Warning: The mineral supplement linked to a ‘near tripling’ risk of open heart surgery

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Many people turn to supplements to get their daily dose of vitamins and minerals. This may seem like a wise move but increasing evidence suggests this approach is ill-advised. A study published in the journal Heart warns of the dangers associated with calcium supplementation.

Calcium is a mineral most often associated with healthy bones and teeth, although it also plays an important role in blood clotting.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, you should be able to get all the calcium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

Indeed, research published in the journal Heart suggests calcium supplements are linked to a heightened risk of death among those with aortic valve stenosis – a progressive and potentially fatal condition.

What’s more, the study found calcium supplication nearly triples the risk of needing an aortic valve replacement – the only effective treatment that involves replacing the faulty valve.

These supplements seem to worsen the heart condition, irrespective of whether or not they are combined with vitamin D, the findings show.

Aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve, the main outflow valve of the heart, stiffens and narrows. This means it can no longer open fully, reducing or blocking blood flow from the heart into the main artery (aorta) and the rest of the body.

The association between dietary and supplemental calcium or vitamin D with cardiovascular disease risk and death is fiercely debated.

Yet evidence on their safety is mostly derived from animal studies, and the prescription of both these supplements has risen sharply in recent years, particularly among postmenopausal women, pointed out the researchers.

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The researchers therefore wanted to see what potential impact these supplements might have on death from any cause and from cardiovascular disease, the need for aortic valve replacement, as well as progression of aortic stenosis among older people.

They therefore tracked the heart health of 2,657 patients (average age 74;42 percent women) with mild to moderate aortic stenosis between 2008 and 2018: the average monitoring period was more than 5.5 years.

Participants were divided into those not taking any supplements (1,292), those supplemented with vitamin D alone (332), and those given calcium plus or minus vitamin D supplements (1,033), 115 of whom took just a calcium supplement.

Those taking supplements had significantly more diabetes and coronary artery disease than those not taking supplements.

They were also more likely to be taking statins, warfarin, and phosphate binders (to limit phosphorus absorption), to have had a coronary artery bypass graft and to need kidney dialysis.

During the monitoring period, 540 people died: 150 died of cardiovascular disease; 155 died of other causes; and 235 died of unknown causes. And 774 people had their aortic valve replaced.

More than a third of people in each of the groups developed severe aortic stenosis after five years.

Supplemental vitamin D alone didn’t seem to affect survival. But supplemental calcium plus vitamin D was associated with a significantly higher (31 percent) risk of death from any cause and a doubling in the risk of a cardiovascular death.

And it was associated with a 48 percent heightened risk of AVR compared with those not taking supplements.

Supplemental calcium alone was also associated with a heightened risk of death from any cause (24 percent) and a “near tripling” in the risk of aortic valve replacement, wrote the researchers.

And the risks of death from any cause and from cardiovascular disease were also higher among those taking calcium supplements who didn’t have their aortic valve replaced.

This was an observational study, and therefore couldn’t establish a cause. Those taking supplements also had more risk factors for heart disease and death than those who weren’t and the quantities of calcium intake from diet and supplements weren’t assessed.

But the researchers nevertheless concluded: “Strengthened by its large sample size and extended follow-up period, our study suggests that calcium supplementation does not confer any [cardiovascular] benefit, and instead may reflect an elevated overall risk of AVR [aortic valve replacement] and mortality, especially in those not undergoing AVR.”

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