Health Buzz: Calcium Supplements May Boost Heart Attack Risk

Plus, how to fight 4 causes of aging.

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Calcium Supplements May Boost Heart Attack Risk

A new review of research on calcium supplements raises concern for those who routinely take them to prevent bone loss. After analyzing data on close to 12,000 adults, researchers found that in people older than 40, the supplements appear to increase the risk of heart attack by as much as 30 percent (the risk is still small) while providing very limited benefit to bone health, HealthDay reports. Unlike calcium from dietary sources, supplements can boost blood levels of calcium, which may hike a person's heart attack risk. The researchers encourage people to get calcium through dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and other dietary sources. "It is not clear whether [calcium supplements] really increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes," said John Cleland, author of an editorial accompanying the report in the British Journal of Medicine, according to HealthDay. But "they do appear to be a waste of time and effort, and we should probably stop using them."

The supposed health benefits of supplements in general face scrutiny. Clinical trials suggest that supplements of single nutrients like vitamins B, C, and E and the mineral selenium do not, as once thought, prevent chronic or age-related diseases including prostate and other kinds of cancer, U.S. News contributor Katherine Hobson wrote last year. In some cases, supplements have proven harmful. Beta carotene in the diet, for example, is associated with a lower risk of lung cancer, but as a supplement, it increased the incidence of the disease among smokers. Under various circumstances, it behaves differently in the body and can cause damage, Hobson wrote. [Read more: Cancer and Supplements: What Vitamins, Herbs, and Botanicals Can (and Can't) Do.]

  • Vitamins and Supplements: Do They Work?
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  • Fight These 4 Causes of Aging

    Benjamin Franklin once declared that "we get old too soon and wise too late." Applying a little wisdom, though, may keep you from aging before your time, U.S. News's Deborah Kotz writes. "Only about 5 to 20 percent of the aging process has to do with our genes," says Jonny Bowden, a nutritionist and best-selling author of numerous books including his recently released The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer. "The rest has to do with how we treat our bodies, which determines whether, like a light switch, we turn the good genes on and the bad genes off." His book identifies what he calls "the four horsemen of aging," which are thought to be dangerous processes that age our bodies and are triggered by the foods we eat and the lifestyles we lead. Conquer these four horsemen, Bowden contends, and you can slow down the aging process and help stave off heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

    1. Free radicals. Similar to the way rust attacks a car, free radicals—chemically unstable molecules—attack our cells and damage our DNA, a process that many experts believe accelerates aging. Free radicals are also known to increase the risk of cancer. You can't, unfortunately, completely avoid these molecules—they're present in the air you breathe—but you can limit your exposure to them, says Bowden, by avoiding things like cigarettes, trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils which have been banned from many foods), excess sun exposure, charred meats, and other sources. Bowden also recommends buying organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible to limit your exposure to pesticides and herbicides, which also contain the harmful molecules. If you can't afford to go completely organic, try to at least buy the following foods organically: peaches, apples, blueberries, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, imported grapes, spinach, kale, and potatoes. Last year, the Environmental Working Group found that these "dirty dozen" contain the highest level of chemical residue when compared to other kinds of produce. That being said, fruits and vegetables are also chock full of antioxidants, which are thought to neutralize free radicals, so you should still aim to get five servings a day, organic or not. Those with the highest amount of antioxidants include prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, and kale.