Calcium is the primary mineral in your bones. Calcium is also needed for muscle function, blood pressure regulation, nerve function, and cellular health. The way in which calcium ends up forming bone is of vital concern to your health - and not just for bone density. Bones are a vital power plant for the formation of red and white blood cells and even act as a regulator of metabolism. Indeed, bone health is a key sign of overall health associated with longevity.
The quality of calcium you consume is of great importance. You want to use forms of calcium that are easy for your body to utilize. Minerals for dietary supplements are typically bound to another substance. What they are bound to has a profound affect on how they are absorbed and even more importantly - where they go and what they do in your body. Minerals from the ground are referred to as inorganic, whereas minerals in plants or crops are structured by living cells and thought of as organic (as different from how the word organic describes food that doesn’t contain pesticides).
Understanding Cheap Calcium
The cheapest form of calcium is gym chalk, otherwise known as inorganic calcium carbonate. Other ground-up rock forms of calcium include bone meal, oyster shell, or dolomite. Another cheap form is calcium gluconate (9% calcium and 91% sugar glucose). These forms of calcium require large amounts of hydrochloric acid to make bioavailable, thus they have poor absorption (which is why they are used as over the counter antacids). Once in your body they are not very biologically useful and run a risk, depending on your underlying health, of calcifying your arteries, causing alarming breast lumps, gall stones, or kidney stones.
Your body really has to work hard to use these kinds of calcium to form bones. However, many people take these because gym chalk is 40% calcium and can be compressed into a 500 mg tablet (making its own little stone). Uninformed consumers think they are getting their 1000 mg a day of calcium taking two of these pebbles. Mineral products in tablets are famous for passing through your digestive system without breaking down. Never take a calcium product in a tablet and avoid ground up rock sources of calcium.
Calcium citrate is another popular calcium supplement that is better absorbed than gym chalk. It is 20% calcium and 80% citric acid. While some citric acid is fine as part of your diet, if you try to take 1000 mg of calcium in this form you will also be getting 4000 mg of citric acid, like eating a pound of tomatoes. This much citric acid can conk out your cell engines (mitochondria) by flooding their citric acid cycle with too much citrate (like flooding a car with gas). Individuals who are tired or fatigued often respond poorly to high amounts of citric acid, making them even more tired or giving them headaches. Since your cells have no way to efficiently use so much citric acid, calcium citrate is not a high quality form of the mineral to use on a daily basis. Small amounts don’t matter - large amounts are a definite energy-related problem for too many people.
Coral calcium can be good or bad depending on the type of coral calcium that is used. Coral calcium from ocean waters, as used in Wellness Resources products, has a natural ratio of 2 parts calcium to 1 part magnesium, along with many other trace minerals found in the ocean. It is typically harvested from dead coral reefs in the pristine waters off the coast of Okinawa (it is not an eco-unfriendly harvesting activity). Reputable companies assay the raw material to ensure its quality for human consumption. Bone health of the citizens of Okinawa is legendary. *
These forms of calcium and magnesium are in a carbonate structure, but far different than the gym chalk described above. They exist in highly organized geometric structures, organically formed by the living coral reefs (like a true food form). They are the only form of minerals that are both fat and water soluble and are better absorbed than citrates. They rapidly produce mineral ions that your body can easily use in countless metabolic processes.*
Beware of companies selling coral calcium that has been harvested from the land. This form of the mineral has been “weathered” and has the natural magnesium and trace minerals washed away. In Japan they use this form to make concrete for their roads. It is sold as a dietary supplement to unsuspecting customers in the U.S. thinking they are getting real coral calcium. These companies always add cheap magnesium back into the product and have to list it on their label (typically magnesium oxide). Thus, if you have a coral calcium product with added magnesium oxide - throw it away.
Beware of any calcium listed as “amino acid chelate.” This labeling implies that the calcium is bound to protein like a food, and so must be better. Unfortunately there are a lot of amino acid chelates out there that you have no idea what you are taking, as this form of labeling is a trick to hide quality. The primary amino acid chelate used in these products is hydrolyzed soy.
One example is a new branded form of these amino acid chelates Biokey®, which are used in one product line promoted by a well known alternative health physician. The Biokey website does not disclose the forms of minerals used or the amino acids used. When I called the company I was stonewalled when I asked what they were.
Biokey® minerals were used in animal nutrition long before human nutrition and it is interesting that the animal website was much more forthcoming with information. As it turns out all of these minerals are chelated using hydrolyzed soy protein. Nowhere on any human product label does it say they contain soy (which is not legal according to current FDA allergy rules for labeling). On top of that, unless soy is specified as non-GMO it is now GMO and contains toxins genetically spliced into the proteins.
The animal website also disclosed the actual nature of the minerals used. For example, the calcium is in the form of calcium formate. Calcium formate is an approved food additive, but the formate part does have to be detoxified, is not that easy for human’s to clear, and is implicated in methanol intoxication. In industry calcium formate is used to accelerate concrete setting. Thus, someone consuming their calcium thinks they are taking (calcium - Biokey® amino acid chelate), a more absorbable form of calcium. Yes, it absorbs nicely and delivers a package consisting of GMO-containing soy, calcium, and formate.
To me, the phrase “amino acid chelate” means “I have something to hide.” I wouldn’t trust any product made by a company that labels minerals as “amino acid chelates,” as it is quite likely they are hiding something every chance they get. At Wellness Resources we always tell you what form your calcium is in, because we are proud of the quality we are putting into our products.
While calcium is the fundamental mineral that that helps build bone, you must also have adequate dietary protein that supports collagen formation, as bone is mineralized collagen. You also need the cofactor nutrients that help build bone, especially adequate vitamin D (up to 2000 IU per day in the winter).
You also must take into account the stress demands you are under. If your body is in a state of wear and tear you will struggle to maintain bone no matter how much calcium you take. This is because once your front line systems for managing stress are taxed too long, your blood pH turns to acid. Your body’s natural back up system is to leech calcium out of your bones to help buffer the acid pH in your blood. To prevent this you must have balance in your life. This means adequate sleep, good stress management skills, anti-stress nutrition as needed or helpful, regular refreshing exercise, and a good diet. There is no shortcut or magic remedy for bones.
It is now quite clear that if your bones are too inflamed from all the wear and tear then your body will make more osteoclasts (the demo crew) and not enough osteoblasts (the bone remodeling crew). This is all modulated by gene switches that are responding to the inflammatory state of your body. In addition to a healthy lifestyle, you can also take nutrients that help tilt the balance of power in your favor so as to protect and benefit your bones.
The strategy is too cool off wear and tear so that your bones are able to stay on a health bone building pattern and so that you do not donate your bone mass to the stressors in your life. These type of strategies are in addition to the total amount of calcium you need to help promote bone growth. Think of calcium, protein, magnesium, and many trace minerals as the raw materials for bone building (like plywood, 2 x 4s, nails, and screws). Think of inflammation-modulating nutrients as instructions to the carpenters, telling them to build healthy bones and not to get carried away with any demo projects.
Remember, longevity is marked by healthy bones.