What’s the Deal with Calcium?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Most of it is stored in the bones and the teeth. It is carried in the blood and has many important functions in addition to the formation of bone and teeth. It is essential in:

  • Muscle contraction
  • Normal functioning of many enzymes
  • Blood clotting
  • Normal heart rhythm

In nature, calcium is found primarily in limestone. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, forming from the accumulation of organic debris like shell and coral.

In medicine calcium supplementation has been a staple.

“Based on the published data, 61% of women aged >60 years received calcium supplements in 2003–2006 in the United States. As a result, calcium supplementation has become a billion dollar market in recent years and has been taken by millions of both men and women, children, adults, and the elderly wishing to improve their skeletal health.”

Kelvin, Li.  2018 The good, the bad, and the ugly of calcium supplementation: a review of calcium intake on human health

In medicine old habits are hard to break. The implementation of new ideas takes a while to reach the practitioners and their patients.

As it turns out, calcium supplementation to prevent fractures or osteoporosis is not a good idea for anyone.

At a clinical roundtable at the practice this week we determined the need to actively start to recommend that all patients looking to prevent fractures or prevent bone loss be advised to stop taking calcium pill supplementation.

Within the last 6 years the major US preventative task force has said it does not recommend calcium or vitamin D supplements in healthy women without vitamin D deficiency. However, major medical groups like the Osteoporosis Foundation still recommends calcium supplements for people who can’t meet the recommended daily dose by diet alone.

We think only diet should be pursued and the goal can be more modest than the usual doses recommended. There is evidence that 500mg-700mg in the diet is sufficient. The UK uses the more modest total. The body absorbs more intensely to adjust for lower dietary intake.

We made the decision to adopt a new policy after a medical literature review was conducted, and found the recomendation stands even if osteoporosis and/or fractures are present.

The studies show calcium supplementation does not reduce fracture risk or bone loss, and it increases risk of cardiovascular  diseases, kidney stones and other diseases like prostate cancer in men. 

Dietary calcium is absorbed differently and slowly and doesn’t have the negative effects supplements do.

In fact, in some instances (like kidney stones and prostate cancer in men) supplementary calcium increases the risk while dietary calcium decreases the risk.

In case you need to hear it stated more clearly, the studies show mortality is increased in patient populations who supplement with calcium compared to those who don’t.

It’s a bit shocking and upsetting, and we are sorry for recommending this approach over the years. Be reassured that the trends towards worse outcomes aren’t large but enough to make this recommendation.

This all serves as a reminder of several pillars of health.

  1. Natural forms of a nutrient are always better. Go for whole, unprocessed options in life. Steer clear of chemicals, packaged, plastic whenever you can. Commit to organic… or better yet, local options.
  2. In addition, we are reminded of the old axiom that half of what doctors think will be corrected… we just don’t know which half. It’s the next example that you should make your own understanding, develop your own instincts and learn to follow them. Don’t over rely on the health experts. Use them to get direction but always check to make sure it works for you.
  3. Support open dialogue. Censorship will keep us trapped in old paradigms longer. The old forms have to be remolded. Allow the ebb and flow of diverse ideas to remodel the body of knowledge in a healthy way.

Further questions

And what about the calcium in your multivitamin or in fortified foods? I think you should steer away from calcium supplementation.

How do you get calcium in the diet? Broccoli, bok choy, mustard greens are great. 3–4 serving per day of greens per day would be ideal and will provide all you need. Milk, cheese or yogurt are the most robust supply of dietary calcium. Dairy contains 300mg per serving if you can tolerate it. You don’t need much.

What does this mean for other supplements? Good question.There is good data that correcting D deficiency is wise. For bone health in addition to calcium in the diet, Vitamin D and vitamin K2 could be considered for bone health.

What else besides supplements? Stress relief with meditation/ attention focus exercises for a short while every am and pm will help you practice getting out of flight or fight mode.

And for Heaven’s sake, you have access to nature’s beauty, get some weight bearing exercise and go soak in the majesty of the burgeoning creation.