Calcium plays an important role regulating your heartbeat and blood pressure, and conducting nerve impulses, which allows your muscles to contract and helps blood clot. Less than 1 percent of calcium is required for these functions while the remaining 99% is stored in our bones and teeth where it supports their structure and function. Bones constantly absorb and release calcium and other minerals, depending on many factors, such as our hormones, exercise level, genetics and overall diet. From childhood through early adulthood, bones grow in length and width, but then, in middle adulthood, the rate of bone loss exceeds that at which it is made.
In the Institute of Medicine (IOM) 2010 guidelines on calcium, which relate primarily to bone health, they set the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for women over 50 and men over 70 at 1,200 milligrams daily from food (preferably) and supplements, and for other adults at 1,000 milligrams.
Women lose bone mass density (BMD) at a higher rate than men. Other risk factors for osteoporosis are being white or Asian, older and having a family history of osteoporosis.
Best food sources of calcium
Dairy is still a good source of calcium IF you don’t have an allergic reaction to milk proteins whey or casein, which increases your inflammation level. I recommend cultured dairy which is easier for people with lactose intolerance to digest and has the additional benefit of probiotic strains. Yoghurt is a great source of calcium at 420 mg per cup while kefir is a strong second at about 300 mg per cup, which is the same amount provided by one cup of milk (skim, low-fat or whole-fat). Kefir has at least 5 times the number of probiotic strains than yoghurt so that’s a personal favorite. I buy my whole-fat kefir from a local farmer whose cows are grass-fed. Cheese that is highest in calcium is Swiss or Gruyere at 270 mg per ounce.
If you can’t tolerate dairy, you can also get calcium from almond milk, leafy greens especially kale and spinach, although spinach has low bioavailability, and vegetables including Chinese cabbage and broccoli. These leafy greens and vegetables are also good sources of Vitamin K1. Nuts such as almonds and fruit such as oranges also contain some calcium although not as much as dairy.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is very important to absorb calcium. You need 1000 IUs daily and the best sources are fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, and low-mercury mackerel and tuna) and 10-15 minutes of sunlight daily. I recommend having your calcium and Vitamin D3 levels tested as part of your annual physical.
If you recall from listening to my podcast, I talked with book author Lara Pizzorno (Episode 83) about the important role that Vitamin K2 plays in depositing calcium into your bones. While some Vitamin K1 in food is converted into K2, it’s not in sufficient quantity. The best food source of Vitamin K2 is Japanese fermented soybeans called “natto” but you still have to eat a few cups daily and you have to usually buy it online since it’s not available in most organic food stores.
When do you need a supplement?
If you are deficient in calcium, Vitamin D3, Vitamin K1/K2, you may want to consider a calcium supplement with all of these vitamins and minerals. Also, if you are diagnosed with late-stage osteopenia or early-stage osteoporosis like me, it’s very important to not only get enough calcium but that it’s absorbed and deposited into your bones. Finally, it may be impractical to consume the amount of dairy and greens needed to meet the daily requirement. Although I consume about 1 glass of kefir, a little whole milk in my coffee and greens daily, I estimated that comes to about 400-500 mg of calcium daily. Therefore, I still need to supplement and I take a New Chapter “Bone Strength” that supplies 770 mg of calcium, 1000 IUs of D3, 45 mcg of K2 and 35 mcg of K1 along with a little strontium, silicon and vanadium. However, our bodies can only absorb up to 500 mg at one time so I now take 2 pills at one time and a third later. Also, beware that coffee and other caffeine-containing beverages can affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium so you want to limit coffee to 1 cup daily if possible and take your supplements when you’re not drinking coffee. Finally, drinking too much alcohol can have an adverse impact on your bone health.
I like that New Chapter sources their calcium from wild-crafted red algae, which initial research suggests is superior to calcium from limestone. This wild red algae from Iceland (source location is also important) has 72 trace minerals in addition to calcium and magnesium. Individuals taking this supplement have reported improved scores on their DEXA (bone mass density) scans.
However, if you can’t buy calcium supplements with red algae, calcium citrate is a good alternative. Research shows that it is more effective at delivering calcium into the bloodstream than calcium carbonate.
Next up: How to improve bone strength with exercise and resistance training
Podcast Episode 83 http://www.reversediabetescoach.com/how-men-and-women-can-prevent-osteoporosis-naturally/