#32: Calcium - Do You Really Need To Supplement?

What do heart disease, bone loss, kidney stones and bone spurs have in common? The answer may surprise you but it’s calcium supplements. Ask any woman above the age of 50 and she will likely tell you that she supplements with calcium to prevent osteoporosis (bone loss). Walk the aisles of Walgreens and you will notice calcium is one of the most popular supplements in the vitamin aisle. It’s no surprise since many doctors and public health agencies recommend supplementing with calcium. But are these calcium recommendations backed by research and clinical studies?

According to a 2007 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding calcium showed no reduction in the rates of hip fracture of older women. In 2012, the British Medical Journal published a study which showed that men and women who supplemented with calcium over over an 11-year period had a 139% greater risk of heart attack. So does supplementing with calcium increase our chances of succumbing to cardiovascular disease? The current research seems to be saying yes.

Just because you take a calcium supplement, does not mean that your bones are getting stronger. In fact, supplementing can cause a burst in blood calcium levels and without the right cofactors, the extra calcium gets deposited in the wrong places. Places like bone spurs, kidney stones and artery plaque.  

Calcium is a team sport!

Instead of asking whether we get enough calcium, the more appropriate question is whether we get enough of the cofactors needed to support the body’s use of calcium. Think of calcium as the point guard on a basketball team. Vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K2 are the star players and everyone needs to play their position in order to facilitate absorption. The center and forwards need to rebound, the guards need to distribute the ball and everyone must play defense. This means that Vitamin D, magnesium and Vitamin K2 are just as important as calcium if you want to win the bone game. 

And here’s some more food for thought. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. That means that in order for your body to utilize it, it must be taken or eaten with some fat. Since we know that Vitamin D is essential for the body to uptake calcium, you’ll need some dietary fat like avocado in order to put calcium to work in your body. Remember, if you want your daily dose of calcium from yogurt, make sure its not fat-free. 

Top 4 non-dairy sources of calcium

  1. Tahini –  its one of the yummiest foods and is so versatile. Tahini is a paste made from ground up sesame seeds. It’s the magic sauce that gives hummus its creamy texture and unique flavor. Drizzle it on salads, add it to oatmeal or try this Middle Eastern Chicken Salad recipe. 

  2. Sardines – the calcium is in the tiny, soft bones of the sardine so be sure to choose a brand that keeps the bone-in. Sardines are another great way to get your healthy fats and calcium in your belly and they taste great with a crisp salad. 

  3. Greens – watercress and spinach are also good sources of calcium. Try adding ½ cup of spinach to your smoothies and don’t forget to include some healthy fats like olive oil or coconut when serving your greens. 

  4. Bone Broth - the best and most effective way to get readily absorbable calcium into your diet is to make a slow cooked bone broth. Bone broth is chock-full-of gelatin, glucosamine, collagen, glycine, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. It’s great for bones, joints, nails, skin and more. Try this Marrow Bone Broth recipe and enjoy a mug of this nutrient-dense superfood.