Boning Up With Calcium
• When Do Our Bones Stop Growing?
• What Does Calcium Do In Our Bodies?
• Why Is 1% Especially Important?
• How Do You Know You’re Getting Enough?
Uncommon Mineral More Important
To Bones Than Calcium? Look Inside….
Keeping your minerals in balance is not so tough if you eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies, especially green veggies. For example, calcium needs to be one to one with phosphorus. A 3 oz. serving of chicken contains 10 mg of calcium and 250 mg of phosphorus or a ratio of 1:25. Oops! Add a cup of cooked greens containing 308 mg of calcium and 60 mg of phosphorus. Voila!
Calcium is best known for its contribution to strong teeth and bones. However, we will introduce many other calcium-related functions essential to life..
We think of calcium as especially important for children and adolescents. Surprisingly, our growing years don’t end when we think they do. Our bones continue to grow in density until we are thirty or thirty-five years old. Then, we begin to lose calcium from our bones. This universal phenomenon is called senile osteoporosis. In fact, people over thirty can require up to 67 percent more calcium than do 16 year olds. Consequently, to maintain good health, we need a calcium rich diet throughout our lives.
A number of minerals are required to build and maintain our skeleton. Of these; calcium is far and away the most abundant. There is nearly twice as much calcium in the body as phosphorus (the next most abundant mineral) and about 40 times more than magnesium.
Along with other minerals, calcium is involved in vitamin function and is essential to the synthesis of hormones and enzymes. For that reason, calcium is not only in our bones and teeth but is transported to our soft tissues by the blood. It takes only one percent of our total body calcium to perform these functions. (The other 99 percent is in the bones.) This tiny amount is crucial, and is possible because bone itself is living tissue in a state of continual flux.
Calcium regularly comes and goes from the bone as new bone cells are formed and others are resorbed in a regular cycle. In effect, our bones are our calcium reserves. When calcium supplies are adequate, long slender crystals of calcium are formed at the ends of our large bones. This is where the body can access calcium when serum calcium is not sufficient. This process is controlled by the parathyroid glands. These four tiny bead-sized glands are embedded in the surface of the thyroid gland and monitor the release of calcium from the bones, keeping serum calcium levels stable.
Calcium in the body tissues works with the electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, and potassium) to send nerve impulses from one part of the body to another. Calcium is also needed to promote the contraction of the muscles, including the heart muscle. (Calcium deficiency has been shown to have an association with heart disease.) Other uses of calcium include improving the tone and elasticity of our muscles and ligaments, helping the blood to clot, reducing fatty substances in the blood (including cholesterol), reinforcing the immune system, and displacing strontium 90 (radiated strontium) and other toxic substances from the body. Plus, calcium is thought to be protective against colon cancer.
From 250-400 mgs of calcium are lost daily in these normal body functions. If we lose more than we replace, then our calcium balance is negative. A negative balance causes our bodies to go into stress. Calcium is taken directly from the bones to insure the one percent serum level. Because we are not usually aware that our bones are being decalcified, this slow and insipid process can go on unrecognized for years. Osteoporosis is the result.
Many people get 60 to 70 percent of their calcium from dairy products. Milk contains about 300 mg of calcium per 8 ounce glass. Both lactose and vitamin D in milk add to the absorption of calcium. Sounds good, but milk doesn’t contain enough magnesium. Extra needs to be taken to keep the minerals in balance.
In addition, some 30 million Americans are lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk. One option is to eat yogurt or other fermented milk products. Fermentation changes lactose to lactic acid. Other options are 1) using lactase tablets (the enzyme which digests lactose); 2) eliminating milk and using calcium supplements; 3) eliminating milk, using supplements and upping your intake of other calcium rich foods.
In general, calcium source foods are very good for us. They include collard greens (357 mgs for a cooked cupful), turnip greens, kale, mustard greens and seaweed, plus Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Other calcium rich foods are egg yolks, almonds, sesame seeds, molasses, maple syrup, tofu, canned salmon, and sardines.
Some calcium rich foods which are basically nutritious contain oxalic and phytic acids. These inhibit calcium
absorption. Oxalic acid is found in spinach, rhubarb, beet leaves, chard, and chocolate (a strange bedfellow). It is best not to eat these foods on a daily basis. Phytic acid is found in the germ and bran of grains as well as in legumes. Since yeast breaks down phytic acid, yeasted breads are no problem, nor are sprouted grains. However, if you use bran regularly, you may want to vary your fiber source. Soaking legumes before cooking takes care of the phytic acid problem.
Bad eating habits, lack of exercise, and stress all contri-bute to calcium deficiency. Symptoms can include irritability and nervousness, fatigue and muscle cramping, menstrual problems, insomnia, osteoporosis, periodontal disease, and high blood pressure. Let’s take a closer look at the calcium connection to osteoporosis, periodontal disease, and high blood pressure.
• Osteoporosis – Public education has made osteoporosis a household word. The condition is a depletion of bone mass to the point where it is predisposed to fracture under stresses that are well tolerated by normal bone. The incidence of osteoporosis has more than doubled since the 1960s, and now causes over a million fractures annually. Too often, a fracture is the first recognized sign of the disease. These fractures occur most frequently in the hip, vertebrae, and wrist. For example, hip fractures do not usually occur from slipping and falling. It only appears that way. Instead, the bones have lost so much calcium that they can no longer support the body weight. They give way as the person is standing on them.
Some people are more at risk than others. Risk factors are:
— Short stature
— Slender body type
— Fair complexion
— Excess alcohol intake
— Low dietary calcium
— Lack of exercise
The first four risk factors explain why women, particularly Caucasian women, are more at risk than men. Not only are they eight times more prone to osteoporosis but also after thirty-five, they lose bone tissue three times faster. There are several reasons for this. In general, men have greater bone density than women; women may lose calcium supplies through pregnancy; and, women are more likely to go on reducing diets which can lead to bone loss as well as weight loss.
Further, women lose bone very rapidly the first few years after menopause. For a long while, it was thought that a decrease in estrogen was the cause. However, it now appears that the etiology is more complex and involves decreased progesterone levels as well as stress and faulty eating habits. (Estrogen inhibits calcium resorption while progesterone participates in bone building.) Unfortunately, post-menopausal bone loss adds to the effects of normal senile osteoporosis. This means women who do not have adequate calcium intake or absorption are hit twice as hard as men…a double whammy.
• Periodontal disease – It has long been known that calcium supplements help bone regeneration in periodontal disease. In several well-documented studies of six months to one year, jaw bone density was significantly improved by supplementing 1,000 mgs calcium per day. It is now recognized that deterioration of the jaw and not bone fracture is the first sign of osteoporosis. Periodontal disease is a degeneration and thinning of the jaw bone that leads to loss of teeth. Commonly known as pyorrhea, this problem affects 80 percent of the adult population. Regular six month dental check-ups are important to be sure you are on track with your calcium intake. Receding gums are a sign of impending periodontal disease which you can see yourself.
• HBP – Calcium may be a factor in both reducing and preventing high blood pressure. Although not as important to healthy blood pressure as magnesium and potassium, calcium supplementation has lowered blood pressure in studies conducted at Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. David McCarron (formerly of Oregon Health Sciences) was first to investigate the connection between calcium intake and blood pressure. His work suggests that insufficient calcium intake may have more to do with high blood pressure than too much salt.
Stay Strong With Strontium
Just as we were going to press, I received Dr. Nan Fuch’s Journal of Natural Health. Nan is a colleague and longtime friend of mine. In her article “The Missing Link to Strong Bones”, she documents the benefits of this incredible mineral.
The effects of strontium on bones were first tested in 1959 at the Mayo Clinic. Nan comments that although results were positive, because there was no money in strontium patents, no emphasis was put on the mineral. However, research over the last two years has brought strontium to the forefront of
Nan makes the following strong points about strontium:
• Cuts risk of fracture by nearly 60 percent.
A study of women over 80 showed fracture risk was
lowered by 59% in the first 12 months.
• More effective than calcium and vitamin D
This time a study in the New England Journal of
Medicine showed women who added strontium to
their bone building program cut their fracture risk
by 49% in a year and increased bone density in their
backs and necks by 14.4 and 8.3 percent respectively.
• Helps to maintain height and relieves pain.
Other studies show height loss slowed by 20%, relieving back pain at the same time.
Nan has looked at over 200 studies on strontium. She reports that strontium not only slows down the breakdown of bone, it stimulates new bone growth, remarking, “That’s unheard of. No other nutrient can work so well at doing both.” Strontium is safe and
non-toxic. Nan recommends 500 mg daily.
Don’t Call Up The Reserves!
Mineral imbalance, faulty diet, and stress can all deplete blood calcium. Minerals function in specific ratios to each other. This interrelationship has been compared to a spider’s web: One weak thread weakens the entire structure. Mineral imbalance is an important cause of calcium loss. The utilization of calcium is especially dependent on magnesium levels. As you might anticipate, magnesium deficiencies are common in the US.
In his classic Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis, Alan Gaby, MD, reports that magnesium deficiencies cause abnormal calcium metabolism. He believes that irregularities in the calcium-magnesium relationship are the basic cause of poor bone quality, hardening of the arteries, and calcium deposits. When the body is functioning normally, calcium absorption is limited. If you eat more than you need, it isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream, but is excreted with the feces. Urinary excretion only happens when blood calcium levels are inadequate and calcium is being drawn from the bones.
Calcification occurs most frequently in the regions of the shoulder joint (bursitis), the ligaments of the neck and back, around the nerve roots of the spinal cord, in the joints, and in the rib cartilage. This is most likely to happen when damage to these areas occurs repeatedly. Damaged tissues do not become calcified unless serum calcium is inadequate and calcium has been withdrawn from the bones. According to Gaby, this could also occur when magnesium levels are insufficient.
FYI: Some researchers think that increased calcium supplementation may encourage the formation of calcium oxalate-type kidney stones. According to Michael Murray, ND, this is not a concern when calcium citrate is used. Some of citrate’s effects function in the body to inhibit stone formation.
Another example of mineral imbalance is the over abundance of phosphorus often found in the American diet. The body needs phosphorus in a ratio of 1:1 with calcium. However, in the US, phosphorus intake is frequently as much as four times that of calcium! Processed foods, meat, and soft drinks are all very high in phosphorus. One could be ingesting the required gram of calcium each day but every molecule of phosphorus beyond a gram would cause the body to pull calcium from the bones, resulting in a calcium loss.
In addition to too much phosphorus, too much protein and too much fat both put us at risk for calcium loss. How much protein is too much? The answer is over 120 grams per day. Unless one is a vegetarian or careful about protein intake, it can be easy to eat too much. The adult standard for protein is 54 grams per day. This would equal a cup of cooked lentils (15 gm), a cup of nonfat milk or yogurt (9), six ounces of tofu (12), an egg (6), and a two ounce (1/2) serving of halibut (12).
Protein digestion results in acid residues which have to be neutralized by alkaline minerals like calcium. Meat (including fish and poultry) is the most highly concentrated protein commonly eaten. It is high in both phosphorus and sulfur both of which inhibit calcium utilization. This is not going to be a problem if enough fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten. By and large, these foods are rich in alkaline minerals, not to mention that they are low in calories, full of fiber, and contain many protective substances, including antioxidants.
Meat and dairy products can contain large amounts of saturated fat. The saturated fatty acids from these foods combine with calcium, yielding an insoluble calcium “soap” which is then excreted from the body. On the other hand, unsaturated oils high in essential fatty acids make calcium available for tissue use and help maintain serum levels. Eat no fats liberally.
Supplement Your Health
The National Institutes of Health recommend that people four years old and over ingest a gram of calcium per day. The NIH also recommend 1,000-1,500 mgs for women and have indicated that this would be difficult without the use of supplements. Based on huge federal surveys made in 2003-2006 (NHANES) estimated calcium intakes from food showed several groups falling below desirable levels. These are girls aged 9–18 years, women aged 51–70 years, and both men and women older than 70 years. However, about 43% of the U.S. population (including almost 70% of older women) use dietary calcium supplements, leaving only adolescent girls in the calcium lurch. Another group, pregnant women, need one and a half times the amount recommended for nonpregnant women.
FYI: The NIH panel also recommended that people with a personal or family history of kidney stones not take calcium supplements except on a physician’s advice. (Actually, this emphasizes the need for sufficient magnesium.)
Although calcium supplements come in a number of forms, the NIH recommends calcium citrate. Other chelated calcium supplements (those bonded to an organic molecule) include calcium orotate, aspartate, gluconate, lactate, and ascorbate (calcium combined with vitamin C). Calcium hydroxy-apatite is a form of calcium that is an extract of whole bone and is reputed to be a useful form for healing bone injuries.
Desired amounts of calcium are indicated on the supplement label. Vary the amount of supplementation depending on the amount of food source calcium eaten in a given day. (For example, if I drink milk, I take less calcium and still take my magnesium.) It is best to take calcium in 2-3 doses 1-1.5 hours after eating. Taking your last serving before bed can bring more restful sleep.
Because bone building requires so much more than calcium, formulas are preferred to calcium alone. The other essential nutrients are the minerals magnesium, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, silicon, and strontium, plus the vitamins D, K, C, B6, and folacin (folic acid).
Each of these nutrients enhances the use of calcium. Vitamin D is imperative to calcium absorption because it moves calcium and phosphorus from the digestive system into the bones. Vitamin K is needed for the production of osteocalcin, a bone protein which attracts calcium and helps it to crystalize into new bone cells. It also accelerates the healing of fractures and reduces calcium loss. Regarding strontium, studies confirm that it accelerates bone formation. Sea foods and sea veggies are the best food sources. (See sidebar page 3.)
Many calcium-enhancing nutrients are found in
multivitamin-mineral formulas, further enouraging calcium absorption. In a small year long study, 12 women using calcium supplements and a multi showed significantly greater
bone density than the 12 controls.
Siri Says: Incidentally, my research shows that too much calcium is a very rare condition in spite of chit-chat to the contrary.
Each month, Nutrition News features three additional titles to support our main topic. This month’s selections are “Magnesium”, “Vitamin D”,
and “Healthy Bones”.
Nutrition News 2012 VOL XXXVI, No. 5