 years.
Participants were divided into those not taking any supplements (1292;49%), those supplemented with vitamin D alone (332;12%), and those given calcium plus or minus vitamin D supplements (1033;39%),115 of whom took just a calcium supplement.
The team found those taking supplements had much more diabetes and coronary artery disease than those not taking supplements.
They were also more likely to be taking statins, warfarin, and phosphate binders (to limit phosphorus absorption), to have had a coronary artery bypass graft and to need kidney dialysis.
The team also found that supplemental vitamin D alone didn’t seem to affect survival.
But supplemental calcium plus vitamin D was associated with a significantly higher (31%) risk of death from any cause and a doubling in the risk of cardiovascular death.
And it was associated with a 48% heightened risk of AVR compared with those not taking supplements.
Supplemental calcium alone was also associated with a heightened risk of death from any cause (24%) and a near tripling in the risk of AVR.
The study suggests that calcium supplementation does not confer any heart benefit, and instead may reflect an elevated overall risk of AVR and mortality, especially in those not undergoing AVR.
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