April 13, 2023
What calcium supplement should I take? Do I get enough calcium from my diet? Calcium is just for our bones, right? Tune in to this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist for all these answers and more as Britni goes over all you need to know about the important supplement calcium.
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BRITNI: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's new midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. I am Britni Vincent, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. On today's show, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness, I will be answering a nutrition question that we received from one of our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners.
The question is, “Are calcium supplements bad for bones?” The short answer is no. Calcium supplements aren't bad for bones. Getting a good quality calcium supplement and getting calcium through your diet will actually help to build healthy bone.
Let's talk about the role of calcium in the body. 99% of calcium is within our skeleton, and not only does it help with the maintenance of the bones, but calcium also helps to regulate hormonal secretion and then healthy functions of nerves and muscles, including our heart.
There are a few things to consider when thinking about supplementing with calcium. First, how much you're getting and what form you're taking. And then lastly, if you are getting enough vitamin D as well to metabolize the calcium that you're taking. Getting too much calcium and especially taking a poorly absorbed form of calcium can be harmful. Generally, people don't need to take more than a thousand milligrams of calcium a day, and many experts say to not exceed more than 2,000 milligrams total of dietary calcium and supplemental calcium.
Researchers: they suspect that the increase of calcium in the blood that occurs after too much supplementation or taking a cheap form of calcium or the inability to metabolize the calcium may actually facilitate the calcification of arteries. So it plaque buildup in our arteries. It’s also suspected that the extra calcium intake above one's requirements is not absorbed by the bones, but then it's excreted through the urine, which can increase the risk of calcium-based kidney stones.
When we look at supplemental forms of calcium, you want to avoid calcium carbonate. This is the cheapest form of calcium and not well-absorbed at all, and this is really the one that can create that calcium buildup in our arteries. So avoid that. And there's one called Di-Calcium Malate or DimaCal. It's chelated. It's a calcium that's chelated to a compound called malate, and that helps to carry it through the intestinal lining for better absorption.
Calcium citrate is bound to citric acid to also help with the absorption. That is a good quality calcium. And then there's another one: MCHA, which stands for microcrystalline calcium hydroxyapatite. This is an organically bound complex of what's naturally part of our bone matrix, and in calcium form it's derived from freeze dried calf bone.
Then the next piece, if you're going to supplement with calcium, to make sure that it gets absorbed, get your vitamin D checked. If you don't have enough vitamin D on board, then you're not going to be able to utilize that calcium that you're taking. Optimal levels of vitamin D are 50 to 80, and bone health is so much more complex than just taking a calcium supplement. That vitamin D is a huge player in bone health and that calcium metabolism
Again, if you're taking calcium but you don't have enough vitamin D, then you're not able to utilize that calcium that you're taking. And vitamin D is a really special vitamin. It actually acts as a nutrient in the body, works to maintain proper levels of calcium to mineralize the bones, facilitate muscle contraction, allows blood vessel dilation, supports hormone secretion and proper nerve signaling with that calcium. So again, get those levels checked.
Other key players when we're talking about bone health are magnesium and vitamin K2. And if you want to learn more about magnesium, I did a recent “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast all about magnesium to figure out what the best source is for you. And then I talk about food sources as well.
Getting that magnesium on board, and then the vitamin K2: you can find that in vitamin D supplements. So when you're going to supplement with vitamin D, I would recommend purchasing one that also contains vitamin K2 or taking that separately as a standalone supplement. So if you're deficient in any of these vitamins, minerals, then again, that calcium is not providing the benefit that you hope it is.
When we think about who should actually be supplementing with calcium, anybody with osteopenia or osteoporosis or individuals at risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis, and then individuals that are getting low dietary calcium intake. The supplements that we have on our Nutrikey website: we have Activated Calcium. If you take that, you should also take the Vitamin D with K2 in addition, and the magnesium, again to make sure that all that calcium is getting properly metabolized in the body.
Key Osteo is like our Cadillac bone supplement. It is designed specifically to help to form new bone. It contains the calcium, the magnesium, vitamin D and K2; also doubles as a multivitamin. It only contains a thousand international units of vitamin D, so I would take extra vitamin D. And then a Cal-Mag supplement: in addition to that, I would again supplement with that vitamin D with K2.
Always, always we want to think about food sources. Just increase your intake of calcium. And canned bone in fish are a great source for those clients of mine that eat that. They say that you really don't notice the bones in there. Dark leafy greens, seeds and almonds, broccoli, beans, those are all good sources of calcium. And then dairy. But if you are somebody that doesn't tolerate dairy very well, don't worry. You can still get your calcium through food.
Think about it. Before the agricultural revolution, we were really getting our calcium from plants, not dairy. I have a lot of clients that just don't tolerate dairy very well. They choose almond milk to drink because they think that that is a good source of calcium. And yes, as I mentioned earlier, almonds do contain calcium, but almond milk is often fortified with calcium and it's fortified with that calcium carbonate.
So if you do like to drink almond milk, I would just read the ingredients, find one with as few ingredients as possible, and avoid that calcium carbonate if you can. Other fortified foods with calcium carbonate can be breads, orange juice, cereals, some oatmeals, and then over the counter and acids like Tums actually contain calcium carbonate, so I would try to avoid those.
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