We all know that calcium is an important mineral. It helps form strong bones, teeth, and it is even involved in cool functions like muscle contraction, nerve signal conduction and blood clotting. So we definitely need to be sure it’s present in our diet, but is it necessary to supplement with it? This is where to conundrum lies.
Within the health world there has been a focus on reducing intake of dairy products given their oft-unpleasant origins, the common occurrence of lactose intolerance and overall dairy sensitivity, and the potential risk for exogenous hormone exposure. We all think this is the best place to get calcium, so if we cut it out, it must mean we have to supplement with it. Right?
The concern with supplementation is due to a fall 2015 study by the American Society of Nephrology suggesting that calcium supplementation is linked with increased risk of kidney stone formation, especially if you’ve already had kidney stones.
Yikes! If you’re a kidney stone sufferer, you’ll certainly know the intense pain caused by this condition, and you’ll likely do every thing you can to avoid reoccurrence. There is also concern over calcium supplementation causing increased risks of heart attacks in women. Hmm. Supplementing with this mineral isn’t sounding all that great after all.
So what do we do now? Don’t worry, osteopenia and osteoporosis sufferers, I see you shaking your heads in concern. Does this mean we should all be throwing our calcium pills out the window?
Perhaps not, but let’s take a look at how we should be using calcium supplements:
This will up regulate the rate of calcium intake. Calcium and magnesium work hand-in-hand for a number of bodily functions. Taking magnesium with your calcium dose can help balance how much calcium is absorbed and how it is used, as well ensure that magnesium is not depleted.
Ensure your vitamin D level is adequate
Most of us are terribly deficient in vitamin D. It is worth investigating by a blood test if you are deficient. If so, you can begin supplementing with a liquid emulsion.
Is your digestion up to snuff?
Adequate digestive function is at the crux of a number of health issues, and nutrient absorption is a key element of digestion. If you are not digesting properly, you are likely not absorbing nutrients properly. Low levels of stomach acid can strongly affect how well calcium is absorbed. Furthermore, calcium supplements are best taken with food so as to avoid development of kidney stones.
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Balance it out with food
As a naturopathic doctor, I am always encouraging my patients to get their nutrients from food sources as often as possible. In fact, calcium supplements are best had is doses of 500mg or less, so achieving the remainder of your requirements with food sources is ideal. Yes, we are all convinced that dairy is the best source of calcium, but in reality there are many other places to get calcium. While you can get about 296mg of calcium from a glass of milk, you can also see from the list below that there are lots of ways to get oodles of calcium from non-dairy food sources:
- Sesame Seeds – ¼ cup = 351 mg
- Spinach – 1 cup = 245 mg
- Collard Greens – 1 cup (steamed) = 266 mg
- Blackstrap Molasses – 1 Tbsp = 137 mg
- Raw Kelp – 1 cup = 136 mg
- Tahini (sesame seed butter) – 2 Tbsp = 126 mg
- Broccoli – 2 cups (steamed) = 124 mg
- Swiss Chard – 1 cup (steamed) = 102 mg
- Eggs – 1 hardboiled = 100mg
- Kale – 1 cup (steamed) = 94 mg
- Brazil Nuts – 2 ounces (approx. 12 nuts) = 90 mg
- Celery – 2 cups = 81 mg
- Almonds – 1 ounce (approx. 23 nuts) = 75 mg
- Papaya – 1 medium = 73 mg
- Flax Seeds – 2 Tbsp = 52 mg
- Oranges – 1 medium = 52 mg
Choose the right supplement
Be sure you are selecting your supplements from a professional line. Furthermore, it is important to choose the most bioavailable form of calcium.
Calcium carbonate has the reputation of having the most elemental calcium, but it is also the least absorbable, meaning it can have detrimental affects on health.
Calcium hydroxyapatite, on the other hand, is highly bioavailable and has the best outcome on building bones long term without harming kidneys and heart. It may not be the best option for vegetarians and vegans, as it comes from bone sources, in which case calcium citrate-malate will fit the bill as a calcium salt with high bioavailability.
Has all of this calcium talk left you wondering what adequate calcium levels actually are?
These vary based on your age, gender and health status. You can see a full list of Canadian Daily Reference Intakes here. Here’s a quick guide for adults:
– Adult men (19-70): 1000mg per day
– Adult women (19-50): 1000mg per day
– Adult women (50-70): 1200mg per day
– Pregnant women (19-50): 1000mg per day
In truth, it may be challenging for us to get adequate calcium from diet alone, so supplementing can be a great way to balance out our needs. Follow the tips above for your best management of calcium supplementation to achieve optimal health.
National Osteoporosis Foundation: http://nof.org/calcium
Bristow SM et al. Acute and 3-month effects of microcrystalline hydroxyapatite, calcium citrate and calcium carbonate on serum calcium and markers of bone turnover: a randomised controlled trial in postmenopausal women. Br J Nutr. 2014 Nov 28;112(10):1611-20.
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