Life Extension Magazine®

Blue stethoscope used for heart attack risks from calcification

Potential Danger Of Calcium Supplements

A recent study showed that calcium supplements (by themselves) may increase heart attack risk. Omitted was data showing that magnesium and vitamin K2 prevent cardiovascular disease by shielding soft tissues against deadly calcification. Find out who makes the most popular supplements in America and how these poorly designed formulas can accelerate occlusion of arteries in the heart and brain.

Scientifically reviewed by Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: William Faloon.

William Faloon
William Faloon
As I approach 58 years of age, I am taking even more aggressive steps to slow my rate of aging, like reducing calorie intake and getting in a bit more physical activity. I recently shaved my moustache to modernize my appearance for some TV shows scheduled later this year.

One reason I find life so addicting is that virtually every week, new findings either confirm or contradict scientific positions Life Extension® has taken over the past 32 years.

A study published in May 2012 showed that calcium supplements may increase risk of cardiovascular disease. This study tracked almost 24,000 Europeans and suggested (in a subgroup analysis) that people taking only calcium supplements were about twice as likely to have a heart attack.1

We carefully examined this report and found multiple design flaws that clearly skewed the results. But for the purposes of this editorial, I am going to assume this finding is accurate and explain how to protect against deadly calcification processes.

Later in this piece, I'll reveal startling information as to who really makes the most popular dietary supplements in America.

Calcium Should Not Be Taken By Itself

Calcium Should Not Be Taken By Itself

Those involved in nutritional medicine have long known that people who supplement with calcium should also take adequate amounts of magnesium. The reason is that magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker.2

Magnesium deficiency can induce elevation of intracellular calcium concentrations, and accelerate atherosclerosis.3 Calcium is a component of atherosclerotic plaque and when calcium salts build up in soft tissues it causes hardening, which is technically called calcification.

Exposure to excess amounts of calcium over time, without adequate magnesium sets the stage for endothelial dysfunction and formation of atherosclerotic plaque.3-7

We have published an overwhelming number of articles about the importance of magnesium. I'll never forget when the FDA raided us at gunpoint in 1987 and seized literature we published stating that nutrients like fish oil and magnesium prevent heart attack. They ridiculed the notion that nutrients had any effect on disease risk. That day the FDA had the upper hand and seized our property under the pretext that we were promoting "unapproved drugs" since the FDA did not recognize any health benefit to supplements like magnesium and fish oil.

We later sued in Federal Court and won everything back, along with a small check from the US Treasury that covered some of our legal costs.

Magnesium Deficiency Contributes To Vascular Disease

Magnesium Deficiency Contributes To Vascular Disease

If calcium supplements do increase heart attack and stroke risk, a lot has to do with magnesium deficiency. The US Department of Agriculture admits that 57% of the American public suffers inadequate magnesium intake.8 The reality is an even higher percentage of Americans are not getting optimal amounts of magnesium. Too bad the FDA forcibly suppressed the dissemination of information about magnesium, while another department of government (Department of Agriculture) warned of an epidemic magnesium deficit.

If a person takes high amounts of calcium without magnesium, they may very well be accelerating the occlusion of arteries in their heart and brain.3-7

Despite threats of incarceration, we and others have repeatedly advised people to supplement with lots of magnesium. We have fortified many of our supplements with extra magnesium, causing some members to call and ask why so much magnesium and so little calcium? Our answer is that most fail to get enough magnesium to protect against vascular disease, whereas more calcium can readily be obtained from dietary and supplement sources.

Assuming that excess calcium intake without regards to magnesium intake may increase heart attack and stroke risk, this may indeed validate what Life Extension® has long espoused about the critical need to balance calcium and magnesium.

Dangers Of Insufficient Calcium

Let's not forget that insufficient calcium intake will cause bone loss leading to osteoporosis and life-ending fractures.9

In fact, insufficient calcium itself accelerates atherosclerosis by causing excess removal of calcium from bone into the bloodstream where it calcifies arteries.10 For example, in validated models of atherosclerosis, calcium-deficient diets increase the rate of tissue calcification by 170% while calcium-supplemented diets reduce calcification by 62%.10

The take home message is to ensure sufficient ingestion of calcium and magnesium and as you'll read next—vitamin K2. Regrettably, the majority of aging women still take calcium supplements with no magnesium or vitamin K2, thus setting the stage for arterial calcification and subsequent heart attack and ischemic stroke.12-20

Vitamin K2 Keeps Calcium Out Of Arteries

Vitamin K2 Keeps Calcium Out Of Arteries

Calcium is so essential that if blood levels fall too low, you will die from an electrolyte imbalance that causes your heart to lose contractile rhythm needed to circulate blood.

Remember there are four chambers to your heart that have to precisely expand and contract or your heart will not beat in a stable manner. Electrolytes are minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium that are needed to maintain the heart's electrical synchronicity.

Adequate calcium is so critical that your body has evolved mechanisms to saturate your blood with calcium if there is even a perception of calcium deficit. In the presence of low calcium, parathyroid hormone is secreted that often pulls too much calcium from bones.21 The downside to this as we age is our arterial walls can become infiltrated with calcium (i.e. calcification).

Fortunately, nature has developed a protective mechanism to keep excess calcium out of your arteries. For this important mechanism to function, vitamin K2 is required. The problem is that our diet provides little vitamin K2 and the result is that virtually all aged people suffer calcification of their brain, glands, heart valves, and arteries.

Published data about the ability of vitamin K2 to protect against cardiovascular disease is compelling. For instance, people with higher intake of vitamin K2 intake have a 57% reduction in risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.17 Those with blocked arteries and damaged heart valves show low vitamin K2 status.23-26 Women taking vitamin K2 have reductions in nonvertebral fractures as high as 81%.27

The reason vitamin K maintains bone density while simultaneously protecting against atherosclerosis is that it activates factors in bone to grab and retain calcium while functioning as a lock in the arterial wall to keep calcium out.15,28-32

Reduction in All-Cause Mortality 26%
Reduction in Severe Aortic Calcification 52%
Reduction in Coronary Artery Disease 57%

To explain this further, just imagine a set of calcium-regulating proteins in your arteries that determine whether calcium is allowed in or kept out. If these proteins are locked, they won't allow calcium to enter arterial cells. If the proteins are unlocked, calcium freely flows into cells and destroys them.

The key to turning on calcium-regulating proteins in the body is vitamin K2. If enough K2 is present, these proteins prevent calcium infiltration into soft tissues.33-37 (The name of this vitamin K-dependent calcium-blocking protein in arteries is matrix Gla protein).

Bones contain a protein called osteocalcin that functions like studs in a house. When activated by vitamin K2, osteocalcin grabs on to calcium and holds it in place.28,38-44 Without adequate K2, osteocalcin is not sufficiently activated, which results in calcium leaving bone and depositing into arteries.24,34,45-47

Life Extension first issued an urgent warning about the lethal risks of vitamin K deficit in 1999. I regret we did not discover this sooner as I know of members (including my own father) who perished from systemic calcification brought on by lack of vitamin K2.

Vitamin K And Magnesium Remain Overlooked Nutrients

The ability of vitamin K2 to activate calcium-regulating proteins, and thus maintain bone density and inhibit calcification is undisputed, yet the majority of aging Americans do not supplement with vitamin K2. This is slowly changing as word spreads about the critical importance of this overlooked nutrient.

Regrettably, knowledge about the benefits of calcium in protecting against osteoporosis has been widespread for over 30 years, and the result is that aging women have been gobbling down large potencies of calcium supplements without concurrently taking magnesium and vitamin K2.

So it is not surprising for a study to show higher rates of heart attacks and stroke in those using calcium supplements without also taking magnesium and vitamin K. We at Life Extension warned of this risk long ago, yet few outside our membership paid attention. The tragic result may have been revealed in this recent study showing higher heart attack risk in calcium supplement users.

Drug Companies Sell Most Dietary Supplements

Health conscious people may be shocked to learn that the most popular dietary supplements are not made by people dedicated to keeping you alive.

Drug Companies Sell Most Dietary Supplements

Commercial supplement sales are dominated by Centrum® (made by a division of Pfizer) and One-A-Day® (made by a division of Bayer). These companies do not care about your health or longevity. This has been proven over and over as pharmaceutical companies face criminal charges for selling drugs they knew would kill human beings!

As we reported two years ago, Pfizer pled guilty (through a shell company) to a criminal charge that it fraudulently promoted the drug Bextra® in dangerously high doses to relieve acute surgical pain. Bextra®was never approved for this use.48 In an analysis presented at the American Heart Association, Bextra® was shown to more than double the risk of heart attack or stroke.49,50 Pfizer paid a record-breaking criminal settlement to the federal government of $1.195 billion for the fraudulent marketing of Bextra®.51,52 By using a subsidiary to plead guilty, Pfizer continues receiving lucrative Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement on its many other drugs.53

An article I wrote last year titled "FDA's Most Heinous Drug Approval" described how Bayer covered up the lethal side effects of a drug it made called Trasylol®.54 By delaying the withdrawal of Trasylol® from the market, Bayer caused the deaths of 1,000 human beings a month.55 Experts estimate that had Bayer not hidden findings about the dangers of Trasylol®, that 22,000 lives could have been spared.56

Would you trust dietary supplements sold by Pfizer, Bayer, or other pharmaceutical giants who financially benefit if you fall ill? Their track record shows a complete disregard of moral legitimacy. The scary part is that large corporations are increasingly dominating the dietary supplement marketplace by buying up name-brand vitamin companies.

Small Vitamin Companies Gobbled Up By Corporate Behemoths

Small Vitamin Companies Gobbled Up By Corporate Behemoths

As the public discovers the disease-preventing properties of nutrients, large corporations realize they have fallen behind the curve. A look at the primitive formulations of Centrum® and One-A-Day® provides a stark example of what happens when drug companies try to make effective dietary supplements.

A disturbing trend has been corporate giants buying out venerable supplement companies like the recent purchase of New Chapter by Proctor and Gamble57 (world's largest consumer products company) and Alacer (maker of Emergen-C® effervescent vitamin C) bought out by Pfizer (world's largest drug company).58

Proctor and Gamble who makes Tide laundry detergent and Pringles potato chips will soon be bringing you supplements under the New Chapter brand (a frequent advertiser in this magazine). There is no need to panic, since the founders of New Chapter will stay on for a while and it will be run for now as an independent subsidiary of Proctor and Gamble. That usually works until the corporate cost-cutters come in to find ways to earn more money from their acquisition.

Solgar59 was once a bedrock of nutritional credibility, but was purchased by NBTY (formerly known as Nature's Bounty), which then sold to private equity giant Carlyle Group in 2010 for $4 billion.60 (NBTY bought out a number of vitamin companies before selling itself to Carlyle Group—a conglomerate that invests in businesses as diverse as automotive, real estate, energy, and defense contracting).

GNC had its founding in 1935 as a small health food store in Pittsburgh.61,62 It grew to become the largest vitamin retail chain in the world. In 1999, Dutch company Royal Numico purchased GNC at a premium.63 In 2003, Numico sold GNC at a huge loss to private-equity firm Apollo Management.64 In 2007, Apollo sold GNC to an affiliate of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.65 In April 2011, GNC launched a successful initial public offering and became a publically traded corporation again.66

As you'll read next, large corporations lack the agility, expertise, and commitment to enable humans to stave off aging-related disease.

Pharmacy Chains Don't Care If You Live Or Die

Displayed prominently at the check-out counter when you walk in to most Walgreen's or CVS stores is a tall wall of tobacco products. These large pharmacy chains offer all kinds of packaged junk foods, toxic OTC drugs like acetaminophen, and of course any side-effect prone prescription drug your doctor may have been duped into prescribing.

We have previously written about the immorality of openly selling cigarettes since it provides nicotine addicts with an easy opportunity to continue or resume their lethal habit. An argument could be made to organize boycotts against pharmacy chains until they stop selling cigarettes. The sad fact is that the public has become far too apathetic for this kind of boycott to succeed in removing tobacco products from pharmacy shelves.

The typical consumer trusts the private label brands of pharmacy chains and even supermarkets, yet these corporate behemoths lack the scientific integrity to make state-of-the-art nutritional formulas.

Pharmacy Chains Don't Care If You Live Or Die

To give you a startling example of how poorly formulated products made by pharmacy giants are, look at a fiber product made by Walgreen's. It has an attractive-colored label, a healthy sounding name "Wal-Mucil 100% Natural Fiber" and a low price of just $10.99. There is even a health claim on the side panel stating that the fiber in this product may reduce risk of heart disease.

You may recall that the primary benefit of fiber taken before meals is to slow the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, or stated differently, to reduce dangerous after-meal blood glucose surges that cause heart attacks and strokes.

Now hold on to your seat as you find out what's really in Walgreen's fiber supplement. One of the top ingredients in this fiber product is table sugar (sucrose). Each serving provides 3 grams of sugars and only 3 grams of fiber.67 Those seeking to use Walgreen's fiber to prevent diabetes and vascular disease would inadvertently increase these risks by using—according to the label—a "Dietary Fiber Supplement."

Life Extension and other quality supplement companies have long made fiber products that do not contain sugar. Walgreen's may or may not have known about the dangers of excess sugar consumption. What we know is that sugar is a cheap filler ingredient and it made their product taste good. Walgreen's was either oblivious or didn't care that their fiber product would inflict serious health problems on someone who regularly used it.

I directly learned almost 20 years ago that these pharmacy giant's only concern is the financial bottom line—not their customer's health. As the first organization to launch melatonin, we were besieged by calls from pharmacy chains after prestigious mainstream doctors began endorsing it. Back in those days we were the only ones able to make virtually 100% pure melatonin. The best our competition at the time could do was 98% purity. Pharmacy chains who called us were only concerned with the cost and whether we had product liability insurance.

One of these companies I talked to complained we were slightly overpriced. I warned that the 2% impurities in our competitor's product might cause a health risk analogous to contaminated tryptophan (since the biosynthesizing processes were similar). I will never forget when a major pharmacy chain representative told me:

"We don't care about the quality of the ingredient. Our only concern is lowest price and whether you have product liability insurance to cover lawsuits that might be filed if your ingredient harms someone."

Life Extension® seldom carries product liability insurance (because of the confidence in our ingredients) and 100% melatonin cost more to make than 98% material, so we never benefited in a major way financially from an ingredient (melatonin) that we were the first to introduce.

Based on my direct interactions with pharmacy chains, they don't care if you live another day, while I will feel perpetually guilty for not identifying the disease-preventing properties of vitamin K before 1999.

Why We Are Different…

Why We Are Different…

Life Extension® has been, and continues to be structured as an entity that will fund biomedical research in perpetuity. We will not sell out to large corporate interests and our mission to indefinitely extend the healthy human life span will not alter.

How can we assure this? Each year, we fund a scholarship program that brings the most committed life extensionists under age 31 to South Florida. Through a meticulous screening process, we identify incredibly bright young people who are determined to vanquish aging, disease, and death. We enlighten these young life extensionists as to what we expect of them when it comes to their participation in fraternal organizations that will forever ensure that Life Extension® continues its unwavering scientific commitments.

Each year, we also support a long weekend meeting of some of the wealthiest and enlightened individuals on the planet who, like the under age 31 group, are also personally determined to vanquish aging, disease, and death. These individuals have the option of joining perpetual oversight organizations that will forever ensure that Life Extension® continues its biomedical research initiatives.

These arrangements to fund lifesaving research are irrevocable and permanent. Professional trustees are in place to guarantee that these provisions are not changed. So you will not hear that Life Extension has sold out to Pfizer, Bayer, Proctor and Gamble or any other company whose sole purpose is to make money.

No one in history has done what we have to safeguard a benevolent mission. As a member of the Life Extension Foundation®, you help support a historic undertaking to overcome the absurdly short life spans that currently afflict the human race.

For longer life,

William Faloon


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