The Calcium Conundrum

by Judith G. Cobb, MH, CI, NCP

This article is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. It is meant for educational purposes only. Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health, and Nature’s Sunshine Products accept no responsibility for results you get, whether good or bad, from using this information. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

Note: More information about the products mentioned can be found at the end of the article.

Calcium. Even just the word conjures up memories of strange commercials in my head. One in particular was of a woman in Rome, looking at the Coliseum and seeing the pillars as large bones. What the Coliseum had to do with calcium and bones I’ll never know.

Calcium is one of those minerals that has created a bit of a controversy. We all know we need calcium for bones and teeth; after all, it is the most abundant mineral in the body. According to National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, “The body also needs calcium for muscles to move and for nerves to carry messages between the brain and every body part. In addition, calcium is used to help blood vessels move blood throughout the body and to help release hormones and enzymes that affect almost every function in the human body.”1

It’s very important to understand what the symptoms of deficiency and excess are, how much we need, where to find calcium in our foods, what are enemies of calcium, and what are the best supplemental sources.

Like so many nutritional deficiencies, symptoms are not obvious until the deficiency is severe. Specifically, regarding calcium, severe deficiency shows up as memory loss, muscle spasms, numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face, depression, hallucinations2.

What about calcium excess? According to the Mayo Clinic, “Too much calcium in your blood can weaken your bones, create kidney stones, and interfere with the way your heart and brain works.”3 Calcium excess can happen if the parathyroid glands are overactive, in certain types of cancer, as a side effect of some medications, and with the excessive use of calcium and vitamin D supplements.

Isn’t it interesting that in the USA, where milk and dairy products are pushed as being good for us and most medical doctors recommend calcium supplements for their aging clients, there are more than 10 million people suffering with osteoporosis, another 18 million at risk of developing the condition, and another 34 million who have the early form known as osteopenia.4

This suggests that milk is not all it’s cracked up to be, and that maybe all calcium supplements are not created equal. One huge problem with pasteurized, homogenized milk is that the protein structure is so denatured the casein protein attaches to the calcium. Dr. Lipschitz, head of OBGYN at the former Calgary General Hospital, presented a workshop about osteoporosis many years ago. He said we simply don’t have an enzyme that will break that calcium-caseinate unit apart to give us the calcium. It passes through unchanged, doing our bones absolutely no good.

How much calcium do we really need? I think that is a number that is up for debate. The Osteoporosis Canada website5 says that people over 50 need 1200 mg per day. Remember that this is total dietary intake. I’m not quite sure how such a blanket guideline can be deemed anywhere near accurate; here’s why. Calcium needs are determined by the strength of the digestive tract, the effectiveness of absorption and assimilation, the acid level of the body, and the acid level of the diet.

High Calcium FoodsCalcium’s first job is to neutralize excess acid in the body. If the diet is high-acid (coffee, black tea, green tea, white flour, white sugar, citrus juice), if the person is very physically active, or if the person has problems digesting red meat and other proteins, they are likely very acidic. Calcium will take care of bringing these acid levels into healthy zones even if it means pulling calcium from the bones. These people need to consume more calcium to keep their bones strong and muscles and nerves functioning well.

On the other hand, if a person eats a more alkalizing diet that includes a lot of leafy greens, drinks water, takes care of their digestion, gets exercise and is careful to resolve the excess acid generated during exercise, he will need less calcium because there is not as much acid to neutralize.

Everyone does not need a calcium supplement!

Can you get enough calcium from foods, especially if you don’t consume dairy? (See a previous article about the dairy question on this website.) As far as foods go, the answer is yes, you can. Leafy greens (including kale, collards, swiss chard, broccoli, okra, romaine and leaf lettuce [not iceberg], spinach, and beet greens) are especially good for calcium content. Most legumes (including all beans such adzuki beans, black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans; all peas including green peas, snow peas, and black-eyed peas; and all the different kinds of lentils), canned salmon (if you eat the bones), and blackstrap molasses are also excellent. The idea here is to eat a varied diet that focuses on fresh vegetables and wholesome legumes. In other words, eat real food, not processed, devitalized packaged food.

To reiterate – you can eat all the good food you want, but if you are including junk ‘food’ and devitalized ‘food’ you are increasing the demand for calcium by increasing the acid level in your blood. You can reduce the amount of calcium you need by cleaning up your diet.

What if you need to use supplements? Here is the great question – and it’s a tough one. I will admit a strong bias against tabletted calcium supplements and toward encapsulated herbal calcium supplements. I’m sure you will detect that bias as you read on.

Calcium carbonate is essentially chalk. It works well as a stomach/gut antacid, it deposits well in the joints (ouch!), but it does not assimilate well into the bones or teeth. Your roses love it – you don’t! I know there are many ‘experts’ who disagree with this. Calcium carbonate also has the nasty side effect of constipation. Another huge drawback is that bonemeal calcium has been known to be contaminated with lead.

Calcium citrate dissolves better in the gut, is better assimilated, and doesn’t usually constipate.

I wrestle with the directions that are printed on the labels, usually under the all-knowing direction of the government. (Sorry, that was politically incorrect and quite honestly sarcastic and biased.) Usually, the directions say to take calcium with a meal. But wait a minute. Calcium neutralizes acid, including stomach acid – that’s why Tums work temporarily for firehosing heartburn. But if calcium neutralizes acid, and if you need acid to digest protein, then taking calcium with a meal that contains protein means you won’t digest your protein. Instead, the protein will ferment and you will have terribly anti-social flatulence.

Your body can only handle taking a certain amount of calcium at once. Most sources recommend taking no more than 500 mg at one time.

I recommend taking 500 mg at bedtime with a small carbohydrate snack. The small snack will keep your tummy from getting upset with mineral pills in it.

Other nutrients need to be present with your calcium to make it truly beneficial. These include, at the very least, magnesium and vitamin D. Both of these nutrients assist in the assimilation of calcium.

Why would I even list tabletted calciums when I’m not really for them? Many clients come in with directions from their doctors to take a specific amount of calcium. I can’t legally disagree with their doctors, but I can work to educate them. Sometimes, in spite of my best efforts, the client still wants a tabletted calcium. Nature’s Sunshine Products guarantees their calcium to be lead-free. That’s important since we know lead can be highly toxic and create serious symptoms (read more). Additionally, NSP is cautious to ensure that magnesium and Vitamin D are included, along with various other important trace minerals, depending on the product. Lastly, NSP creates all of their mineral supplements in a base of herbs which provides a broad base of other nutrients that enhance the assimilation of the minerals in the tablet.

NSP Canada NSP USA
Calcium-Magnesium Plus D Calcium Plus Vitamin D
Calcium-Magnesium, Synerpro Calcium-Magnesium Synerpro

There are also herbal calcium formulas. They provide calcium in the naturally chelated form, making it much easier to absorb and assimilate. Still, some people find challenges with constipation with the herbal blends, so taking them at bedtime with a little carb snack is often a good idea. Another possibility with herbal blends is to open the capsules, pour the powder into a cup, and pour boiling water over the powder to make a herbal tea. Sweeten with honey, xylitol, or stevia as desired.

NSP Canada NSP USA
Herbal CA Herbal CA
CA Concentrate CA, ATC concentrate
HSN-W HSN-W

In reality, the calcium conundrum is more about dietary correction than which calcium supplement you should choose. Be smart. Eat your veggies. Leave the junk food out of your diet. And, if you need to, use calcium supplements, preferably the herbal ones.

If you have concerns about your health, or just don’t know where to begin making improvements, please contact me, Judith Cobb, to book an appointment. Skype, phone, webinar, and face-to-face appointments are available.

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Sources:

1 http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/
2 http://www.healthline.com/health/calcium-deficiency-disease#Causes2
3 http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypercalcemia/basics/ definition/con-20031513
4 http://www.aaos.org/about/papers/position/1113.asp
5 http://www.osteoporosis.ca/osteoporosis-and-you/nutrition/calcium-requirements/

Copyright © 2015 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).

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