Calcium supplements increase the risk of fractures from osteoporosis. Additionally, those who consume calcium supplements in excess of 500mg per day are at increased risk for heart disease and other diseases.
A recent followup by a John Hopkins University study revealed:
“…calcium supplement use may increase the risk for incident Coronary Artery Calcium.”
Apparently, calcium supplements do not get assimilated into the bone properly and they do not make up for a lack of calcium in the diet. Calcium needs to be absorbed from foods containing the mineral in its natural state and not from pills.
WHAT IS CALCIUM?
Calcium is the fifth most abundant element found in nature. It’s never found alone as it forms compounds when mixed with water and oxygen. Calcium exists in other forms in the skeletal structures of animals. The calcium compound found in the human skeleton is made of calcium phosphate.
Calcium phosphate has enough tensile strength to support our body weight, but it is light enough to have us move around without expending excess energy to do so. The outer and inner components of our bones are significantly porous, which allows us to be more nimble.
WHY DO WE NEED CALCIUM?
Calcium is important for many reasons, the most obvious being for bone composition and integrity. What many people don’t know is that muscle contraction could not occur without calcium. Every time a muscle contracts, calcium is involved in the process. Without calcium in the muscle fibers, movement would cease to occur and the heart would stop beating.
HOW CALCIUM IS PROCESSED IN BODY
Once ingested (by way of natural foods), calcium is extracted from the gut through the walls of the large and small intestine. From there it enters the blood stream and is carried to the bone and muscle.
It’s important to know also that the bones act as somewhat of a calcium reservoir and a backup to dietary calcium intake. Bone tissue is constantly being broken down to release calcium for bodily functions as listed earlier, as well as for the reformation of bone!
WHERE DO WE GET IT & WHY IT MATTERS
Although we have a reservoir of calcium in the form of our bones, we still deplete it and excrete it in the urine. Exercise depletes calcium through sweat. Accordingly, the body does not make new calcium, rather we relocate it throughout tissues and bones. As a result, we must ingest calcium in order to replenish what we lose. While calcium is abundant in plant and animal food sources, recent research suggests that animal sources of calcium or calcium fortified foods (or supplements) can impose risk, if not degenerate health.
Studies conducted also show that a higher proportion of animal protein to plant protein (i.e. if the majority of your protein comes from animals) heightens bone mineral loss and increases the risk of bone fractures.2
Additionally, calcium enriched foods or supplements have been shown to facilitate the leeching of calcium from the body and result in higher risk of osteoporosis as well as heart disease. If you are a human and consume food, the chances are, you probably are consuming enriched foods!
List of commonly enriched foods
By now you are probably thinking, “how do I get calcium from plants!?” Here are 10 plant-based foods with some of the highest levels of calcium:
- Sesame Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Chick Peas
- Bok Choy
- Black-strap Molasses
- Coconut Milk
If you’re between 19-50 years of age, the US dietary guidelines suggests about 1,000mg of calcium per day. Plant based researchers refute this and suggest that in a plant-based diet the need is closer to 500-600mg per day. As we’ve outlined, ingestion of calcium supplements above 500mg per day or total consumption of greater than 1,400 mg per day in the diet are linked to a host of maladies. The good news is, if you are already on a plant-based diet, you probably have nothing to worry about as most research indicates that calcium needs can be met with a normal plant-based diet. If you are not on a plant-based based diet, you may want to think twice about where your calcium is coming from.
1Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10-Year Follow-up of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)
2A high ratio of dietary animal to vegetable protein increases the rate of bone loss and the risk of fracture in postmenopausal women: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/73/1/118/F3.expansion.html
Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10-Year Follow-up of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)
Milk Alkali Syndrome and the Dynamics of Calcium Homeostasis
Long term calcium intake and rates of all cause and cardiovascular mortality: community based prospective longitudinal cohort study
Calcium supplements with or without vitamin D and risk of cardiovascular events: reanalysis of the Women’s Health Initiative limited access dataset and meta-analysis
Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study.
Mechanisms of Calcium Absorbtion
Death by Calcium by Thomas E Levy, MD JD