For many decades starting in the 1950’s, radio broadcaster Paul Harvey would tell a story. Then, after a commercial, he would dramatically tell “The Rest of the Story”. The history of official pronouncements about the mineral calcium feels a bit like that. We were told something simple minded that sounded logical to those who didn’t study physiology. It went like this: the bones contain a lot of calcium. Therefore, to prevent osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) consume lots and lots of calcium.
Then, came the rest of the story:
- There is a considerable amount of calcium in foods such as those shown in the picture above (thank you, Reader’s Digest). Americans have access to such foods and calcium is added to orange juice, etc. They also supplement. So, we have been consuming more calcium than any country on earth and yet, oops, have the highest rates of osteoporosis.
- Then studies linked an excess of calcium to cardiovascular disease. We interviewed Thomas Levy, MD, JD author of Death by Calcium. (Some think the problem found was due more to low magnesium. Journal article.)
- It takes many minerals to build bone and, yet the authorities never mention a need for even magnesium, manganese and zinc. It also requires vitamins, but the geniuses have only recommended vitamin D. (The official dietary guidelines recommend only the amount of D they guessed was needed for bone. Unfortunately, that is just a fraction of the levels required for other processes in the body. I’ve written a lot about vitamin D. Sufficiently high doses helps head off the flu. Recently, I learned that high levels help insomnia.)
- Then, recently a review of studies failed to show significant benefit of calcium and vitamin D for bone health for seniors. Of course, the amount of vitamin D used was too low to show much of anything, but that didn’t stop the authors from telling us that we should stop worrying about supplements. Not surprisingly, the media only reported the headlines not these details.
- Despite the very negative studies and those showing no benefit, the government (and vitamin companies) continue to recommend rather indiscriminately that folks supplement calcium.
- In his terrific interview January 6, 2018, Bill Sardi said that the only people who should consider calcium supplements are those who do not eat dairy and other calcium-rich foods. He explained that loss of estrogen is the main culprit in bone thinning. Sardi said that functional medicine doctors can normalize estrogen using bioidentical hormones. A more conservative approach is to use plant estrogens. The only one of that category shown to help satisfy the body’s estrogen needs without also promoting cellular growth (e.g. of cancer cells) is one I have written about, resveratrol.
- I recommend reading Bill Sardi’s detailed article about calcium, osteoporosis and resveratrol.
How could we have seen the “rest of the story” coming? We might get a clue from the Dr. Suess quote: “Sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple.” In the eons of human history, we didn’t have osteoporosis, but we ate only whole real foods that come from nature nicely balanced in calcium and magnesium. The foods also contained plenty of plant estrogens. These days, our food supply has been depleted and corrupted despite our best efforts to eat for health. Therefore, we need to supplement. However, we need to do so in proper balance.