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Calcium is an essential nutrient and many people, particularly women, take supplements to ward off osteoporosis. But calcium appears to lead another life — one that appears to contribute to the formation of arterial plaque and other factors that lead to heart disease.
A German study, published in 2012, found a surprising link between calcium supplements and an increased risk of heart disease in women. The study looked at 24,000 people and found that women, who were exclusively taking calcium supplements to meet their recommended daily calcium intake, doubled their risk for a heart attack.
Ominous findings, no doubt… but does that mean you should stop taking calcium supplements?
Not necessarily. Even the study authors warned people not to jump to conclusions. Because, despite this apparent paradox, calcium is an important contributor to cardiovascular health, helping to govern a steady heart rhythm.
So with all the upsides to calcium supplementation, this grey area between ‘proven safe’ and ‘proven unsafe’ can be confusing.
What should you do if you’ve been advised to take calcium to improve a health condition? Fortunately, there are several ways to mitigate any potential risk so you can reap all the known benefits of calcium…
We’ve been indoctrinated from youth that calcium is an important nutrient — and it is. However, you really want to control where the calcium is going. Calcium in the bones is critical, but too much in blood vessels and tissues can be bad, calcifying tissues and destroying vascular elasticity, leading to blockages, high blood pressure, angina, heart attack and stroke.
Part of this issue has to do with the right kind of calcium. Many inorganic calcium supplements are not bioavailable for the body to utilize, such as calcium carbonate which can be derived from limestone.
Oxide forms are also poorly absorbed. These inferior calcium supplements can be some of the main culprits contributing to calcium deposits and calcification in the body.
Instead, choose citrate, malate or chelate forms for better bioavailability. These forms also are better absorbed if there is adequate stomach acid, something most of us often lack as we age. But still, there’s more to the picture…
Calcium’s best friends
The most significant caveat to the German study is that the people who were at the highest risk for heart attacks were only taking calcium.
But for optimal utilization, you need to take calcium supplements with magnesium and other nutrients, which can work to balance calcium’s potentially negative effects. This is particularly true regarding cardiovascular health. In fact, magnesium is just as important as calcium — if not more so — for maintaining bone, heart, neurological, and other areas of health.
Another important nutrient to balance calcium is vitamin K2. This vitamin serves double duty, acting as a kind of supervisor for calcium distribution. On one hand, it keeps calcium from entering blood vessel walls. On the other, it helps bones retain calcium, increasing bone density.
Natto is the highest dietary source of vitamin K2.
Vitamin D3 is another important nutrient that aids in the absorption and proper utilization of calcium in the body.
So if you need calcium supplementation, the best approach is to take it together with these and other nutrients to optimize its benefits and reduce potential imbalances.
There’s an old cliché that food is the best medicine, and it’s absolutely correct.
As is the case with calcium and countless others, nutrients don’t work in isolation. They have complex relationships with other vitamins, minerals and cofactors in their food-based sources, affecting absorption, bioavailability and activity throughout the body.
For these and other reasons, it makes sense to start any calcium and magnesium supplementation regimen with food. This can be done with just a few simple dietary changes…
Many foods are high in calcium and other complementary nutrients. Let’s start in the produce aisle. An eight-ounce serving of collard greens has 360 milligrams of calcium. If your goal is to eat 1,200 mg of calcium a day, then this will provide a nice chunk. Kale, bok choy, broccoli, dried figs and oranges are also good sources.
Seafood can also be a good source; sardines have 325 mg of calcium for a three-ounce serving. Salmon and shrimp are also rich sources.
Naturally, the dairy aisle is a significant source. Four ounces of part-skim ricotta cheese has 335 milligrams. Of course, there are also the old standards: yogurt and milk.
Foods rich in magnesium include items like dark chocolate, tofu, nuts, beans and green leafy vegetables.
The beauty of these foods is that they also supply a multitude of other nutrients, vitamins, trace minerals and phytonutrients that all work together to support optimal absorption and overall health.
When to supplement
Sometimes, food isn’t always enough to get us the calcium we need. There are a variety of medical conditions which increase the need for balanced calcium supplementation that includes other nutrients like magnesium, K2 and D3.
People who are lactose intolerant have trouble digesting dairy and need to find other calcium sources. Patients who are being treated with corticosteroids may also have trouble. People with celiac disease, or other digestive tract disorders, often have difficulty absorbing calcium. Vegans may also need to choose wisely to bring adequate calcium into their diet.
Knowing that calcium supplements can impact your circulatory health, you can counteract that disadvantage with a variety of nutrients and botanicals that boost circulation and support cardiovascular health.
- Ginkgo biloba is known for its ability to stimulate circulation and even protect blood vessels
- Ginger, cinnamon and cayenne are also blood flow stimulators
- L-arginine acts to dilate blood vessels, increasing blood flow and improving circulation
- Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, which can slow circulation
- CoEnzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce blood vessel inflammation and free up circulation
One particular supplement blend that supports circulation is a Tibetan Herbal Formula which includes costus root, neem fruit, cardamom fruit and other botanical ingredients. In addition to helping with circulation, this formula also supports cardiovascular and immune health.
So let’s circle back to our original question. Should you take calcium supplements? For those who have trouble absorbing the mineral or may be at risk for osteoporosis, supplements can really improve health and well-being. However, you should always remember that calcium should not be taken in isolation, but with additional nutrients that support the benefits of calcium and reduce many of the potential negative consequences.
For those who are not at risk for a calcium deficiency, supplementation may not be the best choice. If you feel you need to add more calcium, bulk up on leafy greens, yogurt and other high-calcium foods.
Remember, one-size-fits-all solutions don’t take into account our unique individual health requirements. A qualified integrative practitioner can help assess your unique nutritional requirements and guide you to the best course of action. I always recommend using food as the foundation of any program, and if needed, high-quality, multi-targeted supplements that provide a boost to help all systems function optimally.
Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!
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