The last blog entry focused on magnesium and how many of us are deficient in this essential nutrient. Now we are going to take a look at calcium—perhaps one of the most misunderstood nutrients, albeit very essential.
Calcium is the single most abundant mineral in the body. Ninety-nine percent of all the body’s calcium can be found in the bones & teeth. Conversely, magnesium is found primarily in the soft tissue. In order for calcium to be able to do its job, it must be in a ratio of 25:1 with phosphorus in the bones and 2:1 with magnesium in the cells and soft tissues. It must also interact with the vitamins A, C and D. Calcium is integral to many metabolic functions, including:
- 1. Building bones and teeth;
- 2. Proper acid/alkaline balance;
- 3. Regulation of heartbeat;
- 4. Blood clotting;
- 5. Muscle contraction and nerve transmission;
- 6. Secretion of hormones, including thyroid; and
- 7. Initiation of inflammation
One of the ways that calcium is misunderstood is that we often hear from physicians and the media that we should supplement with calcium to prevent osteoporosis. The truth is that very few of us suffer from a lack of calcium intake, but rather a failure to properly absorb and assimilate calcium from the foods we eat.
You see, calcium is also the most abundant mineral in our food supply. However, if we can’t properly and efficiently absorb dietary calcium, it doesn’t matter how much we consume. So why would someone have difficulty absorbing calcium? The two most common reasons are a lack of vitamin D—a co-factor for calcium—and/or a stomach acid (HCL) deficiency.
Our main source of vitamin D is unfiltered sunlight, which we avoid because of fear of skin cancer. You can refer to my previous blog on vitamin D to learn about how to get adequate amounts of this essential nutrient without risking your health. As for stomach acid, we tend to become more deficient as we get older and if we tend to be chronically stressed. You may also refer to a previous article I wrote on this topic for how to address an HCL deficiency.
The reason I am highlighting the factors that influence and optimize your body’s ability to extract and absorb the calcium from your foods and why I caution you about supplementing with calcium is because with this particular nutrient, dietary sources are far superior to supplemental sources. In fact, supplementing with calcium can cause more harm than good.
Studies show that calcium supplements tend to lead to excess calcium in the body while at the same time driving down magnesium levels (BMJ 2010; BMJ 2008). The most likely reason for this is that these supplements are often made with inferior forms of calcium (e.g., carbonate) and bound with inferior binders and fillers that inhibit absorption, leaving the elements to build up in places they don’t belong in our bodies. Also, people often don’t take into account the importance of the calcium-magnesium ratio when supplementing with calcium.
As mentioned earlier, the resulting imbalance between calcium and magnesium is very problematic because these two must be in ideal balance in the body so that bones stay hard and muscles and other soft tissue stay soft. Excess calcium can lead to calcification—the stiffening or hardening of muscles, connective tissue, and even arteries and heart cells. This calcification inhibits the proper function of these cells and tissues and can lead to very serious degenerative conditions, such as:
2. Coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis;
3. Cellulite and scar tissue;
4. Bone spurs and tendonitis;
5. Fibroids and cysts in the breasts and ovaries;
7. Gallstones and kidney stones;
8. Dental plaque and gum disease; and
9. Cataracts and macular degeneration
The connection between excess calcium and disease that tends to shock people the most is the heart disease connection. We have been led to believe that cholesterol is the villain, but in fact arterial plaque is more of a calcium problem.
So if you want to keep your calcium and magnesium in the proper balance, eat plenty of green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, omega-3 rich fish like salmon and sardines, raw or cultured dairy products like yogurt and cheeses (assuming you aren’t allergic to milk), and supplement with vitamin D. The reason I specify raw dairy over pasteurized is because the high-heat pasteurization process denatures nutrients like calcium and renders them more difficult or impossible for us to assimilate. So much for the whole “milk does a body good” campaign, huh.
As for another way to prevent osteoporosis—try strength training. The push and pull you get from moving your muscles and bones against resistance increases bone density. Of course this only happens if you follow the guidelines above for optimizing your calcium levels. There—dead horse sufficiently beaten 🙂