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Can Calcium Lower Your Cholesterol?

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Updated April 17, 2014

There are many health benefits of calcium, such as strengthening bones, but it could be heart-friendly, too. Some studies are finding that calcium lowers cholesterol.

Calcium’s ability to lower cholesterol has been known for several years. People who live in areas with hard water are known to have a lower incidence of death and complications from cardiovascular disease than those who drink soft water, and it is believed that calcium may have something to do with this. Calcium supplements have been shown to strengthen bones, and in some studies, have been shown to slightly reduce blood pressure. Lowering cholesterol levels is the most recent finding, but studies are mixed about whether or not it really works.

How Does Calcium Lower Cholesterol?

Scientists really don’t know how calcium works. It is thought to work by binding to bile acids and cholesterol in the small intestine, similar to the way fiber and bile acid resins work. By binding to cholesterol in the small intestine, cholesterol is not absorbed into the blood and is instead excreted out of the body in the feces.

What Do The Studies Suggest?

The small studies that have looked at the cholesterol-lowering ability of calcium are widely varied, but do show that at least 1000 mg of elemental calcium modestly lowers total cholesterol by about 2 to 4%. The calcium in each study was taken as one dose, or separated into increments of 400 mg. Additionally, the studies looked at people with high and normal cholesterol levels, as well as individuals ingesting a Western or low fat diet.

In the studies where elemental calcium appeared to lower cholesterol levels, HDL and LDL cholesterol levels were mainly affected. In fact, current studies have shown that roughly one gram of calcium can raise HDL by between 1 and 5% and lower LDL by anywhere between 2 and 6%. Triglycerides were not affected in any of these studies. However, there were other studies that did now show any significant effect on cholesterol due to increased calcium consumption.

How Much Calcium Do I Need?

While there have been some studies that suggest that elemental calcium may slightly lower cholesterol, there are other studies that suggest calcium has no significant effect on cholesterol. Because of this, using solely calcium to lower your cholesterol is not recommended.

As we age, we need calcium to strengthen our bones. If you are older than 19 years of age, it is recommended that your intake of calcium should be between 1000 and 1200 mg a day. This is roughly the same amount used in some of the studies looking at calcium’s ability to lower cholesterol.

You can get this from supplements or from foods high in calcium, including dairy products and fruits. If you are taking calcium supplements, keep in mind that these studies measured elemental calcium, so be sure and read the labels of your calcium supplements to determine the amount of elemental calcium in each product. And more isn’t necessarily better - consuming too much calcium could lead to health problems.

Sources:

Karanja N, Morris CD, Illingworth R. Plasma lipids and hypertension: response to calcium supplementation. Am J Clin Nutr 1987; 45:60-65.

Bostich RM, Fosdick L, Grandits GA et al. Effects of calcium supplementation on serum cholesterol and blood pressure. Arch Fam Med 2000; 9:31-39.

Ditscheid B, Keller S, and Jahreis Gerhard. Cholesterol metabolism is affected by calcium phosphate supplementation in humans. J Nutr 2005; 135: 1678-1682.

Bell L, Halstenson CE, Halstenson CJ, et al. Cholesterol-lowering effects of calcium carbonate in patients with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia. Arch Inter Med 1992; 152: 2441-2444.

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