Most people I see as clients are taking a calcium supplement. Why? Well some of them don’t eat dairy, so think they “should” take a supplement (as they have been led to believe that dairy is the only source of this major mineral), and then others come to me with hypothalamic amenorrhea and have been told to take a calcium supplement to “protect their bones”. Unfortunately, this advice might be slightly misguided (or at least only telling half the story). Let’s take a little look-see, shall we….
“After analyzing 10 years of medical tests on more than 2,700 people in a federally funded heart disease study, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and elsewhere conclude that taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage, although a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears be protective”
Jeepers! That’s kind of concerning, right? But why would supplements cause an issue, but not food-based calcium?
Because nutrients do not work alone. They have synergistic effects. I.e. they need to recruit their friends to do the job. When they try and do it alone (when clearly it requires more than one man), that’s when things go wrong. And food, my friends, often has all of the necessary nutrients our body requires all packaged up in a neat little bundle.
For example – people often freak out about the vitamin A levels in liver and, while I wouldn’t recommend eating polar bear liver in any sort of regularity, the fun thing about liver is that it is also a great source of vitamin D, which works both synergistically and antagonistically to prevent toxicity from vitamin A (and vitamin A returns the favour to vitamin D – nice, eh?).
Anyways…back to calcium.
Obviously I work with a lot of women with hypothalamic amenorrhea. A big issue with HA is the low oestrogen levels that almost always come along with this condition. This low oestrogen is a problem – not just for fertility, but for bone health. Women with HA are at a much higher risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis due to these low levels of oestrogen. (You can read more about the link between HA and bone density issues in this previous post).
So…as I mentioned above, most women with HA are often prescribed (or take of their own accord) a calcium supplement “to protect their bones”, and this tends to be in the form of an isolated calcium supplement, such as calcium carbonate or calcium citrate.
BUT – this new research which I have pointed to above suggests that isolated calcium supplementation could, in fact, be increasing the risk of heart disease which, given that low oestrogen levels also increase the risk of cardiovascular damage, is not ideal really, right? The reason for this increase in heart disease risk appears to be due to the calcium supplements not making their way to the bones (the obvious, desired destination), and instead finding themselves lodging into the arteries and forming plaques (this is bad, people).
Because calcium needs a little support. A little direction, if you will.
Enter vitamin D…
We all know this, don’t we? It’s not news that vitamin D is also needed for bone health along with calcium. Why? Well, for one, it helps to improve the intestinal absorption of calcium.
(Vitamin D supplementation, in my opinion, is often warranted, especially as most people do not get enough non-sun-screened sun exposure and/or vitamin D-rich foods, such as egg yolks and liver…….) But again – with vitamin D, there is such thing as too much of a good thing, which is why you should have your levels tested (yes, I know in New Zealand it costs money to have it tested, but it’s only $30-40, which I think is worth it when you think of all of the potential health issues related to vitamin D deficiency, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, cancer, depression, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. Phew!
Heard of Vitamin K?
The nutrient that is often forgotten about, however, is a little one called vitamin K…and I am referring to vitamin K2 here, not vitamin K1 (which is involved in blood clotting and is abundant in leafy greens such as kale, which is why peeps on warfarin, a blood thinner, are advised to watch their intake of this much-loved veggie).
Vitamin K2, friends, works with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A AND phosphorous (see – not just as simple as calcium) to promote healthy bone metabolism and direct calcium into bone and away from the arteries. This often forgotten about nutrient is essential for the activation of a protein called “osteocalcin”, which is important for building new bone. Then there is another protein called matrix Gla protein (MGP), which helps to prevent calcification (hardening through calcium deposits) of the arteries. So you can see how K2 is pretty important, right?
And let’s not forget about magnesium!
This amazing mineral is required for over 300 (THREE HUNDRED!!) processes in the body! I’m not going to list them here – that would be tedious. But one of those roles is in healthy bone metabolism (did you know that about 60% of your magnesium is stored in the bone?). Unfortunately, it is pretty difficult to get enough magnesium from the diet, so I often recommend a good quality supplement for most people.
But what about getting the other nutrients from food?
Thanks for asking, friend! Let’s have a look (these are not extensive lists…I’m already running short on space, and you’re probably getting bored):
- Dairy (the obvious one, but not actually the most bioavailable source of calcium)
- Sardines and canned salmon (bone in!) – these are the bee’s knees when it comes to providing calcium that is easily absorbed by your body PLUS they are a rich source of vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids (which protect bones via lowering inflammation) and much more (vitamin B12, selenium and protein, to name a few)!
- Sesame seeds
- Dark leafy greens
- Molasses (though you probably don’t want to be eating a whole lot of this on a regular basis)
- Sunshine!!! (without sunscreen! Caution – getting burned is NOT conducive to health. You only need a small amount of daily exposure to get your vitamin D hit, so try and stick to the lowest UV times of the day, such as mid-morning, and don’t stay out too long without covering up…with clothes, preferably. Note – if you have dark skin, you may need more than us pale-folk)
- Egg yolks
- Sardines and salmon (see above); other fish, such as mackerel and tuna are also good
- Cod liver oil
- Raw milk
- Natto…a fermented soybean dish which I hear is pretty nasty BUT if it floats your boat, then I say go for it!
- Gouda cheese
- Egg yolks
- Grass-fed butter
- Chicken liver
- Sesame seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Black beans
So how do you think your diet is looking? Are you getting all of the necessary nutrients for healthy bone metabolism?
Personally, I eat a lot of the above foods, BUT I don’t think I am meeting my targets every day (especially for K2, and some days, calcium….and especially as I am currently pregnant AND breastfeeding!), so I have chosen to start taking an organic supplement, called AlgaeCal.
Gasp! Yep – but it is NOT an isolated form of calcium. It has all of the nutrients required for healthy bones (mentioned above), and provides calcium in an organic, whole-food, form (nicely packaged into a pill). I have done a fair bit of research into this natural calcium supplement recently and I would happily recommend it to anyone who might be lacking in dietary sources of the key bone-building nutrients…especially those who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia. You can learn more about this organic plant calcium supplement here.
So – I hope this helps. Sorry it was so long. Let me know if you have any questions/thoughts in the comments below. Xx Kate
PS – This is a sponsored post, but please know I would NEVER recommend anything I did not firmly believe in, or that I had not personally tried and tested myself. PLUS I have been meaning to write about this topic for a while now, so it was kind of divine timing.