With a digestive landscape that can prove tricky at best, it is difficult to get enough calcium from foods that agree with us alone, so most of us take calcium supplements regularly for decades with the hope of avoiding future fractures. However, calcium is not like a pain reliever. You don’t feel any dramatic difference, and you can’t see your bones improving from taking your calcium, so how do you know if your calcium is working? Or a better question is how do you know it is working optimally? Given the long term use, and the big risks of failed attempts, it makes sense to take the best calcium possible.
Your health care practitioner recommends calcium, and so does the USDA, the US Surgeon General, the World Health Organization, and all the Osteoporosis Foundations, but I’ll bet they didn’t tell you what kind of calcium to look for did they! Even your friendly local pharmacist didn’t say, go buy yourself some calcium carbonate, or calcium citrate or calcium from cow bones, or oyster shells, or egg shells, or calcium lactate from milk, did she? Let me tell you why. It’s because there is no difference in performance between these mainstream calcium sources! Other than a little bit of absorption difference, which is greatly exaggerated by marketers, “calcium is calcium” whether it came from a carbonate, citrate, or a lactate. When it’s delivered for use to your bones, the calcium is separated from the carbonate, from the citrate and from the lactate molecule, so it is simply calcium irrespective of the original source.
Ok, so all the experts are right. All the calcium sources are the same. So how do I choose the best one? What’s my point, anyway? Keep reading and you will be amazed by new information that is only known to a few research insiders.
Before telling you about the new calcium source with a difference, I have to explain a little about the calcium you have been taking for the last 60 years. It comes in all kinds of pretty packaging, but inside the package is rock. That’s right. Marble and limestone rock to be specific. Go get your calcium bottle and read the supplements facts panel on the label. If it says “calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium citrate-malate” or a few other names, it means it was taken from a rock quarry with jack hammers and heavy equipment. Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t ever been tempted to make myself a peanut butter limestone sandwich, have you? How about a tomato and marble salad? I’m joking, right? I wish I was, but the truth is that more than 90% of calcium supplements are made from rock.
Now it makes a little more sense why those pills are hard to swallow and constipating, doesn’t it! Now it makes sense why studies are showing that calcium supplements don’t increase your bone density – they can only slow the loss a little. Your body simply wasn’t designed to metabolize rock.
Recent research is potentially even more sinister. A meta-study published in the British Medical Journal in July 2010 suggests that calcium supplementation (from rock sources) may contribute to heart disease, when taken alone. Although the study has serious design flaws, there are lessons to be learned from it. We sure don’t want to take our calcium supplement religiously to protect our bones and end up with a worse problem!
As a naturopathic physician with a focus on women’s health, I believe that we should try to get our calcium from food as much as possible. Food is the best source because it is a natural balance of minerals and nutrients – like in your bones. Your bones are not composed of calcium alone. They have zinc and copper and boron and magnesium and many other minerals which have a distinct role to play.
Further compounding the calcium supplement problem is the amount that is being recommended. Whenever you take a large amount of ANY nutrient, you deplete other nutrients. In the case of calcium, studies show that a large amount of calcium will drive magnesium and zinc out of your body – and these minerals are critical for your health!
Now I know it’s nearly impossible to get your recommended levels of calcium and other minerals from your three squares a day, so what’s the solution?
The answer is to look for calcium supplements that ARE food. That’s right. Calcium tablets or capsules that are made from food sourced calcium. Since rocks, oyster shells, and egg shells are not generally eaten, I am suggesting a new source of calcium – a calcium from a living plant. A source that your body recognizes as food.
In recent years a marine algae called Algas calcareas which is harvested from the shores of the Atlantic inSouth America, has made it into ahandful of calcium products by a few different US companies. This kiwi sized algae is hand-picked and then milled into a powder which contains not only calcium, but all of the minerals found in human bone in approximately the same balance. So far, this calcium source is not available in the mass market, but several US health food companies have listed AlgaeCal® as an ingredient on their labels.The idea of eating a plant is so much better than rock; and the idea of symphony of minerals is so much better than calcium alone. And as a physician, the science supporting this calcium source adds substantial confidence.
First, not surprisingly, is the plant calcium is better absorbed than rock calcium according to U of Milan study. Second, a recently published study conducted by U of CT shows that your body’s bone building cells prefer the plant calcium over the two leading ingredients, calcium carbonate and calcium citrate…by a lot! Like 200 to 400%. Third, human studies are showing the effect on bone density of this plant calcium is extraordinary compared to all other calcium sources.
Chances are you will be taking calcium supplements for the rest of your life. It is hard to see progress in supporting your bone health, so why take a chance? Get out of the Stone Age, and eat plants that are body-friendly.
written exclusively for H.I.C. by,
Dr. Marcus Laux