Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on Sept. 11. Volunteer today


AARP Staying Sharp: Keep Your Brain Healthy


The tablet with free 24/7 customer support. Learn More


Military and Veterans Discount


AARP’s Picture Your Retirement Sweepstakes

Enter the $50K Picture Your Retirement Sweepstakes. Ends 8/31/15. No purchase necessary. Enter for Official Rules.


AARP Games - Play Now!

Learning Centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.


Heart Disease


Most Popular


Health Discovery

Are You Taking Too Much Calcium?

Supplements may raise heart attack risk, but calcium from food doesn't

measuring tape in shape of waist

Want to Lose Weight? Follow these 12 tips to shed pounds and stay healthy.

Here's some bad news for the millions of older women who regularly take calcium supplements in hopes of warding off osteoporosis: There is growing evidence that the pills significantly raise the risk of having a heart attack.

The good news is that getting your calcium the old-fashioned way — from food — actually seems to protect against heart disease, while providing bone-strengthening benefits.

Sign up for the AARP Health Newsletter.

Health Discovery: Calcium Supplements and Heart Attacks

Get your calcium from food rather than supplements to reduce your risk of getting a heart attack. — Photo by Tooga/Getty Images

Those paradoxical findings come from a newly published study of nearly 24,000 German men and women whose dietary preferences were followed for 11 years.

The study found that daily use of supplements containing calcium increased heart attack risk by 86 percent. But supplement use did not affect the risk of stroke or death from cardiovascular disease, according to Sabine Rohrmann, a nutritionist and epidemiologist at the University of Zurich and coauthor of the study published in the journal Heart.

Meanwhile, people who consumed 820 milligrams of calcium a day from food — more than half of which typically came from dairy — had a 30 percent lower risk of heart attack than those who got the least amount of calcium, Rohrmann says. The 820-milligram amount seemed to be a sweet spot: Those who took in even more calcium from food (about 1,130 milligrams daily) saw no further reduction in heart attack risk, she adds.

The new findings echo other recent research highlighting the potential heart risk from calcium supplements, says Ian Reid, M.D., a professor at the University of Auckland medical school in New Zealand who has coauthored several studies on the subject. He believes that calcium taken in highly concentrated form causes a spike in blood levels that damages the arteries. Calcium in food is absorbed more slowly, however, leaving blood levels unchanged.

The latest study focused on residents in the German city of Heidelberg who were between the ages of 35 and 64 when they were recruited starting in 1994 for the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. They regularly filled out questionnaires about the foods they ate and the supplements they took. The researchers also examined combination supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D, Rohrmann says, but concluded that calcium — whether alone or in combo with vitamin D — was linked to heart attack risk.

Rohrmann does add a caveat: The scientists don't know exactly how much calcium participants got from supplements because they weren't asked what size dose they were taking. "We guessed that the intake is about a thousand milligrams per day," she says. It's unclear whether there might be a safe lower calcium supplement dose. But if a doctor prescribes calcium supplements, she recommends dissolving the pills in a bottle of water or juice and sipping from it throughout the day. That way, she says, "Your actual dose per intake is getting smaller."

Next: Aim for 600 to 800 milligrams of calcium per day. »

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Lark McCarthy takes a closer look at the dangers of taking too many prescription drugs. Adverse reactions and misuse of prescription drugs have now become a major concern for older patients.

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Walgreens 1 discount membership aarp

Members can earn 50 points per $1 spent on select health & wellness products at Walgreens.

member benefit aarp hear usa

Members save 15% on easy listening devices and more at the HearUSA Hearing Shop.

Eye Med 4 Membership Benefit AARP Discount

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at Target Optical.

Membership Benefits Discounts Email Genius

Brain boost? Get AARP email for access to memory exercises & more that help you focus.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points