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Calcium Supplements Linked to Heart Disease and Death in Kidney Patients

Update Date: Jul 19, 2013 04:16 PM EDT

Calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart disease and death in patients with kidney disease.

A new study reveals that kidney patients who take calcium supplements to cut their phosphorous levels are 22 percent more likely to die than those who take other non-calcium based supplements.

Researchers are now questioning the long-time practice of prescribing calcium to lower phosphate levels in patients with chronic kidney disease. 

Experts explain that the calcium absorbed into the blood stream may accelerate the hardening of the arteries and lead to a higher risk of heart disease and death. Previous findings reveal that cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death for kidney patients.

"Doctors commonly prescribe calcium supplements to prevent elevated phosphate levels, which can damage the body, but a growing number of studies have shown calcium supplements may actually increase the risk of heart disease," Dr. Sophie Jamal, a physician at Women's College Hospital and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said in a news release.

"Our study validates these claims and, for the first time, shows the long-term consequences of taking calcium supplements can be dangerous for patients with kidney disease," she added.

Jamal and her team reviewed 11 randomized, controlled studies that included more than 4,600 patients. Investigators assessed the risk of heart disease, including heart attack, stroke, and hardening of the arteries, along with death among individuals prescribed the medication containing calcium and those prescribed the medication without calcium.

The study revealed a 22 percent reduction in death and less artery calcification (hardening) among patients who took non-calcium based treatments.

"Some researchers and physicians have been saying for years that kidney disease patients need to get off calcium, now we think our review shows there is much more solid evidence to argue for that change to clinical practice," the study's senior author Ross Tsuyuki, from the University of Alberta's faculty of medicine and dentistry, said in a statement.

In light of the latest findings, researchers recommend that health providers prescribe non-calcium containing treatments to lower phosphate levels in kidney patients.

The findings are published in The Lancet.

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