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Calcium 27 July 2009

I do not recommend routine calcium supplementation. Adequate calcium can be obtained form healthy food choices. The emphasis on prevention of osteoporosis should move to avoiding substances which decrease bone density and way from calcium supplementation. If calcium supplementation is necessary there are several mandatory guidelines to keep it safe:

  • Never take more than 500mg per day.
  • It should always be combined with the same amount of magnesium. Magnesium keeps calcium dissolved in the blood and prevents it being deposited in tissues.
    If osteoporosis has already occurred, vitamin K2 should also be added which strengthens bones but also keeps calcium out of arterial walls.

Soil is the original source of all calcium, which is then absorbed by plants and incorporated into their tissues. Animals then eat the plants to obtain their calcium and other minerals. There is sufficient calcium in plants to grow the skeletons of the biggest animals on earth such as the elephant. It is not hard to therefore accept that there is sufficient calcium in plants to grow a human skeleton. In fact most humans who have walked this earth have been able to grow strong healthy skeletons without cows milk or calcium supplements.

Calcium is involved in bone formation and nerve, muscle and blood vessel function. Levels of calcium are maintained by the gastrointestinal tract, bone and kidney. If our diet is low in calcium then more will be absorbed from the gut and less excreted from the kidneys. Conversely if excess calcium is consumed, less will be absorbed and more excreted. However there is the potential for a dangerous increase in free calcium (see below).

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. 99% of the bodies pool of calcium is stored in bones (about 1 kg). Of the remaining 1%, 55% of it is bound to protein (85%) and organic ions (15%). Only 45% is free (unbound). Unbound calcium is particularly dangerous because it gets deposited in tissues, including arteries, and therefore increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. An increase of free calcium by 2% causes a massive deposition. Women with osteoporosis had high calcium scores on CT scans of their coronary arteries (calcium building up in the arteries stiffens them) in a study published in the March 1998 edition of the journal Calcified Tissue International. What is the point in taking more calcium when it is all going to the arteries and not to the bones?

In Western countries the usual intake of calcium is around 800-1000mg/day while in developed countries it is around 300-500mg/day. Some women in Africa and Japan have intakes of around 200mg/day and do not get osteoporosis.

Within a few years there will be a backlash against regular high dose calcium supplementation because it appears to be going everywhere (especially arterial walls) except bones. Dolomite or coral calcium in particular is a problem. They are essentially finely ground up rock which is poorly absorbed. Any that is absorbed usually ends up in tissues other than bones.

Most of the scientific literature supports the belief that most of the older population is massively overdosed on calcium and suffering from calcium toxicity (that’s why all the new scans for heart disease involve determining how much calcium has been deposited in arterial walls). Excess calcium in arterial walls is directly correlated to increased risk of heart disease, chronic degenerative disease and all-cause mortality. Many breast cancers have calcium deposits in and around them. Cardiologist Dr Thomas Levy writes “we continue to be stressed with warnings of increased risk of osteoporosis while the data clearly shows that most deaths in patients with osteoporosis relate to the vascular system and not the bones”. That means that the chances of dying from an osteoporotic fracture is no where near as high as the chance of dying from a heart attack, cancer or another chronic degenerative disease.

Another warning is that research on the use of calcium in preventing osteoporosis is not conclusive whereas the research is convincing that supplemental calcium often fuels the progression of atherosclerosis and therefore heart attacks. In fact a metanalysis published in the October 2006 edition of the British Medical Journal found that “calcium supplementation is unlikely to reduce the risk of fracture, either in childhood or later life.” This included studies that used calcium intakes of 1400mg/day. The editorial in the same edition pointed out that “populations that consume the most cows milk and other dairy products have among the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture in later life.

There are lots of alternatives to calcium in the prevention of osteoporosis. For more information, see osteoporosis.

Remember too that osteoporosis is NOT caused by an inadequate intake of dairy products. Populations in countries that do not have access to dairy products do not develop osteoporosis. Australia and the US are the 2 countries with the highest intake of dairy products and have the highest incidence of osteoporosis. Dairy foods do contain calcium but they also contain acidic proteins which cause a net loss of calcium from bone (the calcium is pulled out of the bones to buffer the acidity). In March 2005 the prestigious medical journal Pediatrics published a meta-analysis (a grouping together of many similar studies) which found no relationship between the intake of dairy products and the strength of childrens bones. A study published in the February 1985 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that postmenopausal women who consumed 3 extra glasses of cows milk/day for a year lost more bone than those who didn’t drink the extra milk. The researchers wrote that “the protein content of the milk supplement may have a negative effect on calcium balance, possibly through an increase in kidney losses of calcium or through a direct effect on bone resorption- this may have been due to the average 30% increase in protein intake during milk supplementation.” For more information on excessive protein intake and osteoporosis, see acid:alkaline balance evidence.

The bottom line- get your calcium from plants. They are more than enough.

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