Is There A “Right” Calcium for Your Bones?
Do you know the second best-selling nutritional supplement in America is calcium. Do you know what it really does, and do you know the best sources of calcium?
Calcium: What is it – what does it do?
Calcium is an essential nutrient for all animal and plant life. In the beginning calcium is a mineral: calcium carbonate in rocks. Plants extract calcium salts (calcium chloride) and use them for creating energy.
Going up the food chain, animals eat plants and concentrate the calcium into both liquid and solid states. Solid calcium helps create hard, compact tissues like teeth and bones. The liquid calcium resides inside your cells, your nerves and all of your muscles. This includes your heart! Every time a muscle contracts it uses calcium. Your bloodstream also contains calcium.
All medical organizations acknowledge the need to have an adequate amount of dietary calcium every day. It is usually obtained through:
- Dietary sources – Dietary sources range from kale and walnuts to beef and milk
- Supplementation – Supplements are made using calcium from both living and non-living sources. Living sources include things like bone meal and microcrystalline hydroxyapatite concentrate (MCHC), while non-living sources include materials such as calcium carbonate.
Calcium and osteoporosis
The single greatest use for calcium is treating osteoporosis. Osteoporosis results from a high loss of bone density; your bones become so thin that they may break with the simple act of sneezing or stepping off a curb.
Osteoporosis is a very serious disease; more women die of osteoporosis-related fractures than from breast cancer! A diet high in calcium helps prevent osteoporosis if the calcium is absorbed and if there are enough other necessary nutrients (such as Vitamin D) to transport this calcium to the bones.
What are the best sources of calcium?
The debate about calcium quality begins with its source. Is calcium from stone, oyster shell or eggshell as good as calcium from fruits and vegetables? Is calcium from milk and beef equivalent to calcium from nuts and fish? What’s the answer? – It depends! Certain forms of calcium are good for certain purposes.
- Calcium carbonate in supplement form is useful for stabilizing stomach acids. These supplements have also been shown to reduce a person’s risk for colon cancer. Some people find that calcium carbonate provides relief from muscle cramps or cramps associated with PMS.
- Chelated calcium is calcium carbonate bound to protein (calcium orotate, calcium lactate, calcium citrate, etc.). These have been shown to effectively balance the ratio of “good” cholesterol (HDL) to “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Calcium from bone meal and MCHC works best with teeth and bones. For instance, calcium carbonate will not help with the worst cases of osteoporosis. Yet studies have shown that MCHC may improve/increase bone density as much as 6% in a single year! Let me repeat this: In clinical trials where bone density is measured, the greatest benefits to teeth and bones came from MCHC. Calcium carbonate provided only a fraction of the protection of MCHC.
- One of the primary sources of calcium is from food itself. After all, where do animals get their calcium? From fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and some meats! Humans do too. We should eat up to nine servings of fruit and vegetables daily to ensure that we get enough calcium. We can increase the likelihood of a consistent calcium supply by supplementing with an appropriate source of calcium.
What about dairy?
One common recommendation for the prevention of osteoporosis is to drink milk and eat milk-based foods. This recommendation is based on the observation that milk contains a significant amount of calcium. Yet many people are allergic to milk and have difficulty drinking the recommended amount.
The Physicians Health Study reported a 30% increase in prostate cancer occurrence for male doctors who consumed dairy products. A Harvard study of over 12,000 women found that those who consumed the recommended amount of calcium from a milk source had twice the risk of hip fractures compared to women who primarily got their calcium from non-milk sources.
Finally, the journal Pediatrics found that milk consumption had no impact on bone density among young girls.
Is red meat the answer?
Beef and other red meats have been cited as another source of calcium. As already mentioned, all muscles must have calcium to function properly. Steak, roast and ground beef all come primarily from muscles. Therefore, it is no surprise that muscle meats contain significant amounts of calcium.
Beef also contains an abundance of a fat called arachidonic acid (AA). This fat is very inflammatory. AA is why red meat has gained its bad reputation; eating too much can cause or contribute to many serious health problems. Arachidonic acid may be a good reason to count beef out as a source of calcium.
Conversely, wild salmon contains anti-inflammatory fats and as much as eight times more calcium than beef. The vegetable okra is even higher in calcium.
The evidence is clear; the best sources of calcium are: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And, when it comes to calcium supplements, MCHC is far superior to all other supplements at building strong bones!