When I read recently that new studies suggest that there could be a connection between calcium supplements and heart disease, I officially gave up on medical science. Sorry, science, it’s just over between us.
I mean, is there a more sacred cow in women’s health care than supplemental calcium? A lot of other supplements have been hyped over the years – Tryptophan, Sam-e, Echinacea, Chondroitin – but the one indisputable, irrefutable, absolutely sacrosanct piece of advice for women was to take calcium. Hormone replacement, cholesterol limits in egg yolks and shrimp, butter vs. margarine, all went in and out of style. But not calcium.
It was always the first question out of any primary care doctor’s mouth: Are you taking calcium? Really important for bone health unless you want to end up looking like a mobile end table in your 60s.
It’s not even that supplemental calcium might not be helping you. It can be causing you harm. I just can’t help having a giant snit about this. If that’s true, what took medical research so long to figure it out? I’ve been taking supplemental calcium for at least 30 years. Aside from a big fat refund, I also want an extended warranty on my heart from you guys.
Turns out, according to the new research, supplemental calcium can sock it to your heart in several possible ways. One of them is not taking along with it enough magnesium and Vitamin D (the current darling of over-the-counter supplements – I’m predicting it will be found to cause dementia). Another is that the body can really only handle a certain amount of calcium at once and the rest can end up in your arteries causing atheroschlerosis and increasing the risk of heart disease.
Nobody, of course, is saying that you don’t need calcium for your bones. But this week’s prevailing medical wisdom is that to avoid getting too much calcium in your system, you’re only supposed to get it from your diet, preferably in the form of leafy greens and dairy. So, ladies, flush those calcium supplements before they cause you to keel over from calcium excess in the middle of eating a blueberry yogurt. (Of course, we can’t all flush them at once or there’s going to be a LOT of fish with heart disease.)
If the calcium news weren’t bad enough, The New York Times reported on May 14 ANOTHER new study that showed that sharply limiting sodium intake had no health benefits and, like calcium, could actually increase the risk of heart disease. I am ordering an anchovy pizza RIGHT NOW.
For years before that, studies incontrovertibly showed that doing crossword puzzles every day made the aging brain stay agile. Now the Wall Street Journal reports that all crossword puzzles do for your brain is make you better at crossword puzzles.
Personally, I think the National Institutes of Health just enjoy toying with us.
I’ve become seriously suspicious. For example, I remember reading all those studies showing that hormone replacement therapy was good. If those studies were all flawed, how do we know the new ones about calcium and sodium and heart disease aren’t too? Before I completely change my life again, they’re going to have to convince me. And let me just say, I’m going to be a really hard sell at this point.
No, this volte face on calcium is a level of perfidy that cannot be countenanced. You’ve crossed the line this time, microbiology nerds. I’m done with you changing the rules!
I’ve concluded that my husband, Olof, is right: Medical science doesn’t really have a clue. The good news, says Olof, is that you can pick what you want to die from. Neither of us are willing to die from liver since we don’t like liver. But I’m willing to die from chocolate. He’s willing to die from single malt Scotch.
Fortunately for me, there are plenty of opportunities with chocolate to get enough calcium from one’s diet. As a first step, I’m going to drastically up my intake of Ben and Jerry’s Fudge Brownie ice cream. Strictly medicinal.
Inga's lighthearted looks at life in La Jolla appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org