CALCIUM: A Marketing-Hype Success Story

Consider this line of reasoning. If all tables have four legs, does that make everything with four legs a table? Or what about the incontrovertible fact that most people who develop breast, ovarian or cervical cancer wear dresses. Should we then assume that dresses cause cancer?

This is the problem when a real or apparent fact is applied broadly and taken out of context – which alters its meaning. Marketers and lobbyists with big budgets have successfully implanted public and institutional mindsets with concepts about calcium that are similarly askew. Calcium is critical for bones: fact. Dairy products contain calcium: fact. Therefore everyone needs milk for their bones: fiction. Yale University researchers reviewed 34 published studies in 16 countries and found that countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis (weak bones) “…are those in which people consume the most milk…”.

Minerals are essential for survival. 2% of your body weight comes from calcium stored primarily in bones, with some in teeth and muscles. But these structures are built from many materials which all contribute in different ways to their strength. The health of the body is based on team effort, not a star system. Some minerals work in particular partnership. Calcium, magnesium and phosphorous are termed: the bone minerals. Each one is critical and – as with other relationships – if one becomes too dominant this diminishes the contribution the others can and should provide.

Try bending your arm. Calcium is necessary to contract those muscles. Now relax your arm. Magnesium is essential to relax those and all other muscles. Similar Ca/Mg interplay is at work with the rhythmic contraction and release of your heart; the movements of your digestive and eliminative system; when nerves activate alertly during crisis and hopefully return to calm later; to first fall asleep readily and then stay asleep without interruption; as blood clots thanks to calcium and flows freely courtesy of magnesium. There are many top food sources of calcium but no one rich source of magnesium (see my website TIPS for Magnesium; also Modern Milk). Too much calcium from food or supplements will impede the action of magnesium and its role in stress management – and bones.

Excess phosphorous levels seriously deplete both its partners. Soft drinks are particularly high, while flavoured mineral waters and other bottled drinks usually contain phosphoric acid. Dairy products are also high in absorption-impeding phosphorous – a problem discussed at industry conferences that doesn’t make it to their advertising campaigns.

Minerals are like money. The primary question is not how much comes in, but how effectively you utilise and bank what comes in. Someone can have a rich calcium intake but be a big spender and deeply in debt. Meanwhile someone of modest intake who spends and saves well will be far better off. Adding up milligrams of calcium to achieve an average textbook total (roughly 1000 mg daily for adults) is of little relevance. Mineral absorption can vary between 1% and 80%. People from NZ, Australia, and the USA have 3 times the calcium intake of the Japanese, yet many times more their rate of osteoporosis. But if people from non-dairy traditions take on a standard Western diet their good fortune disappears.

How to Improve Calcium Absorption and Storage, and Diminish Loss:

• Reduce excess acidity and improve alkalinity. Blood pH should be slightly alkaline. If not, then the kidneys use alkaline minerals (primarily potassium, calcium and magnesium; see Kidneys) to act as neutralisers. High acid substances include sugar, fruit juice, fruity herb teas, phosphorous, fluoride in water, high vitamin C supplementation. Drink 1 tsp Mint Chlorofresh (from alkaline herbs) added to 1 or more glasses of water daily to increase alkalinity, absorption, retention of minerals. Its chlorophyll content is a good source of Vitamin K necessary for Ca transport to all tissue and binding to bone. Note that antacids deplete Ca, Mg.

• Dine deliberately, regularly and well for efficiency at each 5 digestive stages to maximise absorption and limit loss. See Digestion. Older people are prone to low stomach acid needed for mineral absorption.

• Enjoy high mineral content foods. Top contributors of most minerals: seaweed, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, dried fruit, dark leafy vegetables, legumes. Mineral levels are soil-dependent so organic produce has higher levels (most NZ soils are low in iodine, selenium, boron, zinc, Mg).

• Ensure the integrity of the gut wall. Minerals are absorbed along the 7 metres of your small intestine. Check for and deal with any food intolerances (contact my office for an allergy test), or other inflammatory causes along the tract. Almost 80% of the immune system is here to vigilantly monitor it. Anything which impairs the gut will weaken immunity and vice versa.

• Minimise diuretic beverages. These force out urine plus alkaline minerals: caffeine (black leaf tea, coffee, cocoa, energy/soft drinks; see Caffeine), alcohol, and highly sweetened beverages.

• Balance hormone levels. Several determine absorption, storage and loss. Thyroid’s calcitonin needs Mg to regulate bone. Calcitriol directs Ca storage/excretion (converted from vitamin D so expose skin to sun off-peak about 10 minutes daily; eat eggs, oily fish). Estrogen in excess lowers Ca storage, or if low it reduces Mg (to regulate estrogen maintain healthy weight; avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals in plastics, HRT, oral contraceptive, agrochemicals, standard cosmetics and cleaning agents; see Chemicals). Help liver to excrete hormones (see Liver). Eat hormone-balancers: traditional soy products, legumes, linseed.

• Decrease heavy metal intake and storage. Examples are lead and mercury which are heavier in weight, kick out needed minerals and place themselves – like squatters in Metallica T-shirts – in residence instead. This weakens storage sites and exudes toxicity. Key contributors are cigarettes, street drugs, dental amalgam, braces, body piercing, tattoos, aluminium cookware, and pollution. Everyone has deposits so the critical question is how good your liver is at eliminating them. Have my Linseed Cereal 5 x weekly and other high soluble fibre sources daily (see HEALTH STORE for The Shape Diet).

• Take supplements professionally tailored to your symptoms & body-type. Calcium comes in different forms (Ca phosphate, Ca fluoride etc) which need selection according to your individual profile. Take with food for better absorption.

• Manage stress effectively. Adrenal function, blood sugar levels and more are impaired with prolonged stress, which drains stores of Ca, Mg and potassium. Low levels then heighten reactivity to stress. Try new strategies. If an environment/relationship cannot be changed externally can you rethink your behaviours/attitudes towards it? Take 10 minutes or more each day in a pleasing environment to move physically and psychologically beyond your usual pathways (see The Shape Diet pages 102-123).

Calcium content in milligrams (mg) per 100 g of food/ 100 ml of fluid *

Note: mineral content varies with soil, season, storage, cooking and other variables.
From NZ/USDA/APJCN Food Data Tables

              FOOD                                          QUANTITY                         mg CALCIUM

Seaweed (from karengo, agar, nori, dulse, kombu, kelp to wakame) 100 g 215 – 1300
Tahini, sesame seeds 100 g 600 – 980
Chia seeds 100 g 630
Cheese (soft to hard) 100 g 250 – 790
Sardines, tinned 100 g 500
Carob powder/flour 100 g 350
Almonds, linseed 100 g 250
Soy flour 100 g 220
Salmon tinned/with bones 100 g 90 – 220
Watercress, spinach, kale 100 g 135 – 200
Pistachio, walnut to brazil 100 g 140 – 180
Yeast (brewers/flaky) 100 g 170
Parsley, mint, basil – fresh 100 g 170
Tofu 100 g 125 – 170
Yoghurt (cow, goat, soy) 100 g 150 – 170
Milk (cow, goat, soy) 100 ml 120 – 160
Amaranth 100 g 155
Hazelnuts, sunflower seeds 100 g 115
Apricots, currants to figs 100 g 90 – 100
Wholegrain bread 100 g 90 – 100
Tempeh 100 g 95
Dried peas/beans; mesclun 100 g 45 – 90
Oats, quinoa, olives 100 g 55 – 60
Eggs, cottage cheese 100 g 60
Fish, seafood 100 g 15 – 60
Rice bran powder, peanuts 100 g 60
Orange, broccoli, cabbage, bean, Brussels sprout, date 100 g 45 – 55


Vivien Pont

Hi Maria, Can you please tell me if the oxalates in tahini, carob, almonds, soy flour, etc. bind a significant amount of the calcium they contain?

Maria Middlestead

Viv, oxalates are of small significance for most people. Cooking or soaking or sprouting also limits the binding potential. I hope this is helpful.

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