Calcium consumption impacts your heart health

Calcium and Heart Disease: No More Calcium at Night

Calcium and Heart Disease: No More Calcium at Night

By Megan Grant
Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Are you a fan of "brinner"—breakfast for dinner? If so, you might want to rethink your nightly bowl of cereal and milk. A new observational study examining the calcium intake of adults in the United States found that getting too much calcium in the evenings was associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

This study, made up of more than 36,000 adults, divided the participants into five groups, and adjusting for controlled variables like age, smoking status, diabetes status, BMI, and cholesterol levels, compared the proportion of calcium intake at dinner versus at breakfast.

The study found that participants in the highest quintile of evening calcium consumption had a 16% greater risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to the participants in the lowest group. Conversely, reducing calcium intake by just 5% from the last meal of the day and consuming it earlier in the morning reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 6%.

In other words, to help keep your ticker strong and avoid health risks like heart attack and cardiovascular disease, it might be wise to concentrate your calcium consumption in the morning, versus at night.

Cardio Core Essentials Panel

Why does it matter when you eat foods with calcium?

Why does your body care if you have a big bowl of macaroni and cheese later in the evening? Well, it turns out that the circadian rhythm, which helps control when we feel sleepy and when we feel energized, plays a role in how the body absorbs nutrients like calcium.

And that's not all: animal experiments have echoed similar outcomes, finding that high dietary calcium at dinner significantly increases serum total cholesterol, triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, which leads to lipid accumulation. In simple terms, the end result of excess calcium at night can mean more cholesterol deposits in the coronary artery walls, increasing the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

Should you just not eat calcium?

If you're concerned about heart health, should you just skip calcium-rich products altogether? No.
Previous studies have found that low calcium intake at breakfast can prompt an inflammatory response via the regulation of circadian rhythm genes. This, in turn, can negatively affect cardiovascular health. And calcium does play an important role in heart health (more on that in a moment), our bones and overall nutrition. So you may want to keep an eye on the clock when you eat it.

How does calcium affect the heart?

We now have some evidence that the timing of calcium consumption could make a difference in heart health, but if we back up a few steps, how does calcium impact the heart to begin with?

Calcium plays a role in multiple heart functions. It initiates and sustains contractions (meaning the beating of the heart) and also helps regulate heart rate and rhythm. This is because, in the body, calcium circulates as an ion, which means that it has an electrical charge. Ions can polarize and depolarize cells to pass signals, expand, contract and so on.

For example, when there's an influx of calcium ions to pacemaker cells—which ultimately tell the heart to contract—they create a positive electrical charge inside the cell that impacts the rhythm of the heart. The relationship is stronger than many people realize: Much of the electrical impulse that the heart needs to beat properly is generated by the movement of calcium!

How much calcium do I need?

Get too much—or too little—calcium, and it can have negative effects on your heart. So, what's the appropriate amount? The ideal calcium intake largely depends on age. The National Institutes of Health says that for adults 19 to 50 years of age, 1000 mg per day is ideal. Men between the ages of 51 and 70 should also aim for 1000 mg, while women should consume 1200 mg daily. And for individuals 70 years and older, 1200 mg of calcium per day is recommended.

Important to note: Studies show that calcium intake at the upper tolerable levels is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adults who are generally healthy.

Can you reverse calcium buildup in your arteries?

Many folks, understandably, are scared to get too much calcium in their diets because they're aware of calcium building up in the arteries (also called arterial calcification). Too much build-up can cause coronary artery walls to begin to stiffen.

However, it's important to know that dietary calcium intake within the normal range does not cause arteries to stiffen. Arterial calcification can be caused by many different factors. Which prompts the question: can you reverse it?

Unfortunately, reversing coronary artery calcium buildup is quite difficult. A much better approach is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Simple lifestyle changes can help:

  • Eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. For example, did you know that blueberries can reduce heart disease risk factors? Leafy greens, whole grains and fish are all good options, as well.
  • Move your body a little bit every day, or at least several times a week. It's nothing but a heart health myth that people with a heart condition should avoid exercising.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. The chemicals you inhale from a cigarette damage the heart and blood vessels, and drinking can make it harder for the heart to contract. In fact, a meta-analysis found that even small amounts of alcohol can interfere with your blood flow.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. When you carry around excess weight, the heart has to work harder to do its job. It increases the risk of developing arrhythmias and even sudden death.

Certain medications and nutrients can also help slow the progression of arterial calcification. Healthy oils are a good place to start. No, fats aren't bad for your heart—that's another myth! In fact, one meta-analysis found an inverse relationship between olive oil consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.

Another smart addition is dietary fiber. Meta-analyses of randomized placebo-controlled trials have found that increasing fiber intake could help prevent hypertension. Polyphenols (like quercetin), certain vitamins (D and K), magnesium, and CoQ10 can also be beneficial. This antioxidant can improve cardiovascular health—that means your blood pressure, too—even in individuals with congestive heart failure.

Remember that you shouldn't aim for a healthy lifestyle merely to avoid buildup and maintain healthy calcium levels. Things like smoking and obesity can lead to a number of other health issues—ones that extend beyond the heart, like metabolic and neurological diseases.

What vitamins remove calcium from arteries?

Circling back to vitamins, vitamin K2 stands out for a reason! It does a great job at removing calcium from the arteries and then depositing it in your bones, where it's needed for a variety of functions. It does this by activating matrix Gla-protein (MGP), which stops the deposit of calcium in the arterial walls. This simply means that the calcium can't build up, and the arteries stay flexible.

Vitamin K2 also activates something called osteocalcin, a protein that binds calcium to the bone matrix, and can improve bone mineralization and strength. This, in turn, helps you avoid diseases like osteoporosis. You can find vitamin K2 in foods like broccoli, kale, spinach, pine nuts, grapes, blueberries and chicken.

Vitamin D3 also helps the body absorb calcium. This is why, as the Women's Health Initiative explains, vitamin D is often recommended as a complement to your daily calcium. So, if you don't get much sunlight on a regular basis, consider upping your intake of dietary vitamin D. Fatty fish is also a great source.

Fun fact: The Women's Health Initiative also ran its own clinical trial and found that long-term use of calcium and vitamin D may benefit more than just the heart—it can decrease the risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women.

Imagine improving your levels of both of these vitamins. Your arteries will be so happy!

Beyond calcium for a healthy heart

Reducing your cardiovascular risk and avoiding health problems like arterial calcification and heart attack requires a multifaceted approach. Eat a healthy diet that includes getting enough vitamins, healthy fats and fiber. Incorporate physical activity into your daily life, whether that's a brisk walk after dinner, a grueling Pilates session post-work, or high-intensity intervals with your trainer.

And get a better picture of your health through periodic lab testing to make sure your levels are where you want them.

Healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way in keeping your heart, and the rest of your body, in excellent condition.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.