Calcium: The Overrated Mineral
Calcium, while important for joint and bone health, is not the only factor, nor even the main factor in osteo issues. Instead, we need to cultivate a comprehensive, holistic process involving diet and nutrition, digestion, circulation and weight-bearing exercise in order to have healthy bones for life. Calcium is one of the most needed, and yet most overrated of all the minerals our body uses. The modern approach seems to be to load the body up with calcium, particularly if the joints and bones are experiencing some kind of deterioration, such as osteopenia, osteoporosis, arthritis or even during menopause believing that less estrogen means bone loss.
In order to produce healthy bones and joints, there are many synergistic components that make up the structures of the skeletal system. Calcium, Vitamin D, Phosphorus, Magnesium and Selenium are some of the more prevalent ingredients that the body uses for bone health. But the muscles also play a role in the health of our bones. The muscles are what determine the tension and stress placed upon the bones and joints. Muscles also use calcium as the motivating force in contraction. But the type of calcium that is best for muscles may not necessarily be the best for bones. For this reason, much of the calcium we take in, thinking it is for our bones, actually lies embedded in muscle tissue or in the fluid around a joint.
There are three steps to calcium levels in the body: intake, absorption and utilization. Intake involves eating foods that are rich in calcium that we can absorb. Although milk products contain large amounts of calcium, we may not be able to obtain our calcium easily in this form. Our digestion may not allow us to break down the milk to obtain the included calcium. Plant sources provide wonderful amounts of calcium, and with many of the synergistic minerals needed to utilize calcium efficiently, but when was the last time you ate kale?
Absorption involves having the proper digestive enzymes to break heavy minerals out of our foods and supplements. Many times our intestinal tract is too alkaline for mineral absorption. This will particularly be true in people who have had acid reflux, acid stomach or chronic yeast infections. Minerals require a more acidic environment for increased bacterial activity, essential for mineral absorption. We may also have a large amount of plaque in our intestinal tract, or constipated material which blocks our ability to absorb minerals.
Utilization includes proper circulation of the blood, so the minerals can find their way to the cells of the body. It also means having the correct type of mineral and the correct synergistic components for absorption. Remember the body makes compounds, and uses elements to do it. If we do not have the correct elements, the compounds our body makes may be unstable or unusable by our cells. For instance, calcium carbonate may be the cheapest calcium to produce, but in our body it is practically unusable, whereas calcium lactate bonds very well with the elements needed for bone growth.
We also need to look at the main driving force of calcium into our tissues, which is the thyroid and parathyroid. First, high levels of calcium in the blood stimulate the thyroid gland to release Calcitonin. This is a hormone which promotes the depositing of calcium into bones, decreasing the level of calcium in the blood. When the level of calcium in the blood is too low, our body begins to cannibalize our bones, a process initiated by the parathyroid gland. The release of PTH or parathyroid hormone promotes the release of calcium from the bone matrix into the blood and decreases the loss of calcium through the kidneys. PTH also stimulates the kidneys to release Calcitriol which stimulates increased absorption of calcium from foods in our digestive tract which increases blood calcium levels. So we depend on the thyroid, parathyroid, kidneys and intestinal tract for calcium balance.
The most difficult aspect of mineral use is the fact that the body stores unused minerals, loading up the intestinal tract, liver, joint spaces, muscles and even the brain with large amounts of minerals. Each mineral in an unbonded state has an electrical charge. This challenges our bodies’ natural charge and increases the amount of free radical ions loose in our body fluids and tissues.
In addition, we may think that we have sufficient levels of Vitamin D for instance because we have spent a lot of time in the sunlight, which stimulates our own inherent vitamin D production. But another piece of the Vitamin D synthesis is the essential ingredient of cholesterol. This means that when we are in the sun quite a bit, we are also using large amounts of our blood cholesterol, which reduces our body’s available cholesterol reserves. This can be great for reducing overall cholesterol levels for those who tend to have high blood cholesterol levels, but it can also mean there are not enough cholesterol reserves for other needs, such as building of the myelin sheath or the formation of adrenal hormones. So supplementing with essential fatty acids can make a big difference in the absorption of calcium into the bone tissue.
Calcium, while important for joint and bone health, is not the only factor, nor even the main factor in osteo issues. Instead, we need to cultivate a comprehensive, holistic process involving diet and nutrition, digestion, circulation and weight-bearing exercise in order to have healthy bones for life.