Do I Need a Calcium Supplement?

The short answer here is that you may not need one. Most of us get enough calcium in our diets but lack the needed cofactors to use and assimilate the calcium. 

Foods that are rich in calcium

  • Sardines
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Collard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Turnip Greens
  • Mustard Greens
  • Beet Greens
  • Natto (fermented soy) 
  • Egg Yolks
  • Dark Meat Chicken.

You do not have to consume dairy products to get enough calcium but if you do, the best sources of dairy calcium are raw milk, yogurt and cheese (Jarlsberg in particular). 

Calcium makes up about 2% of your body weight contributing to bone structure as well as playing a role in controlling muscle and nerve function.  We definitely need calcium but you may not need to supplement with it as long as you are eating a well balanced diet. Too much calcium in the diet can deposit itself in places like blood vessels and as kidney stones in the kidneys. 

While calcium is essential for muscle contraction, magnesium serves as a calcium blocker. It is the calcium in too high amounts that creates a muscle cramp and magnesium that creates the relaxation. So it is important for these two to be in balance especially when it comes to your heart. 

It is not enough to try to replace these minerals that may be lacking in the diet. They need to be in balance and we need to be asking ourselves why there is an imbalance in the first place. 

Some things to look at to see whether or not your body is able to use the calcium in your diet are: 

How are your hormones functioning? Your parathyroid plays a very big role in maintaining blood calcium levels, thyroid hormone decreases blood calcium levels, adrenal hormones control sodium and potassium which have a relationship with calcium and sex hormones play a role in bone structure. Vitamin D works like a hormone in the body. We need it to increase the absorption through the digestive system. More on that later. 

Are you drinking enough water? Good hydration ensures that blood is fluid or thin and free flowing enough to efficiently transport calcium throughout the body. Having balanced electrolytes will help make sure calcium is transferred in and out of the cells. 

Are you getting enough other minerals in your diet? You should not only be looking at the amount of minerals you are getting in your diet (from food) but are they in balance with the amount of calcium you are getting. 

Are you digesting your fats or taking in quality fats?  Fatty acids are needed to transport calcium in to the cells and help increase calcium levels in the tissues. 

Is your digestion working properly? Calcium is only absorbed in an acidic environment and so it needs adequate stomach acid for the body to be able to use it. 

 There are two other factors that come in to play in regards to calcium and our ability to use it properly in the body. 

Vitamin K and Vitamin D. 

First let’s look at Vitamin K which has two forms. K1 and K2. This is a very simplified explanation of K1 and K2 as there are more forms of Vitamin K that play very specific roles in the body but for the purposes of this post I am keeping it simple for you all. If you want to learn about these vitamins in greater detail google Chris Masterjohn. He has made a career out of studying fat soluble vitamins. 

Vitamin K2 Health Benefits

It prevents calcium from going in to all the wrong places, as discussed above, like keeping it out of your kidneys where stones can form and the blood vessels where it can contribute or cause heart disease. It also helps get it in to your bones and teeth where your bones will get strong and your teeth will be able to fight off decay.

It helps you make insulin and helps to prevent insulin resistance. Remember this is when your cells turn the insulin carrying glucose away because they have had too much. In this way it helps to keep your blood sugar stable. It also helps you use energy properly making exercise a little easier and protects you from cancer.   

Vitamin K comes in different forms with K1 being the most well known for helping with blood clotting so you want to avoid supplementing with Vitamin K if you are on an anticoagulant. K1 is found mostly in plants and especially in leafy greens and K2 is found most often in animal products. This is a fat soluble vitamin so you might notice that the animal products it is found in are naturally higher in fat so you can use it. This is why I tell my clients and students to eat their veggies with a little bit of fat so they can actually use the vitamins in the plant. 

Vitamin D Health Benefits

This fat soluble vitamin plays a big role in your overall health by impacting around 3000 of your genes. It turns on or off the genes that prevent or make worse diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, MS, gum disease, IBS, colds and flu and many more. 

Much of the population is deficient in Vitamin D, especially those with darker skin and those living in the north. Most of us need about ten times what the Recommended Daily Allowance is (600 IU per day for RDA) and the very best way to get it is by getting sunlight daily or taking a high quality supplement. Be aware though that if you supplement you need to have your levels checked regularly by a doctor because you can take too much. 

Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium and vitamin K2 sends the calcium to your bones, again, keeping it from depositing in the wrong places.  A build up of plaque in the arteries results from a damaged blood vessel having calcium deposited there so that you can remain alive. This is how heart disease begins. A build up of this kind of plaque can result in an eventual heart attack. Remember that sugar and processed foods are what cause the damage to the blood vessels in the first place.  Vitamin K and D work together to protect your blood vessels from this plaque formation. 

If you are taking calcium and vitamin D supplements but are deficient in K, you could be doing more harm than good than if you didn’t take a calcium supplement at all because that calcium is just one part of your overall bone and heart health. 

Bottom line:

  • You may not need a calcium supplement, you are probably getting enough from your diet. 
  • You need good digestion.
  • You need to be well hydrated.
  • You need to do some weight bearing exercise like walking or lifting weights.
  • You need those good quality fats in your diet and you need to digest them.
  • You need to optimize your vitamin D intake (and get some sun) and check your blood levels regularly. 
  • Get K2 from leafy greens, fermented veggies, or raw milk cheeses
  • Eat a wide and varied diet of real whole foods.

 

Tell me in the comments. Do you take a calcium supplement or a vitamin D supplement? Do you spend time outside getting some sunshine?