I make numerous recommendations with respect to what nutritional supplements, herbs and botanicals a patient should take to improve their health.
In many cases, supplements are necessary for therapeutic treatment and I believe that many people cannot heal their bodies without them.
However, there are many supplements I know my patients are taking that are unnecessary and even harmful.
Last week I discussed the risk of Iron supplementation and how you should proceed with caution if you’re taking them.
This week, I want to continue the discussion with calcium supplementation.
The Risk of Calcium Supplements
Calcium is important for the proper formation of bones and teeth. It plays a role in cell signaling, contractability of muslces and excitation of neurons.
Calcium levels are tightly regulated by parathyroid hormone and vitamin D. If calcium intake isn’t high enough, calcium levels will be maintained at the expense of bone health. That’s something important to understand.
The RDA for calcium is 1,000 to 1,200 mg a day, though other experts have suggested that lower levels are probably adequate, especially if vitamin D and K2 levels are sufficient, because those nutrients help to regulate calcium metabolism.
This is exactly why I recommend taking my Vitamin D3+K2 supplement.
Quite honestly, the easiest way for someone to get their RDA of calcium is by consuming an ancestral or paleo based diet.
In short, consuming foods with anti-nutrients, or nutrients that block the absorption of vitamins and minerals, is what is causing massive human nutrient deficiencies in the first place. On a Paleo diet low in anti-nutrients, the need for calcium is lower due to increased absorption of dietary calcium.
As I mentioned, vitamin D and vitamin K2 are both required for optimal calcium absorption. So before taking calcium, make sure that your vitamin D and K levels are optimized!
You should also be aware that higher-protein diets increase calcium absorption, and higher intakes of calcium through supplements but not through diet can lead to hypercalcemia, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Certainly the media has contributed to the popularity of calcium supplementation.
This is especially true with older women wanting to help prevent osteoporosis. Most older women who come into my office are taking calcium.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming research shows that calcium supplementation doesn’t reduce fracture rates in the elderly and seems to actually increase them. The same research also indicates that it particularly harms men!
While calcium is a crucial mineral, supplemental calcium has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events. It’s not hard to understand why. We want our arteries to be soft and pliant. When our arteries become calcified and they become brittle and hard, that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Supplemental calcium has a much greater effect on circulating calcium concentrations than dietary calcium.
Humans evolved to get calcium from diet just like all of the other nutrients, and our body has regulatory mechanisms for handling that, even if we’re getting more calcium than we need, but those regulatory mechanisms appear to be less effective with large boluses of supplemental calcium.
So make sure that you are getting adequate amounts of K2 and consuming enough vitamin D and vitamin A because all of those play a role in regulating calcium homeostasis.
Calcium and Cardiovascular Risk
In a study of 24,000 men and women aged 34 to 65 that was published in BMJ in 2012, 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.
Meta-analysis in BMJ of 12,000 individuals showed that those taking supplemental calcium had a 31 percent higher risk of heart attack, a 20 percent higher risk of stroke, and a 9 percent higher risk of death from all causes.
Finally, another analysis in JAMA Internal Medicine, also looking at 12,000 participants, found that intake of more than 1,000 mg of supplemental calcium per day increased the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 20 percent.
So, now you can understand why I’m not a fan of supplemental calcium.
Even without purposefully supplementing calcium, many people may be accidentally supplementing because of fortified foods and multivitamins. Multivitamins almost always have calcium in them.
Foods such as orange juice; cereal; non-dairy milks such as almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk; bread; instant oatmeal; and several other foods are often fortified with calcium.
Best Food Sources of Calcium
I recommend that most patients get their calcium from food if possible, and I’ve listed the food sources of calcium on this slide based on serving size.
Things such as sesame seeds; sardines with the bones in; dairy products, of course; dark, leafy greens such as collard greens and spinach; and sockeye salmon with the bones in are a great source of calcium.
Sardines with bones in and canned sockeye salmon with bones are probably two of the best ways for you to get calcium.
If you’re concerned about bone health, then eat the foods listed above and lift heavy things!
Weight-bearing exercise is probably one of the most important things you can do to promote healthy bones.
I promise, if you are consuming enough dietary calcium as well as other synergistic vitamins and minerals such as K2, D, A, and magnesium and performing weight-bearing exercise, there is probably no need to supplement at all, and supplementing would likely do more harm than good.