Calcium 101


Calcium... Calcium... Calcium... What to use and when should I be taking a calcium supplement? What’s the best type of calcium? Calcium... calcium... calcium... it gets handed out like candy. What’s the truth... We do know that calcium is undisputedly the most abundant mineral in the body. Many people will come into my office with bottles of coral calcium, colloidal calcium, calcium citrate, calcium carbonate, calcium chocolate chews, gummy bear calcium and even calcium-enhanced orange juice. They will randomly take any of these in any quantity and with good intentions, but will fall short of success because they don’t understand calcium.

So first let’s look at what calcium is actually used for:

  • to improve bone, muscle and teeth formation
  • to enhance nerve transmission
  • for immune system function
  • to reduce inflammation and enhance repair of tissue
  • to reduce allergies
  • to balance muscle contraction
  • to support poor circulation
  • to enhance memory
  • to eliminate pain

Now the first thing is to realize that you may not even need calcium because what you are getting in your food is enough for your body, and I don’t just mean in milk products. The second thing is that even if you need additional calcium, you have to know which type of calcium is best for you. Often the real issue is that you don’t have enough of the synergistic minerals and enzymes that your body needs to absorb any calcium, instead of the type or amount of calcium that you are taking in. Doctors prefer to just shove the bottle of calcium towards you instead of perhaps realizing that you never go out in the sun and so your vitamin D levels are perhaps lower than needed.

Sometimes it is even a problem with the ratios of these synergistic minerals which may not even be your fault at all. Many supplement formulas for bones have standardized ratios of minerals instead of a specific blend for your body. You may already have plenty of Vitamin D, but not enough phosphorus, so why do you need a supplement that includes vitamin D? Building bones and teeth is like baking a cake. A cake requires certain ingredients — flour, sugar, eggs, etc., but it also requires specific amounts of these ingredients. The human body is even more complex.

Once you are certain that you have a calcium problem, first decide if it is an assimilation problem or a calcium level problem. If you have had gall stones, kidney stones, bone spurs, tartar on your teeth, then you have plenty of calcium and not enough assimilation. If you have very poor teeth, frequent muscle cramping, skin problems such as psoriasis or severe eczema or heart palpitations, then you most likely do not have enough calcium.

So let’s look at types of calcium. My personal favorite is Calcium Lactate, which is great because it is perfect for soft tissue such as muscles, but will work for bones and teeth depending on the minerals and enzymes that are given with it. If I add Collagen and vitamin C, then it’s perfect for connective tissue. By adding Standard Process For-Til B12 I can get great effects for the blood. With Folic Acid and B12 the nerves can benefit, while with vitamin D pain syndromes essentially vanish. The most important thing about this type of calcium is that it is highly absorbable even with digestive issues.

Another general calcium product I like is Standard Process Calcifood, which contains not only all the proper ingredients for healthy bones, but also the balanced amounts to assure proper development. When you add vitamin F tablets and an acidifier like apple cider vinegar before each meal, then there will be a noticeable increase in calcium absorption into bone.

Sometimes people take calcium for muscle aches, pains and spasms, particularly at night. Muscles will often cramp up if there is not enough ionized calcium in the blood to help the muscles relax. Notice, I’ve said "ionized", which means that if you are already taking calcium supplementation and still have these symptoms, it is obviously not ionizing well. Specific types of calcium get into the blood and muscles better than other types. For muscles, calcium is best taken on an empty stomach. If taken with food, it combines with phosphorus and is utilized for the bones. Calcium Lactate is once again the best for muscle cramps while another Standard Process product Calsol is a little better for long-term use and soft tissue injuries. Calsol also stabilizes the nervous sytem. You can see where calcium supplementation can get confusing, and if it’s not done properly you won’t get the anticipated results, and you’ll end up taking more and more calcium, and getting more and more calcium malabsorption problems.

For a stronger immune system, white blood cells need to be activated by ionized calcium, so once again take calcium on an empty stomach. This will help to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. Again, calcium with food will not do the job. Allergy syndromes present an entirely different scenario for calcium usage. The sinus cavities become alkaline in the case of allergy symptoms. The body needs a specific calcium to combat the alkalosis, so I use Standard Process Cal-Amo.

Now let’s talk about what kind of calcium NOT to take. Coral calcium is one of the worst despite all the hype, supposed clinical studies and great marketing. Coral calcium is derived from the natural coral reefs of Okinawa, Japan and the high cost has caused many fisherman to strip the coral reef of its resources in order to obtain this calcium for the American market. It may have begun as a way to sell coral that had been "cleaned" from the reefs, i.e. dead coral, but it has now turned into a feeding frenzy for money.

But let’s talk about it’s benefits, or lack of benefits for you. Coral calcium and its predominant calcium ingredient calcium carbonate require an enormous amount of stomach acid to pry off the carbonate chelate and allow any of the calcium to be absorbed. Since many calcium effects must occur on an empty stomach, the amount of stomach acid is minimal and definitely not sufficient for this type of calcium to be absorbed. Over time, taking this on an empty stomach can actually create an acid imbalance.

Calcium citrate and lactate, on the other hand, are already acidic and therefore do not require stomach activity in order to render them available for absorption. Thus, while calcium carbonate supplements contain more calcium by weight, almost all of it is unavailable for tissue uptake, particularly in people with stomach acidity issues, or those taking antacids on a regular basis. This is even more true for elderly people, who tend to produce less and less stomach acid with age. This may account for the high incidence of osteoporosis and osteopenia. And stomach acid production is a genetic factor, which means that families will tend to have the same ability to absorb or to not absorb calcium and other minerals.

Even those with healthy stomach acid levels typically only absorb 22% of the calcium in calcium carbonate, whereas people with insufficient gastric acid output may only absorb 4% or none at all. In contract, 45% of the calcium is absorbed from calcium citrate in people with low stomach acid. And Calcium Lactate is the best of all, with an absorption as high as 70% even in people with poor stomach digestion.

So before you break out the bottle of calcium, take a moment and truly evaluate your calcium needs. If you have any questions, consider seeking the help of a Naturopathic Physician or Certified Holistic Nutritionist to help you find the best solution.