Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Calcium moderation key

Supplement's link to prostate cancer inconclusive

By Richard Harkness
Enquirer contributor

Question: I have read that men taking too much calcium could be harming their prostate. My PSA level rose to 4.1 at a time when I was getting at least 1,200 mg daily to help prevent osteoporosis. I stopped taking calcium supplements altogether and my PSA is now 2.1. What have you heard about the connection between calcium supplements and the prostate?

Answer: The PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test helps determine whether you might have prostate cancer. A number less than 4 is considered normal. A high PSA level is not specific for cancer and could be associated with other conditions such as BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy) or infections of the prostate, bladder or kidneys.

As to the calcium-prostate connection, calcium intake lowers vitamin D levels in the blood, and some evidence suggests that vitamin D may help prevent prostate cancer. In this way, excessive calcium intake could theoretically promote the development of prostate cancer, though the research is not yet conclusive.

Calcium and vitamin D work closely together. Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium from diet and supplements. That's why you want to get adequate amounts of vitamin D along with calcium. One way the body prevents excessive calcium levels in the blood is by decreasing the amount of circulating vitamin D.

Whether the fall in your PSA level was connected with stopping your calcium supplements is open to question.

Adequate calcium intake helps prevent osteoporosis and may lower the risk of colon cancer. Most experts say moderation is the key and recommend ingesting no more than 1,000 mg daily for men up to age 50 and 1,200 mg for men over age 50. These amounts include what you get from both food and supplements.

The possible prostate-protective benefit of vitamin D is another reason to get this vitamin along with calcium. The recommend daily intake for vitamin D is 400 IU for men ages 51 to 70 and 600 IU for those older than 70.

A number of nutrients show promise in helping prevent prostate cancer, including vitamin E, selenium, lycopene and omega-3 fatty acids. Lycopene is present in tomatoes, and omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish such as salmon and tuna.

E-mail Richard Harkness at

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