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Calcium, Vitamin D Supplements Can Have Negative Health Consequences

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers say there is concern about the potential negative impact on health from taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. Use of over-the-counter supplements containing calcium and vitamin D has lead to an increase in a condition known as milk-alkali or calcium-alkali syndrome that can have negative health consequences.

Milk-alkali syndrome that can occur from taking too much calcium and vitamin D was noted in the 1900's when antacids and milk were popular to treat stomach ulcers and consumed in large quantities. High levels of calcium in the body cause a shift in acid-base balance. The same shift can occur from taking too much sodium bicarbonate to treat indigestion or heartburn. Combined with vitamin D the condition can become worse, resulting in calcium deposits in the kidneys that can lead to high blood pressure and kidney damage.

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Researchers say taking too much over-the-counter calcium and vitamin D, commonly used to prevent osteoporosis, could have negative health effects. Stanley Goldfarb, MD and Ami Patel, MD (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) say milk-alkali syndrome should be renamed to calcium-alkali syndrome to alert people that it is too much calcium and not too much milk that can cause health problems.

"Calcium supplements taken in the recommended amounts are not only safe but are quite beneficial. Taken to excess is the problem," said Dr. Goldfarb. "Even at the recommended dose, careful monitoring of any medication is wise and yearly determinations of blood calcium levels for those patients taking calcium supplements or vitamin D is a wise approach."

Women who are pregnant, patients receiving dialysis, postmenopausal women, individuals with bulimia, and transplant recipients are the most vulnerable to milk-alkali or calcium-alkali syndrome from consuming too much calcium and vitamin D in supplement form. The study authors say to avoid the potential negative health consequences of too much Calcium and vitamin D, limit intake to 1.2 to 1.5 grams per day.

American Society of Nephrology: doi: 10.1681/ASN.2010030255