by Karl Mincin, Nutritionist
Dear Nutritionist, how much calcium do I really need and what is the best way to get it?
Dear Reader, since one size doesn’t fit all, and our individual nutrient needs are as different as our fingerprints, there are several good answers to this question. Here are some guiding principles for achieving your own personal mineral balancing act.
Calcium is one of the most popular nutrients on the planet, but as with any nutrient, there can be too much of good thing. How do you know how much supplemental calcium is necessary? What form is best absorbed and right for your particular needs? What ratio of magnesium and related minerals should you take along with, or separately from, calcium? How much is too much? Health experts and vitamin sales people each seem to have a different answer, and many of the responses can be traced back to the bottom line.
Remember that calcium supplements are just that. They should supplement your diet. Most people’s diet will easily supply 500 milligrams (mg) of calcium. Additionally, each cup of a dairy product adds about 300 mg. So, when the doctor recommends that you get 1,000 mg of calcium, you may need only a few hundred milligrams as a supplement. Excess calcium can cause joint tissue calcification, which can aggravate arthritis, and interfere with other minerals, even weakening your bones. It also can deposit in the arteries contributing to their hardening.
If supplementation is actually needed, individual needs must be considered before selecting the best form. For example, while it is true that calcium citrate is well absorbed, absorption isn’t everything – especially for every body. If a person has healthy digestive function, including adequate stomach acid production, there may be no need for the citrate form of calcium. If that same person has poor bone density, they would actually do much better with calcium hydroxyapatite. Though not as well absorbed, it is a much better bone builder and, I generally have all my patients with Osteopenia or Osteoporosis on it. Calcium carbonate (oyster shell) aside, most other forms of calcium are reasonably well absorbed and utilized. However, after absorption, because of individual variations in metabolism, certain forms may be better for certain individuals.
Although dairy products are “Queen of Calcium”, they are not the best source of it. Dairy not only has very low magnesium levels, but is excessively high in phosphorus, which is an anti-calcium nutrient. It causes urinary excretion of calcium. Greens provide not only excellent amounts of calcium but are more balanced in terms of these related minerals. Ironically, dairy can contribute to the very diseases it is said to protect against. Epidemiological research bears this out. Osteoporosis rates have not been curbed in countries here
calcium intake is the highest. In fact, many other countries that consume about half the amount of calcium as the United States, have far less incidence of the condition.
Dietary calcium aside, the actual body tissue level of this mineral provides the best answer to your individual calcium requirement. Like other minerals and vitamins, calcium can be tested in various body tissues, which will be discussed in the next article.
Karl Mincin is a clinical nutritionist in practice for 30 years, specializing in nutrition assessment testing. He may be reached at 360.336.2616 or nutritiontesting.com.