Well, it’s happened again. Researchers released a poorly designed on a particular supplement, and the press trumpeted the supposed health risks associated with it. In reading the news reports and the published study this week, it looks to us that neither researchers nor reporters did their homework.
The study was a meta-analysis (research of other research) that looked at the results of 15 previous studies that featured calcium supplements for women, and there’s so much wrong with it and the way it’s being reported that we almost don’t know where to start with a response, but we’ll give it a try.
Though the study's authors stated rightfully that calcium taken without vitamin D is a very bad idea, there is a danger that people may conclude that they shouldn't take calcium at all. Wrong! According to the published text of the study, research subjects were given calcium … period. Calcium is a critically important nutrient, especially for women. But it is a team player – anyone with an ounce of nutritional knowledge knows that it should never be administered in isolation.
Designing a study that administers calcium in isolation is like trying to win the Stanley Cup with only one hockey player on the ice: It just doesn’t make sense – and it’s a big waste of time and money. Just as a hockey player needs to be part of a good team to win the NHL’s biggest prize, calcium needs to be part of a good team if it’s going to win health’s biggest prize. Without complementary vitamins and minerals on calcium’s team, the game is lost because a person’s body cannot properly absorb calcium or lay down bone if calcium is taken in isolation.
Other nutrients should be taken along with calcium supplements
The MVP on the calcium team is magnesium– and it appears the research subjects were not given magnesium with their calcium. Magnesium helps the body absorb calcium, and researchers should not have been administering calcium without it. They also should not have been administering calcium without vitamin C, vitamin D3, zinc, copper, and manganese. Yes, these are the other team players that make calcium a winner.
It’s no surprise that heart attack and stroke occurred in this study. Administering calcium in isolation would have left the body in an unbalanced state deficient in magnesium. More than twenty conditions are directly related to magnesium deficiency. Among these are:
Muscle problems such as aching, cramps, stiffness, tics, twitches and weakness. Hm-m-m-m. The last time we checked, the heart was a muscle. If the heart muscle cramps, that’s a heart attack
Cardiovascular problems such as angina, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Yup, you read that right: heart attack and stroke
In our view, administering calcium in isolation set people up for some kind of cardiovascular event (To us, it’s ridiculous beyond belief).
Which kind of vitamin D should you take with calcium supplements?
Second, we notice that some of the research subjects were given vitamin D, but the study is silent on what form of vitamin D was given. Was it vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) or was it vitamin D2 (an inferior form)? Since the researchers didn’t know enough to administer vitamin C, zinc, copper, or manganese with calcium, what are the odds they didn’t pay attention to the form of vitamin D the research subjects were taking, either? You can bet that NHL coaches use their best players during the Stanley Cup playoffs. We don’t know if the researchers did the same with vitamin D during their study.
Third, this research is meta-research. Now, we are the first to say that meta-research certainly can be valuable, but in this case, too many variables were left unaccounted for. In the research, some subjects already were taking calcium supplements. What form of calcium? Did the supplements include magnesium? How about vitamin C, zinc, or copper? Did their supplements include vitamin D? If so, was it D2 or D3? Were proper doses and ratios of the nutrients taken? Did they query whether a vitamin D test had been administered to determine whether study participants were vitamin-D deficient? All of these questions should have been answered if the research was to be truly viable.
We think it’s interesting that those subjects who were taking calcium supplements prior to the study had fewer incidents of heart attack and stroke. Is this because their supplements also contained important synergistic nutrients?
In our next blog, we’ll address our fourth issue as we explore the role of magnesium and explain what it takes to rebuild your (aging?) bones.
Gloria Askew, RRN, has served as department head at numerous emergency wards and as a chief administrator of a major Canadian hospital. Jerre Paquette, Ph.D, is a professor of English and Film Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta.