Calcium supplements, often prescribed to post-menopausal women to help strengthen their bones, may boost the risk of heart problems and stroke, according to a paper published on Wednesday by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

University of Auckland researchers in New Zealand analysed data from a study on bone density in which nearly 1,500 healthy women aged over 55 were enrolled.

The volunteers were divided into two equal groups. They were given either daily calcium supplements or a harmless lookalike pill called a placebo, and their health was then monitored every six months over five years.

In the "calcium" group, 60 of the women had 76 so-called cardiovascular events, a term meaning heart attack, stroke or sudden death, during the five-year monitoring period.

In the placebo group, 50 of the women had 54 such events.

Previous studies have suggested the opposite effect -- that high calcium intake boosts vascular health in post-menopausal women by increasing the proportion of "good" cholesterol in the blood over "bad" cholesterol.

The team, led by Ian Reid, caution that the association they see between calcium boosters and sudden heart problems is not conclusive and needs to be explored further.

They also note that the "potentially detrimental" effect of calcium needs to be balanced against the benefits that it has for bone density.

 (AFP)-PARIS, Jan 16, 2008


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