Preventing bone loss is important. All through our lives, in school, when we go to our doctors, in ads on TV and in magazines, and from well meaning family and friends, we are advised to take calcium to keep our bones strong. “Drink Milk, it does a body good!”
But are calcium supplements and milk really the answer to preventing bone loss?
We are told to drink milk because of its calcium. Well, if that’s the case where do cows get their calcium from? A cow doesn’t drink milk. What do cows eat? Grass! Grass is a green plant. Cows get their calcium from eating green plants. Keep that in the back of your mind as you read this.
Over the years, I’ve asked a number of medical doctors their advice on how to prevent bone loss. Their answers range from “Be sure to take a good calcium supplement” to “Take dairy products and you should be Ok”, to cautions about getting more exercise and having bone density tests.
I have also seen several naturopaths, who are also primary care providers. The naturopaths would not advise me one way or the other until they saw the results of a comprehensive blood test. They were being careful and clearly following a defined protocol for treating their patients. If you have the money, it’s probably worth it to have your own personal naturopath. But otherwise, what can you do, if you can’t afford the naturopath route?
Why Calcium Alone Will Not Work
The battle cry for the treatment of osteoporosis is unanimous: “Take calcium.” But the fact is, that you need to take twice as much magnesium as calcium or your bones will lose calcium and become brittle. That was news to me. Behind this statement, lies a series of metabolic reactions, that continuously take place in the body, all requiring magnesium to prevent bone loss. So the body needs more magnesium to keep up with the large demand.
How much calcium do you get in 500 mg of calcium gluconate?
What we read on the labels of many supplement bottles is not necessarily a true estimate of the amount of calcium actually available to the body.
Calcium supplements come in several different forms: calcium carbonate, calcium gluconate, calcium citrate, calcium lactate, calcium hydroxyapatite are some names you will see.
How much calcium you get from them varies. It depends on the amount of ‘elemental calcium’ the supplement provides.
What is elemental calcium?
Elemental Calcium is the unbound calcium available for the body to absorb. If, for example, the label states, 500 mg of calcium (gluconate), you will get 500 mg of elemental calcium.
The brackets around the word ‘gluconate’ indicate that the calcium is in the elemental form.
But, if the label states calcium gluconate 500 mg, the amount of calcium available to the body is considerably less. Why? Because calcium gluconate is only 9% calcium. 500 mg of Calcium gluconate would therefore, provide only 45 mg of elemental calcium. Quite a difference!
How can I be sure my body is absorbing the calcium?
There are no guarantees that your body will be able to use all of the elemental calcium you take, due to a variety of factors.
- Iron can block the absorption of calcium.
- Caffeine will also reduce the amount of calcium available to the body.
- You must also have enough Hydrochloric acid HCL present in your stomach to make the calcium soluble.
As we age, the stomach’s output of HCL is sometimes reduced, making calcium supplements insoluble. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that only 4% of calcium carbonate was absorbed in an environment of reduced stomach acid.
Are some types of calcium more absorbable than others?
Yes, two forms are highly bio-available are: calcium citrate and calcium hydroxzyapatite. The citrate form doesn’t require HCL to make it absorbable. 45% of calcium can be absorbed in a reduced stomach acid environment.
Calcium hydroxzyapatite is derived from bone, and contains 26% available calcium, as well as collagen, and naturally occurring trace minerals: magnesium, zinc, silica, fluoride, potassium, iron and boron.
And don’t forget, you need twice as much magnesium as calcium to use that calcium, so your body doesn’t have to draw it from your bones and teeth.
More on Magnesium
My Experience with Calcium Supplements
I had been taking a particular calcium supplement for years without any problems. It was considered one of the better products at $38 a bottle for 90 caps. I was taking 3 caps a day with food, so one bottle lasted 30 days. Then something changed. I began to have leg cramps every night in bed while I was asleep. It was driving me crazy.
About that time, we went away for a week and I forgot to take my calcium with me. I noticed I didn’t have any leg cramps that whole week. When I came back I resumed taking the calcium. And back came the leg cramps. Was there a connection?
As a test, I deliberately went off the supplements – no cramps. Being practical, I brought my left over bottles to my mother-in-law, who had also been taking the same supplement for years without any problems. But when I arrived, I noticed that the old bottles still stood unused on the shelf. At that point she “fessed up” and told me she had started to have muscle spasms in her legs, and found, like me, that not taking the supplement made a huge difference. She didn’t want to appear ungrateful, so she didn’t say anything. We both laughed when we realized we had come to the same conclusion. But now, we had a problem. Where to go from here?
What Had Caused the Leg Cramps?
At first I thought the calcium-magnesium balance in the supplement had dropped. Even though the list on the label still said that the capsules had equal amounts of calcium and magnesium in them, the muscle relaxant part of the formula – the magnesium – seemed to be lower. I thought maybe I had bought a bad batch. But to me that meant “quality control” on the product was lacking.
When I began to do my research I discovered that a 2:1 magnesium to calcium ratio is recommended for supplemental use of these minerals, otherwise the calcium can bind the magnesium in the intestines and prevent it from passing into the blood. My supplement had a 1:1 ratio.
Now that makes me wonder not only about “quality control” but how much research had gone into developing the product in the first place. How can we trust supplement manufacturers when we discover they are not following recommended guidelines?
After that, I gave up relying on supplements to supply my calcium needs. I’ve now switched to natural foods. I feel much better, and I’ll tell you why.
Understanding the Reactions That Take Place in the Body
In “The Magnesium Miracle” Dr. Carolyn Dean says:
“Calcium actually causes contraction of the muscles, while magnesium causes relaxation. When there is too much calcium and insufficient magnesium present in the body, you can get muscle cramps, twitches and spasms”.
“Too much calcium and not enough magnesium can also tighten the bronchial tract – causing asthma; and cramping in the uterus with painful periods; and spasms in blood vessels, resulting in hypertension.”
Now I had a clue as to why I had suffered for years with terrible menstrual cramps. This is information women need to know. Yet it’s a well-kept secret from most of us.
The Acid and Osteoporosis Link
Many of the foods we eat are acidic. In fact, most of the foods in the Standard American Diet (SAD) today are acidic.
A good part of our diet is processed foods, made with sugar and white flour, which are extremely acetic. We drink acid producing beverages like coffee and soft drinks. We use too many over-the-counter drugs, which are acid forming; and we use artificial chemical sweeteners which put more acid into our bodies.
Then, in order to relieve the symptoms of too much acidity: bloating, belching, flatulence, heartburn and acid reflux, we swallow antacids like candy. In fact, some information I read was actually recommending people take antacids to maintain their bones.
What’s Wrong With Antacids?
Taking antacids actually does more harm than good in the long run. Antacids work by excreting calcium from the body, the very calcium we need in our bones. Long term use of antacids – over months and years – will result in brittle bones and osteoporosis – the very things we are trying to avoid. This takes care of one problem – stomach acid and creates another worse problem – osteoporosis.
Why Does the Body Need an Acid-Akaline Balance Anyway?
Maintaining that pH balance is very important. Without this balance, the body would die. It would develop all kinds of complications, resulting in illnesses that literally take you to death’s door.
The buffer the body uses, to maintain the alkalinity it needs, is calcium. As your body becomes more and more acidic, the main mechanism it uses to regain proper pH balance in the blood, is to leach calcium from the bones and teeth, because that’s where most of the calcium is stored.
The body uses a compound made up of calcium and phosphate called mono-ortho-calcium phosphate to restore pH balance. This is made in the body from the foods we eat that contain calcium and phosphorus. So maintaining alkalinity is always a delicate dance that the body does to keep us healthy.
What is “the Solution”?
Eating alkaline foods and avoiding too many acidic foods seems like the simplest solution. The most acidic foods that we eat are animal products: meat, eggs and dairy. You can see why increasing dairy products in your diet doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So it looks like the key to strong bones, is to balance the pH levels in the body with the foods we eat. Now the question becomes what foods are best, to keep the levels of calcium high enough in the blood, so that the body doesn’t have to steal it from the bones and teeth?
The Best Sources of Calcium are Natural
When you eat a lot of acidic foods like meat and dairy, either your intake of alkaline foods must be high enough to keep up with the demands of the body for calcium, so it can balance all that acid. Or, you need to lower your intake of acidic foods, so the body is not struggling all the time, to stay in balance by leaching calcium from your bones.
1. Sesame seeds have even more than green leafy vegetables.
2. Kelp is the second highest source of calcium and magnesium.
Other Calcium Rich Foods
Seeds: sesame seeds – sesame is the highest source of calcium; other seeds are pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds.
Sea Vegetables: Kelp is the second highest source of calcium, dulse, kombu, nori, arame
Blue-Green Algae: spirulina, chlorella
Dark leafy green vegetables: fresh and uncooked for most value: collards, kale, turnip greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts and Chinese cabbage, beet greens, mustard greens, bok choy, watercress – juice them with a Blendtec blender which micronizes the leaves, so you get all the fibre as well.
Canned fish (with bones), such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, herring has Vitamin D which aids in absorption of calcium.
Nuts: almonds, brazil nuts
Cheese: cottage, swiss, parmesan
Yogurt is a fermented form of dairy which is good, but steer clear of flavored, sweetened yogurt.
Greens must be eaten every day to reap the full benefits in order to increase bone metabolism. Drinking a green juice and/or having a green salad will ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs to rebuild and strengthen itself each day.
What’s the Best Way to Juice Your Greens?
After trying a number of ways to juice, including buying a $300 juicing machine, which I eventually gave up on, because it was so hard to clean. I have found what I believe is the best way to juice all those leafy greens. It’s a blender, juicer, food processor all rolled into one. And it’s so easy to clean.
The Blendtec Total Blender micronizes your greens into tiny, easily-digestible particles, and retains all of the pulp fiber, which normal juicers strain the moisture from, leaving you with a dry mass that you have to throw away. You won’t lose any of the nutrients in the pulp with this blender. This is the best blender on the market for this purpose today. And, you can clean it in seconds with the self-cleaning feature.
You are in a position to make a real difference as to how healthy your body is, by the food choices you make. Making a conscious choice to eat healthy is the only way to assist your body to do what it has to do to keep you healthy. So let me ask you this, knowing what you now know about calcium and bones:
Book: “The Magnesium Miracle” – Dr. Carolyn Dean
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Magnesium