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A recent large study has shown that calcium supplementation, with or without added vitamin D, shows no significant increase in the risk of any cardiovascular events.

Previously it was thought that calcium supplementation increased the incidence of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes in persons using these supplements. The evidence to confirm or negate these finding were inconclusive, until recently. 

A large study, conducted on data obtained from U.K. Biobank of over 500,000 men and women between the ages of 40-69, was presented by the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton. It was noted that calcium supplementation - with or without added or combined vitamin D - doesn't cause any increase in the mortality risk associated with any cardiovascular events such as hearts attacks and strokes. This was true regardless of age, medication use or whether the patients had pre-exisitng cardiovascular issues or not.

This is especially significant since management of osteoporosis includes the use of calcium and vitamin D supplementation to help improve patients' bone densities. Since osteoporosis can increase the incidence of cardiovascular complications, especially in women, it would be very important to determine whether medications used to manage this problem increase the development of unwanted complications or not.

The clinical implication of this study would then suggest that prescribing calcium supplements, with or without vitamin D added, would be safe in patients and would not be associated with the development or increased risk of cardiovascular complications.

Calcium and vitamin D supplementation

The body needs calcium and vitamin D in order to build and maintain healthy bones. Bone material gets broken down, absorbed by the body and new bone material is produced to serve as a replacement, a process known as bone turnover. As humans get older, bone turnover tends to decrease which means that more bone gets broken down than what gets replaced. This can then lead to conditions such as osteoporosis.

The other essential benefits of calcium include assisting with and improving the function of the muscles, the heart and the nervous system. There is some evidence that calcium helps to protect against issues such as diabetes, cancers and high blood pressure, but it isn't definitive.

Calcium isn't produced by the human body and therefore needs to be taking in via other sources. These can include the following:

  • Most commonly, calcium is found in dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and milk.
  • Fish with soft, edible bones such as canned salmon and sardines.
  • Dark, leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli.
  • Calcium-fortified drinks and foods such as certain cereals and fruit juices, milk substitutes and soy products.
Vitamin D is important in the bone turnover process as its function is to act like the "cement" which bonds calcium in order to produce an adequate bone matrix.

Vitamin D is produced by the body with adequate skin exposure to the sun. It can also be found in dietary sources such as egg yolks and bones from canned salmon. 

Calcium supplements can interact with certain medications, the most important of which is thyroxine which is used to treat an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). In order to avoid interaction between these medications, it's usually suggested to take these supplements at least 4 hours apart.

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