Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. The majority, 99% of it, is found in bone. The remaining 1% has the important job of regulating the relaxation of our blood vessels, helping us secrete insulin and assisting with muscle contraction. All vital to our well being!
Recently, there has been some controversy around calcium supplementation and the potential to cause heart disease. Calcium, if deposited in the lining of the blood vessels can cause hardening of the arteries. Health conscious consumers are confused about whether to trash their calcium supplement or keep taking it to maintain bone health.
The average adult should be aiming for 1000mg of calcium daily. I definitely prefer my patients to obtain calcium from food sources, over supplements. In North America, dairy products are the largest source of dietary calcium, but I encourage people to explore other options. North Americans consume the most dairy products, we also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Clearly, more dairy does not equate to better bone health necessarily.
A glass of milk has 300 mg of calcium, but there are sources that can match or even beat that amount. A kale salad, a tin of sardines with bones, or a few tablespoons of tahini, a sesame based dressing, can all provide significant sources of calcium. A cup of fortified almond milk has just as much calcium as a glass of cow’s milk. If you are going to consume milk, grass fed cows produce nutritionally superior milk to cows fed corn and grains.
In terms of supplements, take no more than 500mg daily and divide the dose. This makes absorption much easier. The supplement should also contain magnesium at half the dose of the calcium in the tablet. The magnesium will help to protect your cardiovascular system. Calcium citrate is my preferred form of supplemental calcium. Calcium carbonate is the least expensive form of calcium, but it is not very well utilized by your body. Chalk is made out of calcium carbonate, and as you can imagine, your body is not used to digesting calcium in this form.
The amount of calcium you retain in your body is impacted by different nutrients you consume. If you are worried about your bone health and osteoporosis it is advisable to watch your protein and sodium intakes. Both of these nutrients can increase the amount of calcium you excrete from your body. On the other hand, phosphorus and vitamin D help your body retain calcium and support bone health.
A diet rich in green leafy, vegetables, almonds, soy products and small fish with bones can provide enough calcium that many times a supplement is unnecessary. Vitamin D optimization is critical, with or without a supplement. This is just another reminder that nothing replaces a diet rich in fresh, unprocessed foods.