You may hear from your doctor or health practitioner that you should take a calcium supplement or drink fortified, low-fat milk or other dairy products for good bone health. For as long as I can remember, many people l know talk about taking these supplements and eating those types of foods so they can avoid diseases like osteoporosis.
But what are these calcium supplements really doing for your health? And, what did people do for calcium before the advent of dietary supplements and processed, fortified foods?
Before I answer those questions, let’s review the importance of calcium in the diet. What purpose does it serve? Besides bone and teeth health, it’s important for restful sleep and also guards against colon cancer. Magnesium is its mandatory counterpart, and 80 percent of Americans are deficient! This nutrient is necessary to protect from heart disease, low blood sugar, thyroid problems, infertility, asthma, panic attacks, migraines, PCOS, Alzheimer’s disease, PMS, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue and eating disorders…just to name a few. Without calcium and magnesium together, you are in big trouble.
Here’s something else – Vitamins A, D, and K are also necessary for proper assimilation of calcium in the body. To bind calcium and other minerals to bone, you need all of these vitamins which are found in foods like eggs, meat, dairy products – in their whole forms. The presence of Vitamin K actually allows calcium to flow from the bloodstream to bone and bone marrow, fortifying bones.
You can’t get the proper balance of minerals or other nutrients out of foods like skim milk and egg whites, or meats from animals on feedlots bred to contain less fat. That’s why in milk without butterfat, you won’t find a complete source of fat-soluble vitamins, protein, or calcium.
How calcium and other minerals work in the body
Calcium and other minerals fall in the category of co-enzymes, which are critical to the activation of enzymes in the body. Your muscles and nerves won’t function properly without a balance of mineral salts in the fluids of your tissues. When this mineral balance is off, the result can be paralysis or convulsions.
Our hormones are governed by the mineral balance in our bodies. They depend on vitamins, amino acids, and specific essential fatty acids from the food we eat to maintain normal hormonal production.
Minerals are elements from the earth which cannot be manufactured in the human body. Only a small fraction of the minerals we need come from the water we drink, the rest comes from plants and indirectly from animals who eat plants.
The sources of these minerals are extremely important. If you are trying to get minerals from a synthetic supplement, you will eventually experience diarrhea, bloating or cramping, and other digestive problems. Minerals that are not chelated – that is, bound up correctly with the corresponding amino acids which deliver them to your bloodstream – won’t be absorbed properly. If you are taking a vitamin supplement – and most are synthetic – you won’t actually be absorbing these nutrients at all.
To absorb the minerals we eat, minerals and proteins should be consumed together. If we lack digestive acid levels in our stomach to alter minerals into ions, which is necessary for absorption and to break down proteins into amino acids, those elements won’t do us any good. Amino acids must be combined with minerals in a naturally-occurring formation – from nature.
Supplements and fortified foods are synthetic
When you take calcium and magnesium supplements – or really any other synthetically-produced dietary preparation – your body does not recognize it as something natural and cannot properly utilize it. This is why we receive constant warnings from medical and health professionals against “overdosing” on nutrients. These are actually considered toxic when they reach certain levels in the body – because they are not real nor recognizable.
The same is true about foods processed to such an extent like pasteurized, low-fat dairy products. They are denatured and damaged through processing and removal of the fat. To amend for nutritional inadequacy of the food, laboratory-generated “nutrients” are added back in, according to “recommended daily allowances”. These foods are then no longer nourishing, and are severely lacking for valuable, nutrient-dense qualities.
Real food provides calcium and other nutrients we need
What did people do to get adequate calcium in their diets before they took supplements? The answer is, they ate whole foods containing the nutrients needed for health. Before the world was polluted with massive amounts of chemicals and toxins continually being dumped into our food supply, air, water, and soil by industrial agriculture, chemical, and manufacturing industries, people who had access to a variety of real foods could obtain an adequate supply of nutrients in their diets from animal foods, seafood, whole grains, vegetation and plants from mineral-rich soils. Nutrients from real food cannot be overdosed because they are in balance, your body knows when it is satiated, and you will stop eating when you become full.
One of the only calcium supplements I know of which can be absorbed by the body is a product like Dr. Ron Schmid’s Cal 1000 – Mag 500 Hydroxyapatite Plus. This supplement is entirely different than bone meal because it includes trace minerals which closely resemble the proportions that exist in human bones. The calcium is extremely bio-available, making it easily-digested, and is cold-processed to preserve organic factors and protein matrix of the bones. It includes 1000 mg of calcium and 500 mg of magnesium, plus other trace minerals boron, manganese, boron, natural Vitamin D3, and buffered vitamin C – all essential nutrients for optimizing calcium absorption and utilization.
This type of calcium supplement also contains 20% of Type I collagen protein, the predominant collagen in bone. A small clinical trial of osteoporosis patients experiencing pain in their back displayed a marked decrease in pain when they used this type of calcium. The control group experienced an increase of pain during the trial. In addition, several clinical trials have revealed this type of supplement actually helps in preventing bone loss, aids in the restoration of healthy bone, and is well tolerated without compromising digestion.
Clinical trial of microcrystalline hydroxyapatite compound (‘Ossopan’) in the prevention of osteoporosis due to corticosteroid therapy
Efficacy of ossein-hydroxyapatite complex compared with calcium carbonate to prevent bone loss: a meta-analysis
Microcrystalline hydroxyapatite compound in prevention of bone loss in corticosteroid-treated patients with chronic active hepatitis
Dr. Gary A. Bachman, Naturopathic Physician
Real food sources of calcium (and other essential minerals):
- Raw dairy products – milk, cheese, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, cream, ghee, and butter
- Bone broths – home made stock from the bones of animals, birds, and fish that are sustainably raised
- Sea salt – not refined sea salt, but real salt that has visible colors/minerals in it
- Grass-fed meat
- Safe-sourced seafood – especially mussels, oysters, clams, and other mollusks
- Fish roe (eggs)
- Organ meats from animals and birds on pasture
- Bone marrow from grass-fed animals
- Pasture-raised poultry
- Eggs from pasture-raised hens
Foods that contribute to calcium loss
Contrary to popular belief, raw vegetables like spinach containing calcium do not absorb into the digestive tract very well. In fact, eating them raw can actually interfere with the absorption of important minerals like calcium and iron. So cook your vegetables to release lutein and beta-carotene, and neutralize oxalic acid or oxalate – the compound in some vegetables which inhibits absorption of minerals. And eat them with a healthy fat containing fat-soluble vitamins like butter, tallow, lard, or ghee.
Besides processed, industrial foods that contain chemicals which cause nutrients to not be absorbed and add toxins to your body, other deterrents to absorbing enough calcium in the diet are diets containing gluten. Gluten is an irritant to the digestive tract, and if enough of it is consumed, it can actually cause a reduction or shortening in villi – tiny, finger-like substances in the small intestine which enable the body to absorb food, and create penetrations or holes in the intestinal lining.
Once holes are present in the small intestine and undigested foods go through the lining into the bloodstream, these substances actually contribute to mineral loss in the body – especially in the bones – among other health problems.
For more information about how gluten consumption contributes to nutrient loss and health issues in the body, read Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride.
Learn about foods containing calcium and other minerals which are vital to health:
This post is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays Carnival.