by Karl Mincin, Nutritionist
What is the meaning of a blood calcium level, and how does it relate to bone density?
There are strengths and weaknesses to each test of a different tissue type, which also vary from nutrient to nutrient.
Blood is a fluid tissue. Blood calcium levels are a relatively meaningless determinate of calcium nutrition. Blood levels are used primarily to evaluate your electrolyte status, not your nutritional status, nor bone health. Along with potassium and sodium, blood (serum) calcium basically lets the doctor know your heart is still beating and that there are enough electrolyte minerals to keep other muscles contracting and relaxing. Hence, a so-called normal calcium value on your blood test result is not what you think.
Our bodies set such a priority on a beating heart that they will compromise the skeletal structure by leaching calcium from the bone in order to maintain a normal blood level. It is possible, then, that while you are looking at a normal serum calcium value on your blood test result, you could at the same time be developing holes in your bones! This is why I recommend having more than one test or indicator pointing at the same nutrient before you say “Hey, I need more of this or that,” and run out to the vitamin store for another
Like teeth, bone is classified as a hard tissue. Bone density measurements are only a static indicator of overall bone health and only for the moment the test is done. It reveals very little about calcium adequacy specifically, and even less about long-term bone nutrient metabolism—which direction bone condition is going. Because a normal bone density reading this year doesn’t guarantee healthy bones next year, this test is more useful when repeated over time, and for monitoring certain drugs, but even then still has these limitations.
Hair is a type of soft tissue, in the same category as connective material: joints, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Hair analysis is most useful to screen for toxic minerals such as mercury, aluminum, lead and others. Lead, by the way, is a direct antagonist to calcium. It blocks the bone receptor sites where calcium would be assimilated. If a person has lead toxicity, no special type or amount of calcium will be properly utilized.
Head hair calcium levels reflect whole body’s connective (joint) tissue calcium levels, not just what’s in the head. Additionally, several minerals related to calcium, such as magnesium and zinc, are accurately tested along with calcium. These mineral relationships and ratios are just as critical as calcium itself.
The BPCC Calcium Quick Test measures muscle calcium content, which is a functional indicator of calcium estimated to be a midpoint between immediate levels through blood testing and long-term levels through hair testing. It takes only a moment and provides instant feedback about your calcium adequacy.
A blood pressure cuff is placed around the calf of the leg and gradually tightened until just before a muscle cramp would occur, a reading is taken, and the pressure is then released. If the amount of pressure is below a certain value, tissue calcium is low. If it is at or above this value, the calcium level is normal. Like the other tests mentioned, the BPCC has its limitations. It is closer to the meaning of a blood level than it is of hair, and thus does not reflect long-term calcium adequacy. It also measures only calcium alone. Magnesium and related minerals cannot be tested this way. Because, as we’ve discussed, each test has its strengths and its weaknesses, I generally encourage people to have several different indicators pointing at the same nutrient before they say “this vitamin is right for me.”
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 nutrition-testing.com.