I've read that calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart attack. Is this true?

Answers from Martha Grogan, M.D.

Some doctors think it's possible that taking calcium supplements may increase your risk of a heart attack. Other doctors believe that calcium supplements have little or no effect on your heart attack risk.

There's concern about calcium supplements and heart attack risk because many people take calcium supplements to treat or prevent bone diseases, such as osteoporosis. A recent study from the National Institutes of Health suggests there is an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases from taking calcium supplements for men only. Other studies suggest there is an increased risk for both men and women.

It's thought that the calcium in supplements could make its way into fatty plaques in your arteries — a condition called atherosclerosis — causing those plaques to harden and increase your risk of heart disease.

More research is needed before doctors know the effect calcium supplements may have on your heart attack risk. The calcium supplements that some doctors are concerned about are those that contain only calcium — not supplements that combine calcium and vitamin D or multivitamin supplements. Calcium from food sources, such as dairy and green leafy vegetables, is not a concern.

Current recommendations regarding calcium supplements for people who have, or have risk factors for, osteoporosis haven't changed. As with any health issue, it's important to talk to your doctor to determine what's best in your case.

Apr. 19, 2013