Lead Found in Calcium Supplements

ByABC News
September 19, 2000, 10:58 AM

B O S T O N, Sept. 19 -- People who take calcium supplements usually hope to build strong bones, not heavy metals.

But thats exactly what may be happening, according to a team of researchers who found traces of lead in several calcium supplements currently on grocery and pharmacy shelves.

Nutritional experts fear this discovery might unnecessarily scare the 5 percent of the population who currently take the mineral. But by highlighting the issue for consumers, investigators say they hope to motivate all the calcium supplement manufactures to reduce lead levels to undetectable amounts.

Earlier research detected the lead in calcium tablets and activist groups had pushed to regulate those levels. But the lead levels persist, the new study finds.

A Third of Pills Contained Lead Researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville, are reporting that eight of the 22 calcium products they tested including popular national brands such as Caltrate 600 contained lead, the toxic metal that can lead to anemia, high blood pressure, brain and kidney damage in adults and developmental damage in children.

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found several of the products contained as much as 3 micrograms per 1,500 milligrams of calcium, approaching the Food and Drug Administrations recommended safety cutoff of 6 micrograms per day. This is of special concern for those who may take calcium in high amounts, such as those on dialysis who need extra calcium and women battling osteoporosis.

This should not be a reason to stop taking calcium supplements, says Dr. Edward A. Ross, lead author of the paper and head of the renal disease program at the University of Floridas School of Medicine. But it should be a reason to look for better ones.

But Dr. Robert Heaney, a professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., who consults for some calcium supplement manufacturers, argues in an accompanying editorial that all the products tested were well below the FDAs cutoff limit.