Let's talk about Calcium
For years now, we've had drummed into us by the media (and the 'dairy industry as a whole') to drink more milk and eat cheese otherwise you will not grow up to have strong bones. This line of thought is a little too simplistic and really works best for the ad campaigns. The reality is all minerals in the body are in a dynamic and synergistic balance, meaning they interact with one another at a biochemical and electrical level and depend on one another for ideal utilisation within the body. So saying you need to drink a lot of milk to get your daily calcium is a bit misleading because calcium will only be absorbed if there is adequate intake of magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, C & D available in the body at the time.
In most western countries calcium in the diet is synonymous with the consumption of dairy products. Unfortunately many diary foods with the exception of certified organic are not of a high nutrient quality. While even though some Westerners have diets containing up to 25% dairy content, they may still suffer from wide spread calcium deficiency and suffer with arthritis and osteoporosis. So it can't be just about dairy intake alone. There's more to it.
While we're talking milk (we would suggest if you have to have it, have it occasionally as it tends to contribute to damp, mucousy conditions as you may have already read on this website article on damp diet). Note that raw milk is superior to pasteurised milk with regard to its beneficial enzymes, however, it should be quickly boiled & cooled, were it will lose only the minimum of nutrients, and destroy bacteria and dangerous microbes. Boiled milk is easier to digest and causes less allergies. Traditionally Pasteurised milk is heated to a temperature below boiling and therefore is not as easy to digest. The milk enzyme, xanthine oxidase is normally excreted, however homogenisation allows the enzyme in the milk cream to enter the bloodstream, arteries and heart contributing to cholesterol accumulation and vascular degeneration. Therefore, have organic to ensure that you are not also ingesting pesticides, steroids, heavy metals and antibiotics, and boil it lightly if you have trouble breaking it down.
Vitamin D, the 'sunshine vitamin' is essential for calcium absorption, and you will notice that most milk has been fortified with synthetic vitamin D3. Have a look at the label.
Avoid low fat/skim milk - it is devoid of the enzymes and fats that are necessary for calcium absorption, so you are not really getting what you think you are.
Calcitonin is one of the body's amazing hormones; it increases calcium in the bones and stops it from being absorbed into soft tissues. They have found that magnesium stimulates calcitonin production and will assist in this process of drawing excess calcium out of the soft tissues and increasing it in the bones. It is worth noting here that many forms of arthritis are characterised by excess calcium building up in the soft tissues and organs, while the skeletal calcium is being eroded away.
Nutrition researcher Paul Pitchford says "A magnesium-rich diet of whole foods is generally a cure for these types of osteoarthritis as well as most forms of calcium deficiency."
So where do you get dietary forms of magnesium??
In order of their greatest content:
dried seaweeds; including hijiki, wakame, kelp, kombu & others; beans - fermented, soya, mung, aduki, black, lima beans; buckwheat, millet, corn, barley, rye rice; almonds, cashews, sesame seeds.
High chlorophyll foods:
wheat or barley-grass products & microalgae like spirulina, wild blue-green & chlorella.
Interestingly, animal products like dairy, eggs, & meats, as well as fruit, contain the least magnesium content of all western foods.
As we get older it can be a greater challenge to get adequate calcium. Besides the obvious challenge of keeping our dietary intake consistent and nutritious, there is also our gradual decline in stomach acids and compromised organ function. This is where preventative medicine comes into its own. Healing therapies like Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine are all about keeping optimal organ function so that our body systems are working at their harmonious best.
Some suggest taking calcium and magnesium supplements at bedtime or between meals, as this is when the stomach may be more acidic and therefore more beneficial for absorption.
Phosphorus-calcium balance can be exaggerated by excessive phosphorus intake - the most common form of over-intake is from eating too much meat and soft drinks that have added phosphoric acid (phosphate). A diet that is high in phosphorus will increase the loss of calcium through the urine because it is pulling calcium from the bones. This is where we can start to get mineral build up in the kidneys creating gravel/calculus, or even stones.
So here in lies the amazing thing about our bodies - they are ever changing and moving, taking minerals from one area to another, all depending on supply and demand. Because minerals are in a state of dynamic activity and function, even the calcium in our bones is being added to and removed depending on the calcium balance in the body. The bones will also supply calcium to the blood and other tissues when we are not getting sufficient amounts from our diets. Vit. D, parathyroid hormone and calcitonin are responsible for maintaining this balance.
So things that will hinder the absorption of calcium once you have ingested it are:
- lowered stomach acid and problems with the gastrointestinal system.
- stress is almost always in the equation as this will affect your hormones and your digestive tract
- too much protein and too much fat
- foods high in oxalic acid are found to reduce calcium absorption (so have a moderate intake of spinach, rhubarb, beet greens, and even chocolate) - the excess oxalic acid can form insoluable salts in the gut ( you know - everything in moderation)
- a lack of Vit D (20 mins of sun a few times a week will do wonders for your wellbeing
- not enough exercise - weight bearing movement that works the bones and muscles.
Sources of Calcium.
We've looked at some of the sources of magnesium which contributes to calcium's absorption, but lets look more closely at calcium itself. Below is a list from Dr Christiane Northrup's book 'Women's Bodies Women's Wisdom' - it is quite comprehensive and useful as a guide.
|Food Type||Amount||Calcium (mg)|
|Seaweed (cooked unless specified)|
|Kombu (kelp)||1 cup||305|
|Agar-agar (thickener)||1 cup (dry flakes)||400|
|Dulse||1 cup (dry)||567|
|Fish (bones: the major source of calcium in fish)|
|Sardines (tinned with bones)||100g (3 ½ oz)||550|
|Salmon, tinned||100g (3 ½ oz)||350|
|Pilchards, tinned||100g (3 ½ oz)||300|
|Oysters, raw||1 cup||226|
|Green Leafy Vegetables (cooked unless specified)|
|Savoy cabbage||1 cup||110|
|Spring greens||1 cup||120|
|Pak choi||1 cup||200|
|Mustard and cres||1 cup||150|
|Rhubarb stalks (not leaves)||1 cup||348|
|Watercres (raw)||1 cup||53|
|Parsley (raw)||1 cup||122|
|Dandelion greens||1 cup||147|
|Beans & Legumes|
|Tofu (firm)||100g (3 ½ oz)||80-150|
|Chickpeas||1 cup (cooked)||150|
|Blackbeans||1 cup (cooked)||135|
|Pinto beans||1 cup (cooked)||128|
|Nuts & Seeds|
|Sesame seeds||3 tablespoons||300 (ground)|
|Sunflower seeds||1 cup (hulled)||174|
|Brazil nuts||1 cup||260|
|Cheese, chedder type||40g (1 ½ oz)||300|
|Cheese, Camembert type||100g (3 ½ oz)||380|
|Yoghurt||100g (3 ½ oz)||195|
|Cottage cheese (low fat)||100g (3 ½ oz)||60|
|Blackstrap molasses||1 tablespoon||137|
|Figs dried||100g (3 ½ oz)||280|
|San Pelligrino||1 litre||200|
- Woman's Bodies Women's Wisdom
Dr. Christine Northrup, Piatkus, London, UK
- Staying Healthy with Nutrition
Elson M. Haas, MD, Celestial Arts, Ca. USA
- Healing with Wholefoods, Oriental Traditions & Modern Nutrition
Revised Ed., Paul Pitchford, North Atlantic Books, Ca. USA
- Class Notes
Dr Mel Sydney-Smith, Nutritional Master Class, Qld, Aust.
Article by Shauna Kendall