Calcium is an essential part of bones and teeth. It is also important for the heart, nerves, and blood-clotting systems.
Pop question: What mineral do you need to “build strong bones?”
Your doctor’s answer: Calcium!
Where do you get it?
Your doctor’s answer: Milk, cheese, yogurt and supplements.
Calcium is one of the top prescribed supplements by doctors—particularly for women to prevent osteoporosis.
And, since the early 90’s, and the big “Got Milk?” (1993) and “3-a-Day” Dairy (2003) campaigns, we’ve been told to up our dairy consumption because we’re “deficient in calcium.”
But…you haven’t heard the whole truth. Calcium supplementation and dairy consumption are NOT the ideal ways to build strong bones.
CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTATION DANGERS
You’ve seen them on commercials, grocery store shelves or ads in magazines: Multi-vitamins WITH calcium, cereal and yogurt enhanced WITH calcium, caramel calcium chews to prevent osteoporosis—calcium supplements are prescribed about as often as Vitamin C for a cold, particularly for women.
However, not so fast—research shows that calcium supplementation has a dark side:
1.) Supplemental calcium increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart-attacks, and;
2.) Calcium supplementation doesn’t reduce fracture rates (it actually may increase them).
Calcium supplements “calcify” (harden) our bones and other tissues—like our arteries. You want soft and pliable arteries, not hard arteries; thus, when we have excess supplemental calcium circulating in our body, it “calcifies” our cardiovascular system.
One study (Kuanrong et al, 2012) of 24,000 men and women ages 34 to 65, found that those who supplemented with calcium had a 139 percent higher risk of heart attack versus those whose calcium intake came from food who had no change in risk. A meta-analysis of 15 different studies, which confirmed the same thing: higher risk of heart attack in those who took a calcium supplement. (Boland et al, 2010), and most recently, an analysis analysis of 100 000 65-year-old women taking 1000 mg calcium every day,found that as many as 5917 heart attacks and 4373 strokes could be caused (Revdal, 2016).
As for the fracture case, due to the highly unabsorbed amount of calcium from supplements and foods,your bones are simply not getting what they need from calcium pills or cleverly marketed foods alone.
One study (Bolland, 2015) said that additional calcium increased bone mineral density by only 1 to 2 percent, which was “unlikely to lead to a clinically meaningful reduction in risk of fracture.” A second study analyzed by Bolland, contained 59 controlled trials, the majority of which focused on calcium supplements. Again, researchers using this data concluded that the extra calcium did not lower the risk of bone fractures. Other re-views of the literature have found that it may enhance bone density but does not provide protection from fracture. Other reviews of the literature have demonstrated that it improves bone density but does not provide protection from fracture.
THE REAL MISSING NUTRIENTS
Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 are essential for calcium absorption. You can be taking or eating all of it in the world, but if you are low in either of these Vitamins, you will run into calcium deficiency or malabsorption every time. Vitamin D—aka the “sunshine” vitamin—is ideally derived from 30-60 minutes of sunlight exposure (even by a window) most days, and can also be found in a supplement (Recommended: between 1,000 and 4,000 IU per day, depending on your deficiency status).
Vitamin K2 is also most readily found in supplement form, with a baseline of about 30 to 45 mg as a “nutritional therapy dose”—and it’s safe to take with no adverse side effects noted in literature.
Protein deficiency can also inhibit calcium absorption, as can a lack in other calcium co-factors—minerals that promote the homeostasis of this mineral in the body—including magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin K2, and hydrochloric acid (stomach acid).
Speaking of stomach acid—without it, digestion suffers. Most people (about 3 in 4) have some sort of GI dysfunction or symptom (gas, bloating, skin breakouts, allergies, GERD, etc.). The problem with most conventional dairy is that it is highly processed, and contains high amounts additives and/or sugars (yogurt, ice cream, fat free dairy) and lactose—most human guts do not contain the appropriate amount of the enzyme lactase to digest lactose in the first place.
So even though you may be eating dairy, you are probably not absorbing it.
(The better option? The REAL thing. Full-fat, grass-fed dairy is naturally LOW in difficult-to-digest lactose and is NOT processed like your fat-free, low-fat and fake cheese products. Find a natural grocer or farmer for organic, grass-fed, full-fat milk, cheese and yogurt if dairy is your thing, OR find your substitutes for dairy-free products like:
• Coconut Yogurt
• Coconut, Almond or Cashew Milk (carageenan free)
• Nutritional Yeast (cheese)
You’ve heard and seen the campaigns before.
Unfortunately, the “Got Milk?” and “3-a-day” campaigns were spurred on, not to help you improve your health, but instead sell more milk cartons, cheese and yogurt (while maybe under the false pretense that you were improving your health). Since then we’ve learned all the above re-search, and realize, “You can’t believe everything you always hear.”
Instead of falling for the food industry’s keen marketing skills, why not get it in from the real deal—absorbable forms of calcium for your baseline of 600-800 mg/day (given you are getting in an appropriate amount of protein, Vitamin D3-supplements and sunshine and Vitamin K2–supplements).
Here are some of the best foods to reach for (the real deal) instead of the false claims:
- Sesame Seeds—1/2 cup – 351 mg
- Sardines—1 can, 351 mg
- Collard Greens—1 cup, 268 mg
- Kale-1 cup, 190 mg
- Yogurt—1 cup, 452 mg
- Spinach- 1 cup, 245 mg
- Bok Choy, 1 cup- 80 mg
- Turnip Greens, 1 cup-100 mg
- Seaweed, 1 cup-126 mg
- Canned Wild Salmon (with bones is a bonus)—3 oz., 188 mg
- Salmon, Sockeye, 3 oz.-450 mg
- Tuna fish, canned in water, 3 oz.- 154 mg
- Beet Greens- 1 cup, 165 mg
- Milk— 1/2 cup, 138 mg
- Cabbage—1 cup, 63 mg
- Broccoli—1 cup, 62 mg
- Brussels Sprouts—1 cup, 56 mg
- Orange- 1, 65 mg
- Asparagus—1 cup, 41 mg
- Grass-fed Full Fat Raw Cheese- 228 mg
- Unsweetened almond milk-451 mg
- Beans & Lentils, 1/2 cup- 90-120 mg
- Chia Seeds, 1 tbsp.- 126 mg
- Grass-fed Whey Protein, 1 scoop-200 mg
- Figs, 8-107 mg
- Almonds, 1 oz.-72 mg
- Fermented Tofu, 1/2 cup-860 mg
- Blackstrap Molasses, 1 tbsp.-172 mg
Bonus Thrive Tip:
Make sure you’re digesting your supplements and foods you eat in the first place with a quality probiotic, HCL or Apple Cider vinegar with meals and digestive enzymes (as needed) to help you get the biggest bang from your nutrition buck.
The bottom line?
Ditch the Calcium Supplements in favor of real (whole) foods, digestive wellness and calcium co-factors (like Vitamin D, K2, Vitamin A in cod liver oil and Magnesium).