Careful with Calcium

For years, many of my friends were popping calcium supplements like candy. How else to prevent slow bone erosion and eventual osteoporosis, especially after menopause? (Well, proper diet– including dairy products, leafy greens, and fish–and weight training are two good ways, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.)  Anyone with heartburn added calcium from antacids to the mix, thinking they were doing themselves even more good. Wrong on both counts.  Most doctors recommended 1200 mg, the government’s number for women over 50. But keep in mind, if you take 1200 mg calcium citrate or calcium carbonate in supplements and drink milk or fortified orange juice or eat yogurt, salmon, fortified cereal, or leafy greens, you’re taking in anywhere from 30%-50% more.

I first became skeptical when I learned that a pregnant young woman needs no more calcium than a woman her age who is not pregnant.  How can that be?  Well, the body, it turns out, takes what it needs and ignores the rest. Not long ago, a couple of very large studies published in the British Journal of Medicine noted an alarming increase in sudden heart attacks associated with too much calcium intake. They recommended taking no more than 800 mg in supplements. The USDA, which regulates both the dairy industry and our nutrition recommendations, stuck to their guns and continued to insist on an adult DRI of 1200 mg calcium at least, insisting it was safe as long as you were getting enough vitamin D–which almost no one is unless they take a supplement.  Now, a study of over 35,000 individuals has shown a direct relationship between too much calcium and mortality from heart attacks.  It may be that all that extra mineral  circulating in the blood  may lead to calcification of the inner lining of the blood vessels.Don’t get me wrong. Calcium is an extremely important nutrient and the most abundant mineral in the body. We need minute amounts of it for vascular health, muscle contractions, to speed nerve impulses, allow proper cell signaling and hormone secretion. The majority of calcium serves to replenish our bones, which are constantly turning over, balancing in the blood with potassium, to preserve critical acid acid/base balance necessary for life.  If you know your diet is deficient, a 600 mg supplement should be plenty. But strive to obtain what you need form a healthy diet. Here is a list of excellent natural sources of calcium:

  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • sardines (bones in)
  • canned salmon (bones in)
  • leafy greens: kale, Swiss chard, spinach, turnip greens, collards, turnip greens, bok choy… (Tip: Always add a splash of fresh lemon juice to your greens to help absorb the calcium.)
  • soy:  tofu, soy milk
  • figs
  • molasses
  • fortified cereal

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