No, of course not. But it is true you shouldn’t take them alone.
A new British Medical Journal study has created more headlines in the mainstream media. One article opened with this: “A new study should put the final nail in the coffin for any lingering beliefs that calcium supplements are good for you.”
That’s odd. It was only a few years ago that the World Health Organization wanted to put calcium in everyone’s water supply. We didn’t like that proposal at all, but not because we think that calcium supplementation is a bad idea.
The actual data in the new BMJ study do not support the strange conclusions drawn by either Dr. Mark J. Bolland, the study’s author, or the media. Note this sentence from the study’s conclusion: “The 1-2% increase in [bone marrow density]observed with increased calcium intake would be predicted to produce a 5-10% reduction in risk of fracture.” This hardly suggests that calcium is worthless. Bone marrow density more usually declines with age, not increases.
This is familiar territory for Prof. Bolland, who has been staking out an anti-supplement position for some time with regard to bone health and osteoporosis. He published a paper in 2013 warning that calcium supplementation leads to calcification in the heart and arteries—a conclusion that has been disputed by other studies that did not find this risk.
More importantly, Bolland ignores a key point: to maximize bone health, it is crucial to combine calcium with vitamin K2, which helps move calcium into the proper areas in your body. Vitamin D and magnesium are also critical to getting calcium where it needs to go, and not letting it lodge in blood vessels and the heart. Not surprisingly, Bolland has even contested the usefulness of vitamin D for bone health, despite the overwhelming evidence that has convinced most of the medical establishment.
You can guess where the professor ends up. In addition to recommending against supplemental calcium, he concludes that people “should be encouraged to take agents with proven efficacy in preventing [fractures]”—that is, pharmaceutical drugs.
And what are the “agents with proven efficacy” Dr. Bolland recommends? Bisphosphonates, the largest class of osteoporosis drugs. And they carry the usual list of nasty side effects, including hives, headache, constipation, joint pain, dizziness, blood in the urine, and muscle pain. But those aren’t the main issues. An FDA review in 2012 acknowledged a much graver cause for concern. These drugs do not create new bone. They just prevent the elimination of old bone. This leads to weaker bones in some people. Oral surgeons notice that extractions from bone treated this way do not heal well—or do not heal at all. There have been cases of jawbone death, and believe us, you do not want to have your jawbone die.
There is also a link to esophageal cancer. Moreover, the FDA found little benefit from the drugs after three to five years of use. Bisphosphonates should have been removed from the market. Why weren’t they? How can Dr. Bolland still recommend them?
The only answer we can come up with is money. Big Pharma can’t make money from calcium and vitamin supplements, but it can from osteoporosis medications that patients take for years on end.
About that World Health Organization proposal to put calcium in drinking water—government and international agencies never get this kind of thing right and should just stop interfering. But what really alarmed us was the idea of doing without co-factors such as vitamins K and D. Nutrients—isolated and without vital co-factors, forced on consumers—are not the answer to bone health, nor are dangerous drugs. We build healthy bone the way we build healthy bodies: through proper diet, exercise, and appropriate supplementation.