What Every Woman Needs To Know About Calcium

Calcium is more than the building block of your bones, it is essential to virtually all your daily activities.

The impact calcium has on women’s health is remarkable!

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Calcium is the mineral in our body that makes up our bones and keeps them strong.

99% of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones and teeth. The average male has about three pounds of calcium, the average female, about 2 pounds

What is calcium?

Calcium is one of 6 macro-minerals in the body, along with: magnesium, sodium, chloride, potassium, and sulfur. Macro-minerals account for 4 – 5 % of total body weight.

Besides the 99% found in our bones the remaining 1% of calcium is found in our blood and soft tissues and is essential for life and health. (National Research Council, 1989; Whitney et al, 1996)

A constant supply of calcium is necessary throughout our lifetime, but is especially important during phases of growth, pregnancy, and lactation (breast feeding).

Up to 40% of dietary calcium is absorbed in the small intestine with the help of vitamin D (Somer, 1995; Mahan et al, 1996).

The level of calcium absorption from dietary sources drops to 7 in post-menopausal women (Sourer, 1995). The body will absorb more calcium if there is a deficiency.

What does calcium do in your body?

Calcium is responsible for many things:

  • Calcium is responsible for construction, formation and maintenance of bone and teeth. This function helps reduce the occurrence of osteoporosis. 
  • Calcium is a vital component in blood clotting systems and also helps in wound healing. 
  • Calcium helps to control blood pressure, nerve transmission, and release of neurotransmitters. 
  • Calcium is an essential component in the production of enzymes and hormones that regulate digestion, energy, and fat metabolism. 
  • Calcium helps to transport ions (electrically charged particles) across the membrane. 
  • Calcium is essential for muscle contraction. 
  • Calcium assists in maintaining all cells and connective tissues in the body. 
  • Calcium may be helpful to reduce the incidence of premature heart disease, especially if adequate intakes of magnesium are also maintained. 
  • Calcium may help to prevent periodontal disease (gum disease). 
  • Calcium controls the PH in the body.
  • Calcium is an antidote for excess fluoride ingestion according to Dr. Lee.  Fluoride in water is bound to minerals such as calcium and then passes through the body without being absorbed.

How do we get calcium?

There are only two ways you can get this essential 1% of circulating calcium: 

  • From the calcium in your diet 
  • From the calcium in your bone 

In addition to their structural role, your bones are your emergency storage vats for the immediate supply of calcium to neutralize and alkalize your blood.

Your body borrows from skeletal stores when blood calcium levels drop and return calcium to bones as needed.

Your body actually tears down and builds bone all of the time in order to make its calcium available for your body’s functions. If you don’t get enough calcium from the food you eat your body automatically takes the calcium you need from your bones.

If your body continues to tear down more bone than it replaces over a period of years to get calcium, your bones become weak and break easily. This leads to the crippling bone disease called “osteoporosis.”

It is mainly the calcium in your diet that spares, or protects, the calcium in your bones.

“Milk, while may be a good source of calcium, should be avoided by adults since it often causes a chronic inflammation of the gut that potentially increases the risk of cancer.” -Dr. John Lee

Calcium is found in foods such as vegetables, including:

  • Seaweed
  • Dark green vegetables ½ cup = 50g of calcium
  • Nuts – 1/4 cup of Almonds = 92g of calcium
  • Baked beans – ½ Cup = 64g of calcium
  • Canned salmon – 3.5 oz or ½ a can = 185 grams of calcium

These foods can help contribute to your calcium quota. We will talk about what that is in a moment.

What about calcium absorption?

Calcium absorption is assisted by the vitamin D produced in your skin when your are outside in the sun. 

However, since many people spend little time in the sun, or they wear sunscreen, there is usually not enough vitamin D. So, it is important to supplement with lots of vitamin D to correct this deficiency.

Other Factors that improve calcium absorption include: adequate amounts of protein, small amounts of fat, adequate amounts of magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamin D.

Conditions that reduce calcium absorption include high or excessive intakes of alcohol, coffee, sugar, or medications such as diuretics, tetracycline, aluminum containing antacids, or stress can reduce absorption of calcium.

Lack of exercise can reduce calcium absorption as well as cause an increase in calcium losses. 

Myths about Calcium 

Myth #1 – Animal protein intake causes calcium loss from the bones is a popular nutritional myth that has no backing in nutritional science.

The studies that supposedly showed protein to cause calcium loss in the urine were NOT done with real, whole foods, but with isolated amino acids and fractionated protein powders. 

When studies were done with people eating meat with its fat, NO calcium loss was detected in the urine, even over a long period of time.

Other studies have confirmed that meat eating does not affect calcium balance and that protein promotes stronger bones.

Furthermore, the saturated fats that many experts believe are so evil are actually required for proper calcium deposition in the bones.

Our bodies need 10% saturated fats – this is to support calcium absorption.

The reason why the amino acids and fat-free protein powders caused calcium loss while the meat/fat did not is because protein, calcium, and minerals, require the fat-soluble vitamins A and D for their assimilation and utilization by the body.

When protein is consumed without these factors, it upsets the normal biochemistry of the body and mineral loss results. True vitamin A and full-complex vitamin D are only found in animal fats.

If the protein-causes-osteoporosis theory teaches us anything, it is to avoid fractionated foods (like soy protein isolate, something most vegetarians would no doubt encourage readers to consume) and isolated amino acids, and to eat meat with its saturated fat. 

Myth #2Building new bone is just about Calcium.

More nutrients in fruits and vegetables are linked to bone health; it’s not just calcium anymore:

Researchers say substances found in fruit and vegetables, such as zinc, magnesium, potassium, fiber, and vitamin C, can keep middle-aged women’s bones strong and fracture free.

The authors point out that most studies on nutrition and bone health have focused on calcium intake and paid less attention to the role of other micronutrients. 

According to researchers, intakes of nutrients found in abundance in fruits and vegetables – namely, potassium, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and magnesium – were positively associated with bone health.

Potassium appears to slow the excretion of calcium from the body while increasing rates of bone formation.

Vitamin C appears to aid in bone formation (another reason to use Super C) as well, while magnesium is extremely important in skeletal metabolism.

In fact, recent studies suggest that magnesium deficiency may contribute to osteoporosis. (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition January 2000;71:142-151)

Supplementing your daily calcium intake.

If you aren’t getting enough calcium from your diet, you need to take a calcium supplement every day. Here are some tips to help you remember.

  • Take your calcium supplement with meals. For example, calcium is most effective with meals, and studies have shown that it may be better absorbed with food. 
  • Take your calcium supplement in divided doses throughout the day. The body can absorb only so much calcium at one time, so try taking a supplement with two or three of your meals each day. 
  • Try keeping your calcium supplement in several places, (bathroom, kitchen, purse) so when you remember, you can take it easily. 

Most manufacturers of nutritional supplements formulate their products as a combination of both calcium and magnesium.

We recommend looking for at least a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium in any supplement.

What is the best form of calcium?

There are many different forms of calcium that are available as supplements, including: calcium carbonate, calcium lactate, calcium gluconate, calcium citrate, and calcium citrate malate, to name the most common. 

These are chelated which means they are produced in a lab and raw calcium is bonded to another more bio-available element in order to increase absorbability.  

To determine which calcium preparation is in your supplement, you may have to look at the ingredient list. Calcium carbonate is generally the most economical calcium supplement and is the least absorbed.

Unfortunately, inferior supplements are being sold which are cheaply made and do not work well because they are poorly absorbed. Examples are dolomite, oxide, lactate, Tums, bone meal, or oyster shell. 

Undigested supplements can pass through the GI tract whole. This is because during the manufacturing process minerals are compressed into tablet form with heat and lots of pressure.

The calcium tablet in essence has become a little pebble when the tablet is formed, and since it is such a hard mineral (it does make up teeth and bone), it does not easily dissolve in the stomach or intestines.

You give yourself a greater chance of absorbing the calcium/magnesium supplement by first of all making sure that it is not heat processed. 

Then, making sure it had not been coated with a wax but instead a vegetable coating is used.  And, that it is a calcium form from a plant source where the plant does the chelating not a lab. 

Natural occurring forms of calcium.

Plants chelate minerals too and prepare them for consumption by humans and animals. 

Several years ago we discovered an all-natural calcium source derived from mineralized seaweed.

Mineralized seaweed is a great source of bio-available calcium that delivers calcium in the form in which nature intended and is therefore more absorbable to your body. 

Be sure to take your calcium and magnesium supplements at bedtime as well as during the day. They are considered calmative nutrients and will greatly aid in helping the body rest so you can get a good night’s sleep.

This is why the old folk medicine remedy of drinking a warm glass of milk before bedtime made some common sense.

Calcium and magnesium will help in keeping our bodies (and muscles) relaxed during the daytime too.

What about kidney stones? Are they caused by calcium supplementation? 

The largest study ever conducted on calcium and kidney stones, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993, and another published in 1997, showed that daily calcium intake above 850 mg decreased the incidence of symptomatic kidney stones.

Additional calcium intake may actually lower your risk for kidney stones.

The most important dietary factor in preventing kidney stones is water. Drink plenty of fluids, but not soft drinks, to help lower your risk for stones.

And keep taking your calcium. Restricting calcium intake could increase the risk of stones.

How does calcium affect hormone health?

Because calcium is such an integral component in overall health, it cannot be relegated to just bone health, but has a much broader positive impact across the health of the typical woman.

Calcium + Menopause 

When a woman enters menopause, her body produces about 40% less of the hormone estrogen.

Loss of estrogen could increase the risk of osteoporosis if she also experienced a drop in progesterone at the same time.

Simply put, a hormone imbalance not a calcium deficiency is likely responsible for osteoporosis – a thinning of the bones. 

Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and fragile and break easily. Men are also vulnerable to osteoporosis and maintain adequate hormone balance through their older years to prevent bone loss, and in their younger years to achieve peak bone mass.

Calcium + PMS

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is one of the most common disorders in women, yet science has been unable to determine its cause.

Researchers do know that some PMS symptoms resemble those of severe calcium deficiency, so a study was set up to see if calcium supplements could help alleviate the condition.

In a 3-month, multi-center study, 466 PMS sufferers were divided into two groups, and about half were given four 300-milligram calcium tablets each day, while the others were given dummy pills.

The women kept diaries in which they recorded the frequency of 17 PMS symptoms under four general categories: mood changes, water retention, pain, and food cravings.

No significant differences were noted between the two groups during the first month, but by the second menstrual cycle, those taking calcium reported fewer PMS symptoms.

By the third cycle, PMS symptoms had diminished by 48% in the group taking calcium.

Prior to this study, antidepressants were thought to be the most effective PMS treatment, yet they only reduce symptoms by 32–44%. 

Source: American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol 179 #2 1998; Health, Sept-Oct 1998

Once again using higher doses of calcium would warrant eating more first and supplementing the difference with a plant-sourced supplement like SeaCal.

Calcium + Colon Cancer Risk 

Researchers examined the association between calcium intake and colon cancer risk among nearly 88,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and more than 47,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

A daily calcium intake of at least 700 milligrams may significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer in the lower part of the colon.

Daily calcium intake beyond this level does not appear to add any further protection against colon cancer.

All of the study participants answered questions about diet, weight, smoking habits and alcohol consumption and had examinations of the colon.

During follow-up, which lasted 16 years for the women and 10 years for the men, 626 women and 399 men developed colon cancer.

The investigators found that men and women with a calcium intake of 700 to 800 milligrams per day from diet or supplements had a 40% to 50% lower risk of cancer of the lower, or distal, colon than those who consumed 500 milligrams of calcium per day or less.

The bulk of calcium in the diets of study participants came from dairy products.

Source: Journal of the National Cancer Institute March 20, 2002;94:437-446

Calcium + Weight Loss

Researchers from Purdue University discovered that a high consumption of calcium slows weight gain for women in aged 18 to 31 by Didier PH Martin, MSc, MBA

Studies now show that calcium changes the efficiency of weight loss, a higher calcium diet favors burning rather than storing fat.

It is suggested that calcium is the stabilizing agent in which they correctly state, “Calcium is the stabilizing mineral for the Krebs or citric acid cycle to metabolize glycogen.

The researchers said women who consume at least 1,000 milligrams per day, may reap the most benefits. 

“Our study is the first to show that, when overall calorie consumption is accounted for, calcium not only helps keep weight in check, but can be associated specifically with decreases in body fat,” says Dorothy Teegarden, assistant professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue.

The women in the study were within normal weight ranges and followed no specific diet. Researchers found that the women in the study, who daily consumed less than 1,900 calories and at least 780 milligrams of calcium, either had no increase in body fat or lost body fat mass over the two-year period.

The women who consumed less than 1,900 calories but who averaged less than 780mg of calcium gained body fat mass over the same period. 

The study showed that exercisers and non-exercisers benefited equally from high calcium intakes, but that women who consumed more than 1,900 calories per day did not benefit and any potential benefits of weight-control from calcium were lost. 

The researchers concluded that low calcium diets lead to increased fat storage and higher calcium diets favor increased burning of fat likely for women of all ages. 

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition February 2003, 77 (2): 281