The Calcium Question
Certainly, some of the most frequent questions I get concern calcium.
- If I don't supplement with calcium, won't I get osteoporosis?
- If I don't eat dairy, how can I get enough calcium in my diet?
- Do I need hormone replacement therapy to prevent osteoporosis?
- What calcium supplement should I take?
- Is coral calcium a good source of calcium? (I've heard this one a lot lately.)
So let's talk about osteoporosis and the need for calcium. And let's begin by quickly discussing how the body builds bones.
First, (and this may be a surprise to many people) your bones are living tissue. They are not dead cement. By living tissue, I mean that bone is comprised of living cells (osteoclasts and osteoblasts) that are continually removing and replacing the mineral deposits that we normally think of as bone. The brilliance of this system might not at first be obvious. After all, what possible advantage could there be to getting rid of good bones. Isn't that osteoporosis? And the answer is that it's only osteoporosis when we mess up the balance – when we lose more bone than we build.
Think about this for a moment. If building and replacing bone wasn't a dynamic process, how could you mend broken bones? And if the process went only one way (just building bone), your body would eventually become one solid mass of bone. When you are healthy, it is this dynamic process of removing and replacing the bone minerals that keeps your skeletal system healthy – as long as that process is in equilibrium. As with almost all diseases, it is deviation from the natural state of balance that causes problems. What do I mean by deviation? Quite simply, when we start losing bone minerals faster than we replace them. That is osteoporosis.
So what causes us to go out of balance? If you believe most of what you see and hear, it's insufficient calcium in the diet so that we cannot grow new bone fast enough – thus the need for calcium supplements and high dairy intake. But the simple truth is that the facts don't bear this out. The incidence of hip fractures (a good indicator of osteoporosis) in countries that have the highest dairy consumption in the world (like Norway, Sweden, and the United States) is 50 times greater than in countries like New Guinea and South Africa that have extremely low consumption of dairy products (and animal products in general). Bottom line: high calcium intake does not prevent osteoporosis.
The simple truth is that if we live a balanced lifestyle, we actually need very little calcium (of the right sort) to maintain healthy bones. The problem we have is not that we get too little calcium, but rather that we have made choices that dramatically accelerate the rate of bone loss – to the point that we can never consume enough calcium to overcome the deficit.
Which lead us to the question of the day: what accelerates bone loss to such a degree? And there are several answers:
- Lack of sufficient weight bearing exercise accelerates bone loss. (Thus, increasing exercise helps reverse it.)
- Insufficient boron and vitamin D3 contribute to bone loss.
- Insufficient magnesium in the diet is probably more of a factor than insufficient calcium. A study in the Journal of Nutritional Medicine, 1991; 2:165-178, for example, showed that after nine months, women on magnesium supplements increased bone density by some 11%.
- Increasing the amount of gamma linolenic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in the diet helps increase bone density.
- Avoiding fluoride in your drinking water is vital. Fluoride collects in the bones, and although it “technically” increases bone mass and density, the evidence is very strong that fluoride intake can actually double the incidence of hip fractures.
But all of the above factors pale in comparison to the problem of a high acid diet. If you have not already done so, I suggest you read Chapter 13 of Lessons from the Miracle Doctors to better understand how a high acid diet (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, cooked grains, and refined sugars) leeches calcium from the body. The brief explanation is that when you consume a high acid diet, your body is forced to use calcium from your bones to buffer the high acid content so that your blood pH remains constant and you don't die. The problem with dairy is that it actually takes more calcium to buffer its acid content then you actually receive from the dairy – thus the high incidence of osteoporosis in countries that consume a lot of dairy. Now do not misunderstand. I am not saying that dairy is the biggest culprit. Actually, all of the other acid foods are worse – particularly high-sugar soda pop. I just single dairy out because it's always identified as building strong bones, when the opposite is true.
Building Strong Bones
So what is one to do? Well, first read Chapter 6 of Miracle Doctors. It lays out the ground rules for a diet that allows your body to build bone. It suggests minimizing the intake of animal foods (to less than 3 ounces a day) and the elimination of refined grains and sugars. At that point, the amount of highly absorbable calcium that you get in your diet from foods such as romaine lettuce, broccoli, sesame seeds and bok choy will be more than adequate to build strong bones.
And for those who do not wish to modify their diet? Calcium supplementation is required.
- Coral calcium is not especially absorbable by the body (despite claims to the contrary). There are better sources of calcium for building bones. However, it is very effective at neutralizing excess acid. So it is helpful at reducing the rate of bone loss. Just for fun, if you have some coral calcium in your house, pour a capsule into a can of sugared soda pop and watch what happens.
- At present, the most absorbable calcium that I know of is AdvaCAL – available all over the Internet, on television, and in health food stores. It's a good supplement. But keep in mind, no matter how good it is, it cannot make up for a high acid diet. It is merely a finger in the dike. Consider the fact that the traditional Eskimo diet contains over 2,000 mg of calcium a day, but because their diet is so acidic (virtually 100% from animal sources), It produces the highest hip fracture rate in the world. The bottom line is that calcium supplementation will not save you from the consequences of a bad diet.