Thursday, September 15, 2011

Calcium Myths Debunked

Many people assume the best source of calcium is cow's milk. But consider this: Decades ago, most dairy cows grazed in the fields, getting their calcium from the grass they consumed. Now, the majority of dairy cows live on factory farms, where they are fed a mainly grain diet. In order to maintain the calcium in cow's milk, these cows are given calcium supplements. Personally, I'd rather cut out the middle-cow and go straight to the source for my calcium -- plants!

"In countries around the world, the more dairy consumed, the higher the incidence of osteoporosis and hip fractures. It is not simply about how much calcium you take in, but, rather, about how much you absorb. And there's ample calcium in this foods I eat, including broccoli, tofu, and sesame seeds."  From Julieanna Hever, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition".

According to Janice Stanger, PhD, author of "The Perfect Formula Diet" (
Calcium is one of the most overhyped nutrients, largely because of the clout of the dairy industry. The myth is that osteoporosis is basically a calcium deficiency, and consuming lots of dairy products and calcium supplements will keep bones strong. This strategy pervades the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This USDA report recommends the unreal amount of three cups of dairy or soy milk a day for anyone age 9 or older.
Supplement manufacturers benefit as well from concern about not getting enough calcium. Bottles of calcium pills, either as an isolated mineral or combined with other minerals or vitamin D, line store shelves with a dazzling array of choices.

Nowhere in the constant repetitive message of “calcium, calcium, calcium” will you hear about the hazards of consuming too much of this mineral. Here are three of the top concerns:
• Your body could become too alkaline
• Your risk of kidney stones increases
• Your artery walls can become stiff and inflexible
Decreased kidney function (common in older adults) and certain popular prescription drugs lower the body’s ability to get rid of excess calcium and raise the risk of toxic excess. Yet older women are the ones most consistently hounded to consume lots of calcium.

So how do you keep your bones strong?
You want your bones to be durable and resist breaking. You really don’t care how thick they are. The popular myth is that calcium makes bones stronger.
However think about chalk, which is almost pure calcium. Imagine taking a stick of chalk and holding one end in each hand. Now snap your hands up and apart with little force. What are you left with? Two pieces of chalk, the broken remnant of the original stick. This shows calcium is brittle, not a property most people want to see in their bones.
A 2010 editorial in the prestigious British Medical Journal states “Bone mineral density, which is often used as a measure of treatment success, is a surrogate measure for real clinical benefit.” The authors go on to observe “Calcium supplements, given alone, improve bone mineral density, but they are ineffective in reducing the risk of fractures and might even increase risk, they might increase the risk of cardiovascular events, and they do not reduce mortality. They seem to be unnecessary in adults with an adequate diet.”

If you eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, you might not really need much calcium anyway. Your body gets skilled at absorbing, conserving, and recycling calcium when you don’t eat excessive amounts of it. Researchers compared a group of 105 Buddhist nuns on an animal-free diet with 105 similar women in their communities. While the nuns consumed 330 mg of calcium per day on average, and had been on an animal-free diet for an average of 33 years, these women suffered no ill effects on their bone health.

A whole foods, plant-based diet balances inflammation, countering the systemic chronic inflammation that can weaken bone structure as well as damage blood vessel walls. Weight-bearing exercise has consistently been shown to build bone strength. And practices that improve balance can help avert bone-breaking falls, as can common sense safety measures around the house and while traveling.

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