JUL 27, 2017 3:04 PM PDT

Calcium for a Healthy Heart

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Calcium is the most common mineral in the body, and 99 percent of it is stored in the bones and teeth, where it fulfills its famous role of keeping them strong and sturdy, among multiple other bodily functions. But now scientists have discovered an additional role for calcium: regulating blood cholesterol levels.

While studying a calcium-binding protein in mice models, researchers from the University of Alberta and McGill University observed a spike in blood cholesterol when the protein was absent. The relationship was then confirmed in worms, and the researchers started to wonder about the extent of this bond and how it could be used to reduce risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels.

Marek Michalak from the University of Alberta explains the significance of this finding:

"There is a mechanism inside the cell that senses when there is not enough cholesterol present and turns on the machinery to make more. What we found is that a lack of calcium can hide cholesterol from this machinery. If you lose calcium, your synthetic machinery thinks there's no cholesterol and it starts making more even if there is already enough."

Scientists study cholesterol and its relationship to increasing the risk of heart disease all the time. "The general belief was that cholesterol controlled its own synthesis inside of cells, and then we discovered in our labs that calcium can control that function too,” explained Luis Agellon. “Finding this link potentially opens a door to developing new ways of controlling cholesterol metabolism."

Marek Michalak, a professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Biochemistry and graduate student Wen-An Wang were part of the team that discovered a direct link between calcium and cholesterol. Credit: Melissa Fabrizio

There are many drugs that doctors prescribe to reduce cholesterol, including statins, which have been shown to effectively lower a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke but also have been associated with negative side effects. Could calcium - which is found in milk, yogurt, cheese, Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli - be a new way to control cholesterol without using drugs?

The scientists involved with this study hope to answer this question and more, first looking to identify the common factor that facilitates the conversation between calcium and cholesterol.

The present study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Sources: NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, American Heart Association, University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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