Life Extension Magazine August 2012
Potential Danger Of Calcium Supplements
By William Faloon
One reason I find life so addicting is that virtually every week, new findings either confirm or contradict scientific positions Life Extension® has taken over the past 32 years.
A study published in May 2012 showed that calcium supplements may increase risk of cardiovascular disease. This study tracked almost 24,000 Europeans and suggested (in a subgroup analysis) that people taking only calcium supplements were about twice as likely to have a heart attack.1
We carefully examined this report and found multiple design flaws that clearly skewed the results. But for the purposes of this editorial, I am going to assume this finding is accurate and explain how to protect against deadly calcification processes.
Later in this piece, I'll reveal startling information as to who really makes the most popular dietary supplements in America.
Calcium Should Not Be Taken By Itself
Those involved in nutritional medicine have long known that people who supplement with calcium should also take adequate amounts of magnesium. The reason is that magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker.2
Magnesium deficiency can induce elevation of intracellular calcium concentrations, and accelerate atherosclerosis.3 Calcium is a component of atherosclerotic plaque and when calcium salts build up in soft tissues it causes hardening, which is technically called calcification.
Exposure to excess amounts of calcium over time, without adequate magnesium sets the stage for endothelial dysfunction and formation of atherosclerotic plaque.3-7
We have published an overwhelming number of articles about the importance of magnesium. I'll never forget when the FDA raided us at gunpoint in 1987 and seized literature we published stating that nutrients like fish oil and magnesium prevent heart attack. They ridiculed the notion that nutrients had any effect on disease risk. That day the FDA had the upper hand and seized our property under the pretext that we were promoting "unapproved drugs" since the FDA did not recognize any health benefit to supplements like magnesium and fish oil.
We later sued in Federal Court and won everything back, along with a small check from the US Treasury that covered some of our legal costs.
Magnesium Deficiency Contributes To Vascular Disease
If calcium supplements do increase heart attack and stroke risk, a lot has to do with magnesium deficiency. The US Department of Agriculture admits that 57% of the American public suffers inadequate magnesium intake.8 The reality is an even higher percentage of Americans are not getting optimal amounts of magnesium. Too bad the FDA forcibly suppressed the dissemination of information about magnesium, while another department of government (Department of Agriculture) warned of an epidemic magnesium deficit.
If a person takes high amounts of calcium without magnesium, they may very well be accelerating the occlusion of arteries in their heart and brain.3-7
Despite threats of incarceration, we and others have repeatedly advised people to supplement with lots of magnesium. We have fortified many of our supplements with extra magnesium, causing some members to call and ask why so much magnesium and so little calcium? Our answer is that most fail to get enough magnesium to protect against vascular disease, whereas more calcium can readily be obtained from dietary and supplement sources.
Assuming that excess calcium intake without regards to magnesium intake may increase heart attack and stroke risk, this may indeed validate what Life Extension® has long espoused about the critical need to balance calcium and magnesium.
Dangers Of Insufficient Calcium
Let's not forget that insufficient calcium intake will cause bone loss leading to osteoporosis and life-ending fractures.9
In fact, insufficient calcium itself accelerates atherosclerosis by causing excess removal of calcium from bone into the bloodstream where it calcifies arteries.10 For example, in validated models of atherosclerosis, calcium-deficient diets increase the rate of tissue calcification by 170% while calcium-supplemented diets reduce calcification by 62%.10
The take home message is to ensure sufficient ingestion of calcium and magnesium and as you'll read next—vitamin K2. Regrettably, the majority of aging women still take calcium supplements with no magnesium or vitamin K2, thus setting the stage for arterial calcification and subsequent heart attack and ischemic stroke.12-20
Vitamin K2 Keeps Calcium Out Of Arteries
Calcium is so essential that if blood levels fall too low, you will die from an electrolyte imbalance that causes your heart to lose contractile rhythm needed to circulate blood.
Remember there are four chambers to your heart that have to precisely expand and contract or your heart will not beat in a stable manner. Electrolytes are minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium that are needed to maintain the heart's electrical synchronicity.
Adequate calcium is so critical that your body has evolved mechanisms to saturate your blood with calcium if there is even a perception of calcium deficit. In the presence of low calcium, parathyroid hormone is secreted that often pulls too much calcium from bones.21 The downside to this as we age is our arterial walls can become infiltrated with calcium (i.e. calcification).
Fortunately, nature has developed a protective mechanism to keep excess calcium out of your arteries. For this important mechanism to function, vitamin K2 is required. The problem is that our diet provides little vitamin K2 and the result is that virtually all aged people suffer calcification of their brain, glands, heart valves, and arteries.
Published data about the ability of vitamin K2 to protect against cardiovascular disease is compelling. For instance, people with higher intake of vitamin K2 intake have a 57% reduction in risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.17 Those with blocked arteries and damaged heart valves show low vitamin K2 status.23-26 Women taking vitamin K2 have reductions in nonvertebral fractures as high as 81%.27
The reason vitamin K maintains bone density while simultaneously protecting against atherosclerosis is that it activates factors in bone to grab and retain calcium while functioning as a lock in the arterial wall to keep calcium out.15,28-32
To explain this further, just imagine a set of calcium-regulating proteins in your arteries that determine whether calcium is allowed in or kept out. If these proteins are locked, they won't allow calcium to enter arterial cells. If the proteins are unlocked, calcium freely flows into cells and destroys them.
The key to turning on calcium-regulating proteins in the body is vitamin K2. If enough K2 is present, these proteins prevent calcium infiltration into soft tissues.33-37 (The name of this vitamin K-dependent calcium-blocking protein in arteries is matrix Gla protein).
Bones contain a protein called osteocalcin that functions like studs in a house. When activated by vitamin K2, osteocalcin grabs on to calcium and holds it in place.28,38-44 Without adequate K2, osteocalcin is not sufficiently activated, which results in calcium leaving bone and depositing into arteries.24,34,45-47
Life Extension first issued an urgent warning about the lethal risks of vitamin K deficit in 1999. I regret we did not discover this sooner as I know of members (including my own father) who perished from systemic calcification brought on by lack of vitamin K2.