Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A serious and often fatal condition, heart disease is caused by cardiometabolic dysfunctions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and obesity.
However, a recent study published in Endocrinology and Metabolism revealed that excessive levels of calcium might also heighten the risk of heart disease.
Calcium is not inherently bad for you
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Most of it can be found in bones and teeth alone, which is why it is extremely crucial for osteoporosis prevention.
Besides bone formation, calcium also plays an important role in other body functions like blood circulation, hormone production and immunity. Calcium also helps carry signals from the brain to different parts of the body.
Without adequate levels of calcium, bones can become brittle and susceptible to fractures. A lack of calcium can also result in stunted bone growth, poor teeth health and chronic muscle pain. (Related: Calcium deficiency causes bone fractures, kidney stones.)
Calcium was also thought to protect against heart disease due to its positive effects on blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. However, recent studies show that it has negative effects on the circulatory system as well.
The link between calcium and heart disease
A team of researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand established that excessive levels of calcium led to increased mortality and progression of heart disease. Upon analysis of several prospective studies, the researchers found that excess calcium contributed to artery plaque, a biomarker for heart disease.
Given the findings of the study, the researchers concluded that excess levels of calcium were a definite contributor to heart disease risk. They also suggested that fracture and fall prevention strategies for older adults should focus on weight maintenance instead of increasing calcium intake.
Other studies also support the researcher’s findings. Another recent study published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports revealed excessive levels of calcium are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Meanwhile, researchers from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine found that high calcium levels increased the likelihood of blood clots. Also, excessive levels of calcium caused arteries to harden, thus raising the risk of heart disease.
Natural ways to minimize the risk of heart disease
Switching to a healthier lifestyle is still one of the best ways to stay healthy and prevent the onset of heart disease. Here are six lifestyle changes that can lead to better heart health.
Regular physical activity helps reduce cholesterol and control weight. It also minimizes the risk of other cardiometabolic dysfunctions that take a toll on the heart, such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels. To stay healthy, aim for at least 30–60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
A diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean meat and healthy fats can help protect the heart from blood sugar spikes and high cholesterol. Additionally, limit or avoid foods that contain high amounts of refined sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity is a biomarker for heart disease and other chronic diseases. Eat healthily and commit to an exercise regimen to maintain a healthy weight.
Get enough sleep
A lack of sleep causes hormonal imbalances that increase the risk of obesity. Make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Aim to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
Chemicals in tobacco and secondhand smoke can damage blood vessels and affect respiration. Cigarette smoke can also increase blood pressure and affect heart rate.
Stress can lead to unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking and overeating. To relieve stress, practice mindfulness exercises, do gentle stretches, breathe slowly, or drink herbal teas.
While recent studies show that calcium might be a potential biomarker for heart disease, this doesn’t mean you should give up calcium altogether. It remains an essential micronutrient, so follow a balanced diet complete with calcium-rich foods to prevent nutritional deficiency.