We all heard that calcium is good for bones, it prevents osteoporosis and is a must for growth. Your doctor, your health food store adviser, dairy industry, and even media tell you about the benefits of this mineral.
The message has been so over-beaten that no one dares to doubt that there may be a problem with the approach. “Take the supplements and eat lots of dairy products” has been a standard prescription for health.
Calcium supplements useless for bones?
Many people believe that calcium supplements give strong bones, but that’s only wishful thinking. Nineteen studies examining 2,800 children has shown that supplementing calcium has no effect on bone mineral density and prevention of fractures.
A 2006 study published in British Medical Journal concluded that “The small effect of calcium supplementation on bone mineral density in the upper limb is unlikely to reduce the risk of fracture, either in childhood or later life, to a degree of major public health importance”
Calcium supplementation also shows poor performance on osteoporosis treatment. Endocrine reviews, a medical journal, has compiled multiple studies on calcium supplementation in post menopausal women and its effect on bone density. It concluded that, although the effect is positive, it is extremely small. After two or more years of supplementation the bone density in spine and hips increased by a mere 1.65%.
So why such a hype then?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. It is the most vital mineral and therefore the most deciding mineral of our health. 99% of this mineral is located within bones and teeth and its role is to provide structural support.
But the other, frequently forgotten 1%, also plays a big role in health. It decides on blood clotting, heart contraction, digestive capacity, and hormonal signalling.
Calcium supplements may turn detrimental to health
If calcium is the most important mineral, and deficiencies are widespread then it would seem logical that supplementation should help. This is the way you, media, and your doctor think. Too bad, because supplementing without established deficiency can ruin one`s health.
Calcium supplementation is not free from side effects. They range from mild effects such as constipation and stomach upset to very serious ones such as buildup of calcium deposits in the arteries and muscles leading to narrowing of the blood vessels, stiffness, and even heart attacks.
Fran Lowry linked calcium supplementation to heart attacks. The article says “Calcium supplements boost heart-attack risk” and
“Accumulation of calcium in the arterial wall leading to reduced compliance would be expected to take years, but the increased risk of myocardial infarction reported by Bolland and colleagues occurred early after calcium supplementation.”
Many people imagine that once a pill is swallowed it automatically ends up in a specific organ. Pills, including calcium, don`t work like that. So if you think that calcium supplement in your stomach automatically floats to the bones you couldn’t be further from the truth. So how does it work?
For calcium, to be absorbed, it must be first converted to its ionized form. That means the body must take it apart to the smallest particle. Did you know that calcium pills do not come as a pure ingredient? Every tablet is actually made of a blend of at least two nutrients.
When you turn the bottle to the back and inspect the ingredients you will quickly know what I mean. You will see not just “calcium” alone but words such as carbonate, citrate, gluconate following it.
The missing link between calcium and health effect
Why should you bother with this information and read the back label?
Because what calcium is attached to defines the supplement usefulness and its effect on your body. It is worth knowing that it is the attachment and not the calcium itself that will decide on how the mineral will behave and whether it will be absorbed, and whether it will be useful or harmful to you.
The above information is rarely ever addressed among calcium supplement prescribes and the users. Yet, this is the missing link between calcium and health. The right type of calcium will end up exactly where it is needed and the wrong calcium will end up giving you side-effects, without the expected health benefits.
How to benefit from calcium
The choice of type of calcium depend on the bodies pH or acidity/alkalinity. Without testing your body it is impossible to know which type of calcium will be beneficial or harmful to you. It is not uncommon to find women that diligently take calcium supplements thinking that they are feeding their bones, while they actually end up with stiff muscles and rheumatism.
Not matching the right type of calcium required by the body is the reason why many studies could not demonstrate a positive effect of calcium on the bones. It is a shame, but calcium matching to body type is still an unknown concept in medicine and until it gets embraced osteoporosis will remain a disease difficult to treat. Be smart and get tested before taking any calcium or bone-supporting supplements.