Doctor recommends alternative to calcium supplements

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Many women still take calcium supplements to prevent brittle bones. But several recent studies link the pills to a higher risk of heart attacks, and a government task force says there's little evidence that the supplements prevent broken bones. A Kansas City heart specialist says there is a better option -- bone meal supplements.

Michelle Kruse is a runner who suffered a stress fracture in her leg this summer.

"I don't do a lot of dairy so I knew it really could be low bone density causing some of this," said Kruse.

The registered dietitian at Saint Luke's Hospital didn't want to take calcium supplements because she has a family history of early heart disease. Some recent studies have linked the supplements, especially those without vitamin D, to a higher risk of plaque build-up in arteries, heart attacks and death.

"You don't want soft bones and hard arteries, and it looks like standard calcium supplements make your arteries hard. It never gets to the bones," said Dr. James O'Keefe, a Saint Luke's cardiologist.

He says getting calcium from food is best. Dairy and kale are good sources. But it can be hard to get enough from food.

Dr. O'Keefe thinks bone meal supplements are the answer. The supplements are made with ground-up bones from meat cuts.

"Bone has a special kind of calcium called calcium-hydroxyapatite. It's easier absorbed. It doesn't give a spike. It's more of a gradual rise in the calcium," said Dr. O'Keefe.

He says bone meal has other nutrients essential for human bones, and it doesn't appear to harden arteries. In the interest of full disclosure, Dr. O'Keefe has an ownership interest in Cardiotabs, a company that sells bone meal supplements. Other companies sell them, too. Bone meal supplements may be harder to find in stores than standard calcium supplements, and they may cost more.

Kruse takes a bone meal supplement now.

"Heart disease, osteoporosis, I've got the risk," she said.

She thinks bone meal supplements can help prevent brittle bones without raising her risk of heart disease.

Again, Dr. O'Keefe says it's best to get calcium from food. Getting adequate protein and vitamin D are among other things you can do for bone health.

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