The Misunderstood Benefits and Risks of Calcium

Calcium and Osteoporosis – The Misunderstood Benefits and Risks of Calcium Supplementation

There are many interesting facts you may not know about Calcium supplementation and osteoporosis.


  • Calcium supplementation is big business
  • 50% of all women over age 65 and 25% of all men will experience at least one osteoporotic fracture in their life time
  • The governments’ understanding of micronutrient requirements as expressed in the RDI’s is archaic
  • Most if not all RDI’s for vitamins and minerals are woefully low, while the RDI of 1,000-1,500mg per day of calcium could be dangerously high
  • FACT: Bantu women in Africa have lower estrogen levels than U.S. women both before and after menopause. They consume less than 500mg per day of calcium yet osteoporotic fractures are extremely rare.

    FACT: The Japanese dietary calcium intake is 540mg per day yet their hip fracture rate is half of western countries.

    FACT: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that post-menopausal women who took 2,000mg of calcium per day had the same rate of bone loss as those on placebo.

    FACT: A study done by the Mayo Clinic on 106 women of various ages demonstrated that over a 2.6 to 6.6 year observation period there was no correlation between calcium supplementation and the rate of bone loss.

    FACT: Calcium by itself doesn’t work very well. A study of 26 post-menopausal women who were placed on HRT and a “bone healthy” diet demonstrated a meager increase of BMD (Bone Mineral Density) of .7%. The group that was given a mixture of calcium and other supportive and synergistic micronutrients demonstrated an increase in BMD 16 times greater than the control.

    FACT: A 1981 study of calcium versus calcium and supportive co-factors demonstrated that the mixture increased BMD 200-300% greater than calcium alone.

    DANGER: Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is caused by calcification of these and other soft tissues throughout the body.

    DANGER: When calcium is supplemented by itself and is not being incorporated into the bone matrix, the difference between what is consumed and excreted contributes not only to arteriosclerosis but accelerated aging of soft tissues throughout the body.

    FACT: Two forms of a lesser known vitamin have been shown to be 56-74% deficient in people with osteoporosis.

    FACT: This same vitamin has been shown to increase the absorption of calcium into the osteocalcin matrix by 50% in just 14 days.

    FACT: This same vitamin has been shown in vitro and in animals to draw calcium out of soft tissues and reverse calcification.

    FACT: Several studies have shown that absorption of calcium by humans decreases with age. Calcium absorption can be enhanced by a particular kind of health promoting fiber.

    FACT: Deposition of calcium into the bone matrix is only half of the BMD equation. Bone Resorption (the loss of bone) must also be addressed!

    FACT: Two herbs with substantial health promoting benefits in areas other than BMD have been shown in vitro and in animals to decrease osteoclast (cells that consume bone) activity and decrease bone resorption. This is a mechanism similar to the bisphosponate drugs like Fosamax. But these drugs have side effects like esophageal irritation and are also expensive.

    FACT: Slowing down calcification and glycation (the aging effects of sugar on the organs of our body) is a major anti-aging benefit.

    FACT: Homocysteine which is a marker or indicator of many chronic degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and diabetes , is also higher in patients with osteoporosis. A combination of three common vitamins has been clinically shown to reduce homocysteine.

    FACT: In addition to the role it plays in bones, Calcium is essential to over-all health and longevity. But calcium must be taken correctly and with the proper supporting co-factors, biochemically, synergistic ingredients.

    It perplexes me as to why some physicians and even dieticians and nutritionists aren’t a bit more careful when they tell patients or customers to take 1000-1500mg of calcium per day because it’s “healthy for their bones”?

    The assumption being made is that all or most of this large amount of calcium being recommended is actually getting into the bones. Many healthcare professionals will also recommend that the calcium be coupled with a Vitamin D, because it helps to increase the absorption of calcium into the blood (which is true).

    The question not being asked or answered is where is this calcium going once its in the blood and available systemically? Is it possible that some of this calcium is NOT winding up in the bones but in the lining of the arteries instead? This is a process known as arterial calcification which can cause arterial dysfunction. The answer is a resounding YES! Let’s take a look at what needs to happen for calcium to deposit into the bones and alternatively, not into the lining of the arteries!

    Calcium is a positively charged atom called a cation. It’s charge is +2 (divalent). In order for calcium to be absorbed into the bone matrix, a protein named osteocalcin has to undergo a process called carboxylation to be able to bind with the calcium. When osteocalcin is “under” carboxylated, the calcium will not be absorbed well or at all. Another protein called Matrix Gla Protein is found in the arterial cell wall, MGP maintains healthy soft tissue calcium metabolism protecting against arterial calcification.

    So what do the bones and the arteries have in common regarding calcium??? Vitamin K! Via the process of carboxylation, Vitamin K assures that both osteocalcin is carboxylated so that calcium can be deposited into the bone matrix, and matrix Gla via carboxylation is synthesized to prevent the deposition of calcium into the arteries.

    While Vitamin D is necessary, plays a role in the carboxylation process and has many other wellness benefits… healthy calcium metabolism both in bones and arteries is very dependent upon Vitamin K. It seems that Vitamin K-2 (menaquinones) may have more cardiovascular benefit while Vitamin K-1 phylloquinone may work better for bones… so a combination of Vitamin K-1* and K-2 * might be advisable to a dosage of at least 1mg of K-1, plus 100mcg (micrograms) of a form of K-2.*

    Taking therapeutic amounts of Vitamin K has been shown to significantly reduce fracture rates at the hip and spine, yet it does not seem to increase Bone Mineral Density (BMD). This does not surprise me because BMD does not accurately measure the architecture of the bones, just the mineral presence. Obviously, the mechanism of Vitamin K is working in a different manner. Additionally, other health benefits for Vitamin K are being written about in the literature. It seems that this vitamin may be involved in prevention of osteoarthritis, has anti-inflammatory mechanisms, may be of real benefit in preventing prostate cancer, and deficiencies may be involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s.

    To sum up, calcium intake of greater than 500-600mg per day is not necessary or useful in preventing bone fractures. Adding at least 5000 IU per day of Vitamin D-3, and at least 1-2 mg of Vitamin K, and 500mg per day of Magnesium to your daily diet will give you the protection against bone fractures that you need.

    For these reasons, and to insure that calcium ends up in your bones and not lining your arteries, it is very important to take a properly formulated supplement. A supplement with the right combination of high quality vitamins and minerals at the proper doses for healthier bones and ultimately to prevent fractures.

    Are Nutritional Supplements Necessary?

    How many times have your heard that we can get all the nutrients we need from the food we eat? How many of you manage to eat the five servings of fruits and vegetables per day that are recommended? If you are unable to consume the five servings of fruit and vegetables that are recommended daily, you are not alone. Two thirds of Americans fail to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily. Today’s active lifestyles make it virtually impossible to consume the perfect balance of different types of foods that is needed to obtain all the nutrients we need on a daily basis. Nutritional shortfalls exist for many nutrients in this country. Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B-6, folic acid, zinc, copper, calcium, iron, and magnesium are all lacking in the normal American diet.

    A large nutritional survey conducted in 1994 showed that most American women are only getting half of the daily recommended intake of 400 micrograms of folic acid in their diet. Numerous nutritional studies also show that most of the elderly and most of the young women in the United States were getting less than two-thirds of the RDA of 15 milligrams of zinc in their diets.

    Another nationwide survey showed that ninety-five percent of American women aged 18 to 44 were getting only a little more that half of the 18 milligrams of iron needed to offset the menstrual losses of this mineral. Studies of calcium intake have shown that 75 percent of all women over age 35 get less the RDA of 800 milligrams per day. This lack of calcium causes bone loss weakening the bones and causing osteoporosis. Calcium supplements can not only stop this bone loss but can also actually reverse it.

    A study of meals served to students at 50 colleges found that the foods on the menu provided only 251 milligrams of magnesium a day- even though the RDA is 350 milligrams for men and 300 milligrams for women. Even if we only ate minimally processed organic foods, it would be hard to eat the amount needed to provide all the needed nutrients for optimal health. Especially since our ability to absorb and utilize the nutrients in our food diminishes as we age. Unfortunately, most of us eat a diet rich in highly processed nutrient deficient food.

    Why is our food so nutrient deficient?

    Well, it is mostly our fault. As consumers, we want picture-perfect produce. The food industry, thus, focuses on developing food that ships well, not on food that is nutritious. Tomatoes and lettuce are picked green and shipped in cold storage in order to appear picture perfect on the store shelves. Unfortunately, peak nutrition is achieved by letting the fruit ripen on the vine. Vine ripened tomatoes are proven to contain higher levels of beta-carotene, lycopene and soluble fiber than green picked fruit. Lettuce loses up to 46% of certain nutrients within 7 days of cold, dark storage. Most fruits and vegetables contain fewer nutrients today than in the past. Research by CTV, published in the Globe and Mail in 2002, reports that broccoli contains 62% less calcium, potatoes have lost almost all their vitamin A, and apples nearly half of their iron as compared to vegetables grown before the 1950’s. In fact, among the majority of fruits and vegetables tested, there was a 68% loss of Vitamin A, a 76% loss of Iron and an 80% loss of Calcium. Even if we were to eat our five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, we still are not guaranteed of getting the nutrients that we need for optimal health.

    Main cause

    The main cause of the decline in nutrients in our food is the conventional farming methods used to grow most of our foods. Conventional farming methods deplete the nutrients in the soil which also diminishes the amount of nutrients in the plants that are grown. Soil can be depleted of most minerals in as few as five years of growing crops using pesticides, herbicides, and only minimal fertilizer. Conventional farming replaces only those nutrients that are needed for plant growth. No attention is given to replacing the many trace minerals that are essential for animal health. Modern livestock producers understand this lack of minerals in the crops and always have mineral blocks available for their animals. They understand that these minerals are necessary in order to achieve fast growth rates and good health in their livestock. Unfortunately, few of us realize that this supplementation is also necessary for our optimal health.
    What must we do in order to achieve optimal health?

    We can’t rely on the modern American diet to supply us with the nutrients that we need so we have to find alternative sources of these nutrients. One solution would be to eat only organically produced foods, fruits, vegetables and meat. Organically produced foods are grown with no herbicides or pesticides. This eliminates the toxins from our diet that are known to accumulate over time. These toxins are thought to be the cause of many of the chronic diseases that are associated with aging such as cancer.

    We are told to wash our fruits and vegetables before eating them in order to remove these toxins but consider this. Those pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on the whole plant and on the soil that supplies the nutrition for those plants. How does the plant absorb that nutrition? The nutrients are absorbed from the soil into the roots and up into the plant and into the fruit. Any substance sprayed on the plant is also absorbed through the leaves into that plant. How does washing remove the spray residue that has been absorbed into the plant?

    Organic farmers also strive to improve the soil through the application of more traditional fertilizer as well as by crop rotation. Thus, the soil has more minerals with which to nourish the crops which are then fed to the livestock. The food that is organically produced will be much more nutritious because of these practices than conventionally produced foods.

    Unfortunately, organic food is more expensive than conventionally produced food. This may put a total organic diet out of the reach of most people. Besides, we all like to eat out occasionally and organic restaurants are very hard to find if, in fact, they even exist.

    Nutritional Supplements

    So how are we to ensure that we get all of the nutrients our bodies need in order to obtain and maintain optimal health? Nutritional supplements can supply these nutrients and with careful shopping can be quite affordable. However, it is important to realize that more than the cost of a supplement has to be considered in order to get the best value for your nutritional dollar. Some supplements may seem inexpensive but if they are not absorbable, that is, if they are in a form that our body can not utilize, they are simply of no value at any price. For example, there is an antacid that is currently being advertised as a source of calcium. However, the calcium in the tablet is calcium carbonate which is only ten percent absorbable and requires a good supply of stomach acid in order to be absorbed at that level. Isn’t the main purpose of an antacid to reduce stomach acid? The calcium in the antacid serves no other purpose than as a filler as its bioavailability is highly questionable.

    Many of the needed nutrients work together in the human body and, as such, need to be available in the proper proportions and at the same time. For example, in order for B12 to be absorbed, folic acid is required and folic acid requires B12 to be absorbed. If one of these nutrients is taken without the other, a severe deficiency of the one not taken can occur. Another example is calcium which is best absorbed in the presence of magnesium, vitamin D and zinc. As you can see, there is much to be considered when deciding which nutritional supplements should be taken. I can only urge you to, please, learn about proper nutrition and what your body needs in order to stay healthy. A lot of the chronic diseases of today are caused by nutritional deficiencies and, as such, can be prevented by seeing that you provide your body with the building blocks of good health that it needs. Our body’s ability to renew itself and protect itself is amazing- provided that it is given all of the essential nutrients, the building blocks that it requires.

    Kidney Stones – Calcium Supplements

    Basically when one develops kidney stones in their system, the dietitian will recommend foods that have calcium supplements such as milk, yogurt and cheese. They should be taken under strict guidelines of gender, age, size of the body and the kind of kidney stone that one is suffering from. Nevertheless, It’s a proven fact that men and women who take these foods in large quantities have a lower chance of been affected.

    You should watch your intake of proteins from animals and salt as well. Young men who take the prescribed foods above, have a much lower chance of being affected than men who are over sixty years of age. You need to know that when taking these foods, there is oxalate present, which might find its way to the blood but is fortunately exerted from the system in the form of urine.

    Did you know that dairy products provide 80% of calcium supplements in the diet? They help in reducing the oxalate level. Therefore, do not avoid these foods as you might cause yourself to suffer bone loss for you who might be suffering from kidney stones and automatically, resorption. Resorption is the breakdown of the bone which discharges calcium into the bloodstream.

    So how much should one take? At least 1,200 mg daily. Women who take 20%, have been found to be at a higher risk of developing kidney stones owing to the fact that they may be taking them in the morning, either without food or with breakfast, which are low in oxalate. Chances of developing them are lower if taken after the main meals. People who genetically developed them are advised to reduce their intake of kidney stones calcium supplements for they end up being absorbed by the intestines.

    The Question and Answer Guide to Calcium Supplements!

    Calcium Q & A

    There is so much misleading information around us, and for the sake of making a profit we the consumers are very often taught to believe that we are giving our body what it needs when in fact we are actually doing little that is helpful to ourselves. Here we will clarify most of the misleading info about calcium.

    Which type of Calcium is best?

    Mineral supplements such as calcium are made from many different forms of the mineral. Common mineral forms are citrate, malate, gluconate, carbonate, bis-glycinate, micro-crystaline hydroxyapitate, and oxide.

    What defines one form as being better than another is mainly it’s ability to be broken down during digestion small enough to cross cell walls and to be absorbed by the human body. The best forms for this are citrate, malate, and bis-glycinate (bis-glycinate is also referred to as chelate, or amino-acid chelate). These have the highest bio-availability (absorbability), and are so close to each other in this that they are all excellent choices.

    It doesn’t pay to take other forms of calcium since the body will get limited or no access to the actual mineral. The same recommendation applies to the mineral Magnesium; citrate, malate, and bis-glycinate are best.

    Minerals other than calcium may at times have benefits in other forms.

    Why does it just say calcium on my bottle, and nothing else?

    Better forms are always listed by manufacturers. If a supplement label does not list the form of its vitamins or minerals, then it contains the cheapest, and usually least absorbable form. In this case, calcium carbonate and magnesium oxide.

    The most well known form of the mineral calcium and the one put to the most use is calcium carbonate (and of magnesium is magnesium oxide). When calcium and magnesium supplements were pioneered in the first half of the twentieth century these were the forms that were technologically available and used in supplements. It was considered groundbreaking for the industry at the time.

    Nowadays, these two forms are considered ancient technology for supplements, as they are the poorest absorbed forms of each mineral respectively, by the human body. They are still used today because they are the cheapest for a manufacturer to purchase.

    Does one form of calcium have more calcium than another?

    The mineral level of calcium carbonate is the highest of all forms at about 40% elemental (meaning that 40% of calcium carbonate is pure calcium). The next nearest in elemental level is calcium citrate at about 20%.

    However, since the carbonate form of calcium is so poorly absorbed by the human body, we’re not actually getting most of that calcium.

    Calcium citrate on the other hand is so much more bio-available that even at 20% elemental, calcium citrate provides more calcium to the body than calcium carbonate at 40% elemental, and by a sizable margin.

    Calcium malate is similar in elemental level to calcium citrate and may even be more bio-available than citrate.

    A bis-glycinate (or amino acid chelate) is not a specific form of mineral but a mineral that has been bonded to an amino-acid which carries the mineral across the cell wall. (Amino-acids are the building blocks of protein, protein is what makes up our muscles and soft tissue).

    Why is calcium carbonate so popular with manufacturers?

    For starters, it’s the cheapest. Manufacturers also use calcium carbonate for another reason. It allows them to create a simple marketing ploy. Due to calcium carbonates high mineral level, a manufacturer can put 500 mg and sometimes up to 600 mg of this highly nonabsorbent calcium in one tablet. Who wouldn’t be enticed by the statement “you only need two tablets to get your daily dose of calcium?”..when the industry standard is four tablets.

    Why are calcium and magnesium tablets always so big?

    The problem lies in the fact that as minerals go calcium and magnesium are extremely bulky. They simply cannot be condensed enough to be very small. These mineral products are kept on the bigger side in order to minimize the number of tablets needed to get a required dose. As well, if they were to be divided up into multiple, smaller tablets, we would need to take twice as many tablets to get the recommended amounts of calcium, and magnesium. The problem then is that most people just won’t do it. We’ll take too few, or none, and either way not get the calcium amounts that our bodies need.

    Should I take calcium with magnesium?

    It’s best to take them together. The body needs both. It also needs to maintain calcium and magnesium in the blood stream in roughly a 2:1 ratio. We should have give or take two times the calcium than magnesium. They work in concert with one another for many functions of the body. For example, calcium is required/utilized by the body in order for us to contract our muscles (to use our muscles) and magnesium is necessary for muscle relaxation. One theory even says that if we take in only calcium, raising our calcium level without raising our magnesium level with it, then the body will release calcium from places (such as bone) and evacuate it out of the body in order to maintain the required 2:1 blood ratio, causing a net calcium loss.

    Why do calcium supplements seem to always come with vitamin D3?

    Vitamin D3 helps with the body’s ability to absorb the mineral calcium (not the other way around). Vitamin D3 is also essential for the body’s effective usage of calcium.

    Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is a synthetic version of the fat soluble vitamin-d and is utilized by plants. The natural version, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), is what is utilized by animals and humans. Because it’s natural, the D3 form is not patentable. Drug companies (or anyone else) can patent D2, and have. It’s the reason D2 is what a pharmacy provides.

    Can I get my calcium by eating antacid tablets like Tums?

    These products use calcium carbonate which is extremely difficult for the body to absorb. This is even if taken with meals when there are digestive enzymes and gastric acid present to breakdown food and absorb nutrients. Moreover, people do not usually take Tums with meals but rather in-between meals as an antacid, when there is no digestion taking place. When taken this way there is actually no gain in calcium benefit to the body.

    Calcium like this, that is not well-absorbed, can dilute stomach acid and inhibit digestion, resulting in more of the problem the antacid was originally taken to help. As well, this excess calcium in the blood due to poor absorption (instead of in the cells), can end up as plaque in our arteries. (Also, these antacid products contain lots of sugar, talc, mineral oil, synthetic dyes & artificial flavors.)

    What are good food sources of Calcium?

    Yogurt and other dairy products, sardines and salmon with bones, green leafy vegetables – the darker the green the better the source (eg. Spinich), fermented soy such as miso, natto, and tempeh, legumes (beans), nuts, broccoli and oranges.

    How much calcium do I need?

    The National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine recommendations in 2010 are:

    Years of age ————– Calcium required per day

    1-3 ——————————– 700 mg

    4-8 ——————————- 1,000 mg

    9-18 —————————— 1,800 mg

    19-50 —————————– 1,000 mg

    51 & older (women) —————- 1,200 mg

    51 – 70 (men) ———————- 1,000 mg

    71 – years ————————– 1,200 mg


    Women 14 – 18 ——————— 1,300 mg


    Women 19 – 50 ———————- 1,000 mg

    Now you can not only get the calcium you need but the calcium your body can put to use.