Potential Danger Of Calcium Supplements, and How To Use Them Properly_Featured_, Health-Wellness Sunday, August 19th, 2012
by William Faloon
(Life Extension Magazine) 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 causeshardening, 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 andmagnesium 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 withmagnesium 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 theFDA 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 andmagnesium.
Dangers Of Insufficient Calcium
Let’s not forget that insufficient calcium intake will cause bone loss leading to osteoporosis and life-endingfractures.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 orvitamin 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.17Those with blocked arteries and damaged heart valves show low vitamin K2 status.23-26 Women taking vitamin K2have 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
EFFECTS OF HIGHER INGESTION OF VITAMIN K17
To explain this further, just imagine a set ofcalcium-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 calcificationbrought on by lack of vitamin K2.
Vitamin K And Magnesium Remain Overlooked Nutrients
The ability of vitamin K2 to activate calcium-regulating proteins, and thus maintain bone density and inhibit calcification is undisputed, yet the majority of aging Americans do not supplement with vitamin K2. This is slowly changing as word spreads about the critical importance of this overlooked nutrient.
Regrettably, knowledge about the benefits of calcium in protecting against osteoporosis has been widespread for over 30 years, and the result is that aging women have been gobbling down large potencies of calcium supplements without concurrently taking magnesium and vitamin K2.
So it is not surprising for a study to show higher rates of heart attacks and stroke in those using calcium supplements without also taking magnesium and vitamin K. We at Life Extension warned of this risk long ago, yet few outside our membership paid attention. The tragic result may have been revealed in this recent study showing higher heart attack risk in calcium supplement users.
Drug Companies Sell Most Dietary Supplements
Health conscious people may be shocked to learn that the most popular dietary supplements are not made by people dedicated to keeping you alive.
Commercial supplement sales are dominated by Centrum® (made by a division ofPfizer) and One-A-Day® (made by a division of Bayer). These companies do not care about your health or longevity. This has been proven over and over as pharmaceutical companies face criminal charges for selling drugs they knew would kill human beings!
As we reported two years ago, Pfizer pled guilty (through a shell company) to acriminal charge that it fraudulently promoted the drug Bextra® in dangerouslyhigh doses to relieve acute surgical pain. Bextra®was never approved for this use.48 In an analysis presented at the American Heart Association, Bextra® was shown to more than double the risk of heart attack or stroke.49,50 Pfizer paid a record-breaking criminal settlement to the federal government of $1.195 billion for the fraudulent marketing of Bextra®.51,52 By using a subsidiary to plead guilty, Pfizer continues receiving lucrative Medicare/Medicaidreimbursement on its many other drugs.53
An article I wrote last year titled “FDA’s Most Heinous Drug Approval” described how Bayer covered up thelethal side effects of a drug it made called Trasylol®.54 By delaying the withdrawal of Trasylol® from the market, Bayer caused the deaths of 1,000 human beings a month.55 Experts estimate that had Bayer not hidden findings about the dangers of Trasylol®, that 22,000 lives could have been spared.56
Would you trust dietary supplements sold by Pfizer, Bayer, or other pharmaceutical giants who financially benefit if you fall ill? Their track record shows a complete disregard of moral legitimacy. The scary part is that large corporations are increasingly dominating the dietary supplement marketplace by buying up name-brand vitamin companies.
Small Vitamin Companies Gobbled Up By Corporate Behemoths
As the public discovers the disease-preventing properties of nutrients, large corporations realize they have fallen behind the curve. A look at the primitive formulations ofCentrum® and One-A-Day® provides a stark example of what happens when drug companies try to make effective dietary supplements.
A disturbing trend has been corporate giants buying out venerable supplement companies like the recent purchase of New Chapter by Proctor and Gamble57 (world’s largest consumer products company) and Alacer (maker of Emergen-C® effervescent vitamin C) bought out by Pfizer (world’s largest drug company).58
Proctor and Gamble who makes Tide laundry detergent and Pringles potato chips will soon be bringing you supplements under the New Chapter brand (a frequent advertiser in this magazine). There is no need to panic, since the founders of New Chapter will stay on for a while and it will be run for now as an independent subsidiary of Proctor and Gamble. That usually works until the corporate cost-cutters come in to find ways to earn more money from their acquisition.
Solgar59 was once a bedrock of nutritional credibility, but was purchased by NBTY (formerly known as Nature’s Bounty), which then sold to private equity giant Carlyle Group in 2010 for $4 billion.60 (NBTY bought out a number of vitamin companies before selling itself to Carlyle Group—a conglomerate that invests in businesses as diverse as automotive, real estate, energy, and defense contracting).
GNC had its founding in 1935 as a small health food store in Pittsburgh.61,62 It grew to become the largest vitamin retail chain in the world. In 1999, Dutch company Royal Numico purchased GNC at a premium.63 In 2003, Numico sold GNC at a huge loss to private-equity firm Apollo Management.64 In 2007, Apollo sold GNC to an affiliate of theOntario Teachers’ Pension Plan.65 In April 2011, GNC launched a successful initial public offering and became a publically traded corporation again.66
As you’ll read next, large corporations lack the agility, expertise, and commitment to enable humans to stave off aging-related disease.
Pharmacy Chains Don’t Care If You Live Or Die
Displayed prominently at the check-out counter when you walk in to most Walgreen’s or CVS stores is a tall wall of tobacco products. These large pharmacy chains offer all kinds of packaged junk foods, toxic OTC drugs like acetaminophen, and of course any side-effect prone prescription drug your doctor may have been duped into prescribing.
We have previously written about the immorality of openly selling cigarettes since it provides nicotine addicts with an easy opportunity to continue or resume their lethal habit. An argument could be made to organize boycotts against pharmacy chains until they stop selling cigarettes. The sad fact is that the public has become far too apathetic for this kind of boycott to succeed in removing tobacco products from pharmacy shelves.