For many years, doctors and healthcare practitioners have been pushing calcium supplements as our primary form of “insurance” against osteoporosis, reiterating that “calcium builds strong bones and teeth”. As a result, we come to believe that more is better. Calcium is added to everything these days, from pasteurized milk to baby formula, soy milk, almond milk, orange juice, and boxed cereals.
The belief that calcium is what builds strong bones is absolutely ingrained in our society, but in reality, it is not that straight forward. Calcium is only one of the many minerals the body needs for building strong bones. The evidence that calcium supplementation strengthens bones was never strong to begin with, and has grown weaker with new research published in the past few years. In fact, recent studies have even associated calcium supplements with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and kidney stones!
Latest Research Refuting The Benefits Of Calcium Supplements
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007.
There was no reduction in hip fracture risk with calcium supplementation and might even increase the risk.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011.
Daily supplementation at 1,000 mg was associated with increased prostate cancer risk and an increase in kidney stone rates.
British Medical Journal, 2011.
Using calcium supplements of 500 mg or more increased the relative risk of heart attack by 27%. Even with co-administered vitamin D, calcium supplements increased the risk of heart attack by 24%.
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2012.
A high calcium supplement intake of elderly women and men did not provide any benefit for hip or lumbar bone mineral density.
British Medical Journal, 2012.
Extra calcium intake above one’s requirements might not be absorbed by bones but excreted in the urine, raising the risk of calcium kidney stones, or circulated in the blood where it might attach to atherosclerotic plaques in arteries or heart valves.
JAMA Internal Medicine, 2013.
High intake of supplemental calcium was associated with an excess risk of cardiovascular death in men.
US Preventive Services Task Force, 2013.
There is not enough evidence to determine whether vitamin D and calcium supplements can prevent fractures in men and in women who have not yet gone through menopause. There
is also not enough evidence to determine whether vitamin D and calcium supplements at larger doses can prevent fractures in older women. Lower doses of vitamin D (less than 400 IU) and calcium (less than 1,000 mg) supplements do not prevent fractures in older women and may increase the risk of kidney stones.
Why Calcium Supplements Lead to More Heart Attacks
Calcium supplements from limestone, oyster shell, egg shell, and bone meal is not bound to the natural co-factors (amino acids, lipids, and glyconutrients) found in food. Therefore, it does not have the intelligent delivery system that enables your body to utilize it in a biologically appropriate manner. Lacking this delivery system, the calcium may end up going to places you do not want, such as the arteries.
When calcium accumulates in the arteries, it makes them stiffer and less responsive to the demands of the body. Rigid arteries contribute to high blood pressure, angina (chest pain with exertion or stress), and heart failure.
Calcium also builds up in plaque. Many believe that arterial plaque is simply a buildup of cholesterol. But in reality, more than 90 percent of plaques are calcified. Cholesterol is soft and waxy and does not impair the elasticity of your arteries. Calcium deposits are like concrete. Plaques narrow arteries and can choke off the supply of blood to heart muscle and other vital tissues. If a plaque breaks loose, it can result in a heart attack, stroke, or sudden cardiac arrest.
How To Build Strong Bones
First of all, bones are not made of calcium alone. There are also potassium, magnesium, manganese, silica, iron, zinc, selenium, boron, phosphorus, sulfur, and chromium, and traces of many other minerals. By supplementing a high dosage of only one or two minerals, you can eventually create a grave mineral imbalance in the body.
You can build strong and healthy bones the natural way, without calcium supplementation.
- The safest and most effective way to make sure you have adequate calcium is to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods. The body is able to absorb calcium from natural foods much better than calcium from a supplement. Here are examples of some calcium-rich foods:
- sesame seeds
- green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, and spinach
- canned salmon and sardines with bones
- bone broth
- dairy products
- Ditch the table salt, which has minimal nutrition, and switch to unrefined, unprocessed sea salt or Himalayan salt instead. It contains the whole range of minerals in the exact proportion needed by the body.
- Regularly consume a variety of foods rich in vitamin K2. K2 works to deposit calcium into your bone matrix instead of becoming calcified in blood vessels and soft tissues or forming bone spurs. Fermented foods are alive with beneficial bacteria and are particularly rich in vitamin K2. They include sauerkraut, kim-chee, natto, olives from the self-serve olive bars in grocery markets (no high heat treatment), kefir, yogurt, and certain cheeses such as Brie and Gouda.
- Make sure you have enough vitamin D in your body. Vitamin D deficiency can result in lower bone mineral density and altered mineral metabolism in the body. The optimal level is between 50 to 70 ng/ml. This can be determined by a blood test called 25(OH)D. Since it is virtually impossible to get sufficient amounts from food, you may want to make sure you get adequate daily sun exposure safely. You should know that when you put on sunscreen, your skin will not be able to manufacture vitamin D. As a last resort, you can also take a vitamin D3 supplement. Most people need at least 4,000 IU a day to attain the optimal level, some even up to 8,000 IU. Make sure you retest every 6 months.
- Doing regular weight-bearing exercise is, in fact, one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis. Because as you put more tension on your muscles, they put more pressure on your bones, which then respond by continuously creating fresh, new bone. Walking, running, strength training, body weight exercises such as walking lunges and squats, and working out on resistance machines are all effective weight-bearing exercises.
- Lastly, it is important to note that celiac disease and non-Celiac gluten sensitivity can result in bone loss due to intestinal damage, leading to malabsorption of nutrients, in this case, calcium, and eventually, osteoporosis. If you have chronic digestive issues or any autoimmune disease, you should consider going on a gluten-free diet. You need to work on addressing gut permeability and improving digestion and absorption.
As you can see, if your diet is rich in calcium, minerals, and vitamin K2, if you have sufficient vitamin D in your body, and if you do regular weight-bearing exercises, you can build strong bones with no further need for calcium supplementation.