Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Do you know the most important strategies for having healthy bones? Your doctor will tell you calcium right? Sure, and for years we have been taught that calcium was the great solution to weakened bones. What a discovery. Something as simple as eating more calcium could cure us of osteoporosis. Every processed product became fortified with it; cereals, bread, orange juice, you name it. Medical doctors began recommending them to everyone. Pre and post-menopausal women were recommended to take calcium supplements to prevent bone loss and osteoporosis, older adults, younger ones, everyone. But research has shown that the theory of calcium supplementation improving bone health is a myth. No doubt we need calcium in our diet, but it’s not as important as you think. Look, it’s true that calcium is the cornerstone mineral in bones. However, calcium consumption does not build bones. I like to explain it by making the comparison to cement. In order to make cement (in the old way), was to take sand, water, and a mixture of limestone, shells, and chalk or marl combined with shale, clay, slate, blast furnace slag, silica sand, and iron ore. The most prevalent component of cement is sand, but sand alone does not make cement. Neither does shale or limestone or water. To make cement you require the entire mixture in appropriate components which when combined together form cement. So now we understand that, let’s consider bone. Bone is made mostly of collagen, a protein that is woven into a flexible framework. Bone also contains calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate, minerals that add strength and harden the framework along with trace minerals, all of them. The combination of calcium, trace minerals and collagen gives the bone its strength and flexibility. So let’s return to our cement scenario. If neither sand nor water alone can make cement, how can calcium alone make more bone, especially if the bone is mostly collagen? Obviously there’s a synergy of materials to make both factors, and all components are required. Combine that information with the fact that countries with the highest dietary calcium consumption (US, Canada, & Scandinavian countries) have the highest rates of osteoporosis, and we are left with a simple conclusion, calcium alone is not the answer. So taking too much calcium does not help osteoporosis, and what’s worse, a meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal showed that calcium supplementation actually increases the risk of heart attacks. This study and others have looked at individuals taking calcium supplements in isolation without other key nutrients that play a role in calcium homeostasis and absorption and the conclusions are absolute. A large study of 24,000 men and women aged 35–64 years, also published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2012 found that those who used calcium supplements had a 139% greater risk of heart attack during the 11-year study period, while intake of calcium from non-fortified food did not increase the risk. The problem it seems is that calcium can be deposited in the plaque within the arteries, making the hardening process accelerate and blocking blood flow to vital organs such as the heart and brain. Research has also shown that very little dietary calcium makes it into the bones. Experts estimate that it is around 1-2% at best. Many forms of calcium such as coral calcium, oyster shell calcium, calcium citrate and calcium carbonate are not well metabolized in the body, in other words, they are not well absorbed. Neither are they well tolerated since they can form small rocks that get deposited in the soft tissue structures of the body, leading to irritation. Makes you wonder why so many processed foods are fortified with calcium doesn’t it. Milk is no better. Its calcium (molecule size) is generally too large for absorption, rendering it, at best, 7-11% absorbable. Milk may even actually decrease bone mineral due to its acidifying properties. Also keep in mind that the US, Canada and Scandinavian countries have some of the highest intake of dairy in the world too. Yep, milk has a lot of explaining to do. As you may have figured, calcium alone is not helpful, and requires other nutrients to be absorbable. The other nutrients necessary are magnesium, vitamin D3 and vitamin K2. These particular nutrients stimulate the activity of something called osteoblastic protein osteocalcin. That nifty mouthful of ultra-cool wordplay simply describes a system that absorbs calcium away from the arteries and helps it navigate its way to the bone, thus reducing the calcification of plaque in the blood vessels.
So if you take a calcium supplement you need to take D3 and K2 minimally and magnesium too. Vitamin K2 and D3 also tend to inhibit osteoclasts, which break down bone material. Many people are deficient in both vitamin D3 and K2, and this creates a poor environment for calcium metabolism. Obviously a poor calcium metabolism will lead to weaker bones and calcification of soft tissue. But bones need more than just these materials which primarily help absorption. A base of essential minerals, magnesium and silica is also needed along with saturated fats and long chain omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in fish oils.
Silica is the second most available element found in the earth’s crust, it is a vital trace mineral required by the body for strong and flexible joints, healthy skin and strong bones. It is basically present in the human body in the form of either a derivative of silanate or silicic acid. It is also necessary in the diet as it increases the overall benefits of vitamin D, glucosomine and calcium.
The best forms of silica come from apples, raw cabbage, carrots, peanuts, onions, fish, cucumbers, celery, bell peppers, oat straw and alfalfa. Magnesium comes from many different sources including nuts, seeds, legumes and green vegetables. The best source of magnesium is raw, organic cacao and high quality dark chocolate. A powerful form of essential minerals is found in pink salts including Himalayan Sea Salt. These salts provide ideal mineral ratios for optimal absorption and usage in the body. Sea vegetables such as kelp, dulse seaweed are also excellent sources. Other forms of seaweed and sea algae like chlorella are also fantastic sources of bone-building nutrients. If you cannot find them, I recommend taking a liquid trace mineral supplement to ensure that you are getting enough minerals. The best forms of calcium and bone building nutrients come from leafy green vegetables and fermented, raw milk products from 100 percent green fed cows and goats. Pasteurized forms of milk and grain-fed animals provide inflammatory fatty-acids and other metabolites that promote calcium mineralization in the arteries and thus are poor choices. Raw cheese and fermented drinks from 100% green-fed animals provide the perfect ratio of vitamin D3, K2, calcium, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and saturated fat. Raw cheese is perhaps the best bone building, cardio-protective food one could consume.
A diet full of processed foods including soda will produce biochemical and metabolic conditions in your body that ultimately decrease your bone density, so avoiding processed foods is definitely the first step in the right direction.
So calcium alone is not so good. The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health has compiled a comprehensive review of the health risks associated with excess calcium, particularly from supplementation. They note that daily supplementation of calcium at just 1000 milligrams is associated with increased prostate cancer risk and an increase in risk of kidney stones, especially when dehydration is present. Additionally, a Swedish study reported a 40% higher risk of death among women with high calcium intakes (1400 mg and above), and a 157% higher risk of death if those women were taking a 1000 mg calcium supplement daily, compared to women with moderate daily calcium intakes (600-1000 mg). Keep in mind that the RDA for calcium is 1,000mg-1,300mg a day!
So how should we get our calcium? A 2007 study suggests that calcium from food sources may be more effective than calcium from supplements. It found that women who get most of their daily calcium from food sources have healthier bones and greater bone density, even though those who took more supplements tended to have higher average levels of calcium. It’s likely because natural food sources have complimentary nutrients that aid in absorption and digestion, something that is more hit or miss with supplementation. In the study, researchers asked 183 postmenopausal women to document their diet over the course of a week, after which their bone mineral density and estrogen were tested. Women who got at least 70 percent of their daily calcium from food sources instead of supplements took in the least calcium (830 milligrams per day, on average), but had higher spine and hip bone density than women consuming 1,030 milligrams of calcium per day primarily from supplement sources. No mention was made as to the physical activity levels however. Women who got calcium in relatively even amounts from both food and supplemental sources had both the highest bone mineral density and the highest calcium intake (1,620 milligrams per day). Calcium from dietary sources is usually more completely absorbed than calcium from supplements, which could explain the difference. Women who got calcium from foods also had higher estrogen levels; estrogen is needed to maintain bone mineral density. The connection between dietary calcium and estrogen is as yet unknown, although it could be the result of eating plant sources containing the hormone, or it could be another issue that causes lower estrogen levels in women. One reason for low estrogen is a thyroid problem.
We know that thyroid is affected by sugar in the diet, along with processed carbohydrates. Thus, an individual on a diet that lacks adequate nutrition (high processed carbohydrates and sugars) will tend to have a lower estrogen level if their food intake is inadequate. Those who got calcium from food sources however might have also taken in more vitamin D, which would aid in calcium absorption.
If you’re concerned about maintaining healthy bones, you’re better off ensuring adequate calcium intake from foods like sardines, salmon, dark leafy greens and bone broth. 600 milligrams per day from food (approximately two servings of bone-in fish) is plenty to maintain adequate levels of calcium in the body. Healthy bone formation also depends on vitamin D3 and vitamin K2, both of which regulate calcium metabolism. There are also other minerals besides calcium involved in supporting bone health, such as silica, magnesium and all the trace minerals. Remember collagen is also made up of amino acids or proteins, so bone in fish would provide the right balance of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and protein needed for healthy bones (if it were wild caught). If you have adequate levels of these nutrients, and regularly perform strength training exercise, there is no need for calcium supplementation, which may do more harm than good.
The recommended approach for combatting osteoporosis is:
Whole body vibration training three times a week (Or strength training).
Eliminate processed foods and sugar (including sugar free products).
Seek a Paleo style diet overall.
Vitamin D3 5000 IU/day
Magnesium Glycinate 400mg/day
Krill oil or Fish oil
Vitamin K2 200mcg/day
ConcenTrace Minerals 20-40 drops/day
Just because you have a risk for osteoporosis does not mean you will get it. At Revibe we have increased bone mineral density over 9% in a one year period. Sustained over time, that’s enough to stop osteoporosis in its tracks.