Calcium – A Life Supporting Nutrient
Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D. R.N. THE NATURAL NURSE
Calcium is essential for life, and is the most abundant mineral in the human body. It is well-recognized for its importance in the development of bones and teeth, but has many other functions as well. Calcium acts as a ‘pump’ regulation mechanism that escorts nutrients and waste products in and out of cells through their membranes. It is also involved in nerve transmissions and muscle contractions (including the heart muscle). The best natural sources of calcium include whole grains, beans, nuts and especially dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale and seaweed. Milk and dairy products contain a lot of calcium, but the absorption of calcium from dairy by the body can be slow due to the high amount of protein in these foods. Between 26 and 38 million people in the United States are at high risk for developing osteoporosis, even though the U.S. has the highest per capita dairy consumption! Although 80% of those diagnosed with osteoporosis are women, men can suffer from this debilitating condition as well. Men begin to experience bone loss at the age of 65 to 70; women, however, lose bone more rapidly after reaching menopause. Osteoporosis occurs when this bone loss becomes severe. Calcium has been shown to play a significant role in promoting bone health. Research
has shown it helps prevent the breakdown of bone tissue. In addition, calcium delivers beneficial support for premenstrual syndrome complaints (ie. bloating, weight gain, breast tenderness, headaches, muscle cramps and mood swings), and is important in both men and women for proper muscle function, controlling high blood pressure, and tooth decay. To maintain bone health, 1500mg/day of calcium (including food sources and supplements) is recommended . However, this amount varies somewhat with age, weight, sex, etc. For example, a teenage man needs 1300 mg/ day, an adult man needs 1000 mg/ day, and a man over 55 requires 1200mg/day. I specifically referenced men, since most of the data written about calcium focuses on women, but men have significant calcium
requirements as well! It is often difficult to get this amount through the diet. In order to maintain an adequate supply of calcium for all of its important jobs in the body, doctors often recommend that people use a calcium supplement.
There is a lot of confusion about the entire subject of calcium supplementation. That is because there are various recommendations for correct calcium intake depending on someone's life stage and situation. The amount of calcium that the body can actually use varies greatly between different forms of calcium. The percentage of elemental calcium
that is found in different forms of calcium also varies from one form to another. Labeling of Calcium supplements is not uniform, and the amount of calcium that is actually added to a product, is very different from the milligrams of calcium that the product will deliver to the body. For example, is a product lists the total amount of calcium that it contains as 1200 mg per serving, but indicates that the elemental milligram amount is 250 mg, that means that each serving is guaranteed to contain a total of 250 mg that may be absorbed, even though 1200 mg of total calcium is added to the product. As if that was not confusing enough, some manufacturers choose to list 1200 mg in the supplement fact box, but then they include a small note on the bottom that indicated 250 mg is available as elemental calcium! Other products may list the amount that one would get from 2 tablespoons if the product is a liquid, or in the case of tablets or capsule, you may have to ingest up to 6 or more capsules to deliver the dose stated on the label. In addition, different FORMS of Calcium vary in terms of their absorption.
Common forms include Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Citrate, Calcium Orotate, and Microcrystalline hydroxyapetite(MCHC). Calcium carbonate is the least expensive form that might be used in a supplement. Using Calcium carbonate allows a manufacturer to offer a higher milligram amount of calcium per unit dose, since calcium carbonate is approximately 40% calcium; however, since it is the least absorbable form, less calcium actually gets used by the body. Calcium citrate is 21 % elemental calcium, and MCHC is 25% elemental calcium, so the same unit volume will contain less calcium than the carbonate form, but it will be better utilized by the body. Other forms have even lower percentages of elemental calcium, such as calcium lactate (13% elemental) and Calcium
gluconate (9.3% elemental). Other nutrients are required by the body to maximize calcium uptake. These include Boron, Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin D. Many people find that calcium capsules and tablets are large and difficult to swallow, plus at times, multiple capsules or tablets must be swallowed to get to a therapeutic dose. Liquid Calcium/ Magnesium supplements offer an easier dosing option. If you choose a liquid, read the label carefully, as well as the ‘other ingredients.’ Avoid liquids that
are in plastic bottles that may potentially leak into the solution. Read the label to asses if the product has a high sugar content or uses a lot of fructose. Also avoid potentially problematic preservatives such as ‘Benzoates’, which can release toxic benzene rings into solution.