BALTIMORE - For Brenda Marie Black, canvas, paintbrushes and color soothe her soul. The 54-year-old has spent decades reducing stress. She eats right. Fruits and vegetables fuel her body, and she works out, but one day...
"I was running, and all of a sudden, I felt this real heavy feeling on my chest, almost like someone was stepping on my chest," Black recaled.
Black's husband took her to the hospital. She was having a heart attack.
"They said there was blockage, but didn't attribute it to anything in particular," Black said.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found evidence that plaque buildup in the heart may come from an unexpected source, over-the-counter calcium supplements. The researchers studied 10 years' worth of medical information for 2,700 patients, including scans of the heart arteries.
"We found those who were taking supplements, calcium supplements compared to non-supplement users were 22 percent more likely to have new development of calcium on heart arteries on the second CAT scans 10 years apart," shared Dr. Erin Michos, an associate professor of medicine and cardiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Black was not part of the Johns Hopkins study, but she had been taking supplements for about two years.
"I kind of increased it in the last year, where I thought maybe more was better for me because I'm not getting calcium, at least not as much as I should," Black confessed.
"I think that patients think because these are over-the-counter that they're safe, and more is better," Michos said.
Instead, experts advise patients to get more calcium from their diets.
"Green leafy vegetables are a great source. They're almost equivalent to a lot of dairy products," said Kelly Alagna, a cardiac nurse at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Kale, spinach, bok choy, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are good non-dairy sources of calcium.
Black is getting stronger every day, and she has sworn off the daily pills and chews she used to favor.
"If calcium supplements are causing blockage, then the word needs to get out," Black said.
The research also indicated that dietary calcium may have a positive impact on heart health. Michos said for some patients with differing calcium needs, the low-dose supplements may be helpful, but even though they are available without a prescription, she recommended people consult with their doctor before taking them.
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