Calcium is an essential mineral for bone and teeth health. Although almost 99% of calcium is found in the bones and teeth, it is also found in the blood, muscles and other tissues. Calcium plays an important role in heart and nerve health, blood clotting, hormone secretion and muscle contraction. Additional functions include helping to control levels of magnesium, potassium and phosphorus in the blood. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, and so it is vital that we are meeting our requirements for optimal health.
Calcium is clearly a vital mineral for health, but in order to maximise the benefit of consuming calcium rich foods, there are other factors we have to consider. For example, did you know that to properly absorb calcium, we also need magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2. If we don’t have adequate amounts of these vitamins on board, our ability to absorb any calcium we do eat is impaired. This is one of the reasons why it is better to get the calcium our bodies require from food sources or complex food supplements rather than isolated calcium supplements which aren’t always well absorbed.
So what are the best food sources of calcium?
Some of the best sources of calcium include sardines, organic milk, organic yoghurt and kefir, kale, collard greens, chickpeas, almonds and figs. Other good sources include sweet potatoes, bone broth, green leafy vegetables, beans, and broccoli.
Currently, the NHS recommended daily allowance of calcium is 700mg, although you will see other experts recommending that we consume up to 1000mg per day for adults and 1200mg for over 50 year olds. However, the key thing we have to consider is absorption. As I always explain to people, we are not just what we eat, nor are we just what we absorb of what we eat, but we are also what our food ate!
Impact of changing farming practices
Intensive chemical farming practices have impacted minerals in the soil leading to our foods being depleted of vital minerals such as magnesium and calcium. Some conventional farmers have stopped properly rotating crops and replenishing the soil with natural fertilisers such as manure, which means our foods are much lower in calcium than they were in our grandparents time. Our advice therefore, is where possible to choose organic foods which have been shown to have higher nutrient value and higher antioxidant value in numerous studies, the largest to date being from Newcastle University.
Other absorption challenges
Gastrointestinal problems and conditions such as IBS, leaky gut syndrome, reflux, IBD and coeliac disease cause further problems with the absorption of nutrients. Any inflammation in the digestive tract impairs the absorption of nutrients. Counterintuitively therefore consuming dairy when you have a dairy intolerance does not mean that you will be able to absorb all the calcium from the food. Malabsorption of nutrients is of particular concern for those with IBD and coeliac disease who are at higher risk of other conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis as a result of their condition. For this reason, they are also often deplete in a wide range of nutrients, regardless of how good their diets are.
Other issues such as low stomach acid which can be caused by stress, H-pylori, bacterial infections, antacid use, proton pump inhibitors and certain other medications can also lead to the malabsorption of calcium and other minerals. Add to this the fact that many drug medications actually deplete much needed minerals and vitamins and you can see where we can fall into difficulties. Sometimes therefore supplementation may be needed to normalise areas of concern such as stomach acid levels and digestive enzyme function.
Low Vitamin D
Many people have low vitamin D levels which impacts calcium absorption in the body. This is of particular concern for people who live in the northern hemisphere as during the winter (from October to March in the UK) sunlight doesn't contain enough UVB radiation for our skin to be able to make vitamin D. As sunlight is our bodies primary source of vitamin D, this is of major concern and is one of the reasons why the NHS now recommends everyone supplement with vitamin D over the winter months. During the summer, suncreams also block vitamin D absorption which means that if you are not having at least 20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure every day, you may be deficient in this vital nutrient. Good levels of vitamin D3 are essential for calcium intestinal absorption as vitamin D can increase calcium absorption in the intestinal tract by up to four times the normal rate. We normally recommend a vitamin D dose based on body weight. If you would like to test your vitamin D to optimise levels, we have testing services available at the Aberdeen clinic.
Low Vitamin K2
As we know, D3 helps the body to absorb calcium, but vitamin K2 helps the body carry the calcium to your bones. This is important as calcium which is absorbed but not properly utilised in the body may be deposited into soft tissue causing cysts. Excess calcium in the blood stream can also be deposited in the kidneys where it may cause kidney stone formation. Vitamin K2 also ensures that the calcium is properly utilized and doesn't bind to oxidized LDL cholestrol, creating plaques which can cause blockages in the arteries.
It can be so easy to fall into the trap of finding our favourite foods and forget about the variety of nutrients and minerals we get from a range of foods. Look at the list above and think about whether you are incorporating a good range of foods with calcium. If you are concerned that you may not be or think you would find it hard to incorporate enough into your diet on a regular basis, or have any of the gastrointestinal problems listed, it may be a good idea to find a good supplement form. Supplements we normally recommend are in combination form, alongside other essential nutrients for bone health. For people with gastrointestinal problems, we often recommend transdermal products which bypass the gut and are absorbed directly into the blood stream. BetterYou have designed a range of supplements for people with these kinds of issues. We particularly like their magnesium and calcium mineral lotion for bone health and their vitamin D and K2 spray.
If you have any concerns, or queries about optimal dosages you can always come and see us and ask for advice at 44 St Andrew Street, Aberdeen.
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