Calcium supplements are being harmfully overused. I have been recommending to patients, mostly women, over the past 15 years that daily calcium intake of about 600 milligrams is quite adequate, and more may be harmful.
These days I recommend the same, and I recommend that it come from foods, where it is ubiquitous, and some can come from supplementation. The usual supplement intake I recommend for maintenance is about 200 mg. per day, and the balance of 400 mg. can be easily acquired from foods.
If a client has osteopenia or osteoporosis, I will recommend more daily calcium intake on a case by case consideration of the individual’s overall health and important lifestyle variables.
Most calcium is stored in the bones, and it requires adequate vitamin K2 to assist its integration into the dynamically alive substance which we call bone. Bone chemistry is quite complex; involving so much more than the activity of osteoblasts, which build new bone, and osteoclasts, which remodel and break down old bone.
I recommend a review of the important chemistry of vitamin K2 which I wrote about here. This vitamin governs how calcium is transported to bone for assimilation. Deficiency of vitamin K2, which is very common, leads to calcium deposition in soft tissues such as blood vessels, joints, and other sites.
Physicians still routinely recommend high amounts of oral calcium intake without regard for how the excess calcium is, or is not, integrated into individual biochemistry. The reason for this professional lapse is that the average physician is oblivious to many aspects of human biochemistry in the first place, and they do not think about what all of that calcium is going to be doing in their patients’ flesh.
There is much research to support the idea that too much daily calcium intake may not be so good for you. Naturopathic doctor Chris Kresser wrote a good summation of this subject recently in an article on his website entitled Calcium Supplements: Why You Should Think Twice.
Food Sources of Calcium
Calcium is found in good quantity in the following foods, declining in amount per food group: sea vegetables, cheese, green vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, milk and yogurt, eggs, and finally meats.
Examples of average calcium content of 3.5 ounce edible portions in various food groups:
- Sea vegetables: 1200 mg. (See reference #7 in Kresser’s article above regarding calcium absorption from foods.)
- Cheese: 600 mg.
- Green Vegetables: 200 mg.
- Nuts: 150-200 mg.
- Seeds: 175 mg.
- Grains: 150 mg.
- Legumes: 135 mg.
- Milk and yogurt: 120 mg.
- Eggs: 56 mg.
- Fish: 50 mg. An excellent exception here is sardines which contain about 440 mg. per 3.5 oz. serving.
- Fowl and red meats: 12 mg.
On average the leafy green vegetables and the nut and seeds and grains are your best overall sources for all the right minerals.
For instance, healthy bone matrix, a real living tissue, requires the following minerals in adequate supply and ratio: calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, silicon, boron, and manganese. Bone also requires Vitamin D3, Vitamin K1 and K2, and Vitamin C.
So, I recommend wholesome servings of vegetables, nuts, seeds, and one of my personal favorites, sardines.
In Consideration of Other Important Minerals
Magnesium is an intracellular ion; about 97% of it is inside of cells. Measuring serum magnesium is usually misleading as an indicator of total body stores. Magnesium can be accurately measured by red blood cell analysis, a somewhat expensive study. Magnesium is uniformly low in those who do not take supplemental magnesium or who do not eat alot of green vegetables.
The chlorophyll molecule in plant leaves (fixes atmospheric carbon dioxide and begins its rendition to release oxygen back into the atmosphere) is almost identical in structure to the hemoglobin molecule which transports oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood.
An interesting difference in these 2 molecules is that hemoglobin contains iron at its core, and green plant leaves contain magnesium. Thus, one’s best food source for magnesium is the leafy green vegetables. Almonds are also rather high in magnesium, offering 270 mg. per 3.5 ounce serving.
I recommend to clients that the usage of 6 mg. of magnesium per kilogram of body weight per day. To derive your kilogram weight, just divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2. The intestinal tract will absorb certain forms of supplemented magnesium better than other forms.
In general, look for chelated mineral forms, such as are offered by companies like Designs for Health, whose product line is profiled on the Store link on the top bar menu of this website, above.
Magnesium supplementation is especially important if one is using a calcium supplement. The intake of supplemental calcium and magnesium should be in a 1:1 ratio, such as is found in this calcium-magnesium supplement.
The researcher Andrea Rosanoff, PhD, has gone on the record stating that, “low magnesium was shown to be, strongly ( convincingly), a cause of atherogenesis and the calcification of soft tissues. But this research was widely and immediately ignored as the myths about cholesterol and the high saturated-fat diet became embellished in our urban culture since the 1930’s onward, and such fats became the culprits to ‘fight.’”
“Ever since this early ‘wrong turn,'” states Rosanoff, “more and more peer-reviewed research has shown that low magnesium is associated with all known cardiovascular risk factors, such as cholesterol and high blood pressure.
“Additionally, after decades of rising dietary calcium intake not balanced with rising dietary magnesium intake, and a population wherein a majority of US adults are not getting their daily magnesium requirement, dietary calcium-to-magnesium ratios are on the rise and studies are showing that calcium supplements not balanced with magnesium increase the risk of heart disease.”
The 2 most important minerals for most westerners to supplement on a daily basis are magnesium and zinc. The standard American diet contains inadequate amounts of these critical minerals. These minerals are more important to supplement than calcium.
Minerals are essential for our chemistry because they catalyze (co-factor) the function of all enzymes in the body. There are thousands of enzymes whose chemistry is essential for the life of every cell and organ function.
Magnesium and zinc happen to co-factor more enzyme reactions than all of the other minerals combined. Each of these 2 minerals is responsible for several hundred enzyme functions, as is currently known.
Zinc and magnesium are both very important for central nervous system and cardiovascular function, as well as bone matrix health. Zinc is the mineral of your immune system, and is needed for healthy testosterone levels in both sexes. For men, low zinc levels translate in the flesh as a variety of prostate issues; from benign prostate hypertrophy to prostate cancer.
An interesting aspect of zinc’s functions is that it controls the efficiency of our brain’s gustatory mechanisms; i.e., it enables the sensations of smell and taste. I can usually observe who may be zinc deficient by watching how fast they eat a meal. Zinc deficient people usually do not relish and savor their meals, eating them quickly because they do not have a good sense of taste.
A simple way to get a reasonably accurate estimate of one’s need for amounts of supplemental zinc is by utilizing a Designs for Health product called Zinc Challenge, which is a water solution containing 8 mg. of zinc sulfate per 2 teaspoons of the liquid.
Two teaspoons of the liquid are held in one’s mouth until a taste of the zinc is registered. It will register as metallic, astringent, bitter, or pungent. As the liquid is held in the mouth, one counts the seconds which go by until one tastes the zinc. Upon tasting the zinc, one simply swallows the liquid containing a modest amount of zinc.
One should taste the zinc immediately if the mineral ion is present in the body in adequate amounts. As increments of 15 seconds go by before one registers a taste, the practitioner can estimate how much daily zinc supplementation is needed. It is difficult to overdose on zinc. Amounts as high as 15 grams (15,000 mg.) may lead to nausea.
The Zinc Challenge product can be reviewed here.
Other very good mineral supplements offered by Designs for Health can be seen on this page.
Mineral supplements which I commonly recommend are Complete Mineral Complex, Zinc Supreme, OsteoForce, and OsteoForce Supreme. Another important consideration, especially for cardiovascular health, is a potassium supplement called K+2.
If a male is very sexually active, there is a rather important zinc consideration in regards to this activity which is rarely ever addressed. Since the average male in our society who is not supplemented with zinc ingests maybe 10 mg. of zinc in a day from food sources, such sexually active males are likely to be zinc deficient.
Zinc is present in semen in high concentrations, and is put there by the prostate gland. The purpose of zinc in semen is to co-factor the enzyme function which allows for the motion of the spermatozoa flagella. Low zinc means poor sperm motility. The average adult male ejaculate contains about 10-15 mg. of zinc, which is about all most men may get in a day. Sexually active males should strongly supplement with zinc up to 45 to 60 mg. per day.
Zinc is highest in oysters, about 150 mg per 3.5 ounce serving, a food source becoming increasingly questionable because of environmental pollution, and is arguably a true aphrodisiac. The next highest source of zinc is pumpkin seeds which contain 7.5 mg. per 3.5 ounce serving. Next is ginger root, containing 6.8 mg. per 3.5 ounce serving. Almonds contain 3.1 mg. per 3.5 ounce serving.
Medical Training and Polypharmacy
Medical school students are not offered adequate course study on biochemistry and nutrition. Physicians-to-be are taught about pharmaceutical chemistry, and even this is taught poorly with little regard for drug-drug interactions and the equally significant drug nutrient depletions. Most Americans over age 60 are on 5-7 different pharmaceuticals; a rather common practice which is known as polypharmacy.
Polypharmacy regimens do nothing to correct the underlying biochemical imbalances which drive the disease states being treated. In most cases, those on the drugs continue a slow and chronic decline as the body attempts to do what it can to mitigate the drug chemistry metabolism effects and negative side effects via our homeostatic reflexive healing chemistry.
Medical students should be taught as much about how to wean patients off of their drugs as they are taught about how to put them on drugs. A solid practice of nutritional biochemistry and lifestyle modification is essential to assist pharmaceutical interventions, and also to supplant and replace the same pharmaceutical interventions.
There are many medical myths which will be revised and improved upon as time goes by. This Journal entry offers a look at aspects of the currently prevailing calcium myth.
If you are taking pharmaceuticals from mainstream medicine you must understand what you need to do to mitigate the drug’s negative systemic side effects, and begin to believe that you can heal without the presence of the drug in your life. If it is your desire to wean off of some of your pharmaceuticals, then you should be able to have success with that. You will need to find a holistic health practitioner who understands human disease pathology at its roots, and one who is experienced and seasoned in natural treatments.
Human disease states are not caused by a lack of some pharmaceutical in the body. For instance, high blood pressure is not caused by a lack of pharmaceutical calcium channel blockers in one’s body. Indeed, magnesium is a pretty good calcium channel blocker and. It helps to relax blood vessels and improves cardiac output and efficiency.
The same thinking applies to all disease states. These disease states are not caused by a lack of some pharmaceutical in the body. The disease state is caused by lifestyle choices and practices.
On the other hand, pharmaceuticals are life saving in many acute emergency conditions. This is the good side of pharmaceutical usage. The long term chronic usage of pharmaceuticals can be mitigated, or eliminated, by a motivated patient and a knowledgeable practitioner.
Signing off from Crestone and Beyond
Additional Reading and Information:
- Vitamin K2
- Vitamin D
- Coronary Artery Calcium: Better Indicator for Cardiovascular Risk?
- Calcium supplements should be a thing of the past, says Ian R. Reid, M.D., Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. Advocacy for the use of calcium supplements arose at a time when there were no other effective interventions for the prevention of osteoporosis. Their promotion was based on the belief that increasing calcium intake would increase bone formation. Our current understandings of the biology of bone suggest that this does not occur, though calcium does weakly decrease bone resorption. Thus, it slows postmenopausal bone loss but, despite this, recent meta-analyses suggest no significant prevention of fractures. In sum, there is little substantive evidence of benefit to bone health from the use of calcium supplements. Against this needs to be balanced the likelihood that calcium supplement use increases cardiovascular events, kidney stones, gastrointestinal symptoms, and admissions to hospital with acute gastrointestinal problems. Published in Journal of Bone Metabolism by Ian Reid, M.D., February, 2014.