Calcium And Vitamin D Supplements
Are They Always Good For Us?
While the dairy industry convinced us that we can be cool like the celebrities with milk mustaches if we consume enough milk, the medical community convinced us that if we didn’t consume enough dairy products our bones would melt.
But if some calcium helps our bones to be strong, would getting more calcium help them be even stronger?
In truth, it’s more complicated than that. Getting sufficient calcium is important for the health of our bones and teeth, but without direction as to how this mineral is used, it can end up in the wrong places and wreak havoc on our health.
So how can we be sure that the calcium we’re consuming is making our bones and teeth stronger?
In a study published in 2015 (British Medical Journal), researchers at the University of Auckland and the University of Otago in New Zealand looked at patients over the age of 50 who consumed dietary and supplemental calcium. The study concluded there was very little evidence increased calcium intake prevents fractures.
In 2017, researchers led by Dr. Jia-Guo Zhao of Tianjin Hospital in northeastern China looked through clinical trials, systematic reviews and other reports published over the last decade. They identified over 51,000 people who were included in studies assessing the role of calcium and/or vitamin D in preventing bone fractures.
Dr. Jia-Guo Zhao and his teams findings were similar to those from the study in New Zealand, with no relationship between calcium intake and the incidence of bone fractures.
In their study, they also looked at the role of vitamin D in addition to calcium, as it’s commonly believed that vitamin D helps to absorb calcium. When they looked at trials which involved people taking a combined vitamin D/calcium supplement, they found there was no link between the use of these supplements and the risk of fractures.
In addition, they found that for people who started out with at least 20 nanograms of Vitamin D per milliliter of blood, adding more vitamin D through supplements was associated with a greater risk of hip fractures.
Why doesn’t supplementing vitamin D and calcium strengthen bones?
Conventional medical wisdom would suggest that simply increasing vitamin D and calcium levels should lead to stronger bones that are less likely to fracture. So why did these studies find no correlation between supplementing calcium/vitamin D and stronger bones?
Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and it has been studied extensively. Research has shown vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis and autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, cancer and many other diseases.
Despite the evidence in support of sufficient vitamin D levels in the body, it is estimated that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
The good news is that physicians recognize this research into Vitamin D deficiencies, and will routinely prescribe Vitamin D to those that are tested and found to be low.
The bad news is that they seldom address the underlying causes of vitamin D deficiency and what it means for our health.
What is Vitamin D’s Role in the Body?
Vitamin D has many different and important roles in our body. It helps regulate calcium and other minerals, increases calcium absorption from our food, influences our immune system, and helps in cell differentiation, blood pressure regulation, and insulin secretion.
High dose vitamin D can be dangerous, as it can lead to something called hypercalcemia, a.k.a. high levels of calcium in the blood. This condition is rare, as it would require very high doses of vitamin D, in the range of 30,000-40,000 IU per day, which is much higher than the recommended daily intake. (Not to worry, you can’t get too much vitamin D from sun exposure as your body will cease production at roughly 10,000 IU per day).
However, even lower doses may be potentially dangerous. High vitamin D levels increase calcium levels in the body. These high levels may show up as Hypercalciuria, otherwise known as kidney stones. This occurs when the body tries to excrete excess calcium via the kidneys.
Excreting excess calcium is not the only way that the body manages this - the mineral may deposit itself throughout the soft tissues of the body, including muscles and arteries.
Given the risks of high calcium levels in the body, supplementing vitamin D should be done with care. Kidney stones, myofascial (muscle) pain, and heart disease are serious problems.
Why Are Vitamin D Levels Low?
One theory for why vitamin D levels may be low is that calcium levels are already too high. The body may reduce vitamin D production to minimize further increases in calcium.
There are many reasons why calcium levels may be too high. Ensuring that calcium gets used effectively, delivered to the bones and teeth instead of in places where it can cause debilitating and life-threatening problems, is crucial to our overall health and well-being.
The studies mentioned above concluded that there was no overall benefit to bone health from supplementing calcium and vitamin D. This suggests that calcium wasn’t being properly used for bone health, which likely means that the calcium that wasn’t making it to bone was ending up in soft tissue like muscle and arteries.
If we could repeat these studies, what else would we supplement to improve the results, using calcium in soft tissue to build stronger bones?
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body, as it is involved in hundreds of different biological processes, including in the production of ATP, the body’s energy currency.
In muscle, calcium and magnesium work as a sort of switching mechanism, in which calcium induces muscle contraction while magnesium causes muscles to relax. Too much calcium without enough magnesium will lead to stiff muscles that don’t ever completely relax, and in the extreme muscle can even become locked. Muscle spasms are extremely painful, and spasms which become permanent can make daily life nearly impossible.
Excess calcium in muscle and arteries combined with a magnesium deficiency is very common. Most people are magnesium deficient, for many different reasons. Soil levels of magnesium keep falling every year due to modern farming practices, making it increasingly difficult to meet our needs from food alone, and our increasingly stressful lives deplete our bodies magnesium levels further. Alcohol, smoking, prescription drugs, sugar, and poor gut health all deplete our magnesium levels.
On the other side of the equation, we’re encouraged to consume lots of calcium through dairy products, and often people with weak bones (prone to arthritis) are prescribed calcium and/or vitamin D from their physicians. This elevates calcium levels in soft tissue, making it more difficult for muscles to function normally.
Supplementing magnesium through eating magnesium-rich foods, taking oral or transdermal supplements, bathing in magnesium sulfate, or taking it intravenously are all good ways to increase our magnesium levels so as to encourage balanced calcium and magnesium levels for better muscle health and help to reduce the risk of calcification of our arteries.
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and an essential factor in brain, bone and immune formation.
Just like vitamin D, high levels of vitamin A in the body can be dangerous if they reach toxic levels. The good news is that vitamin D can help prevent vitamin A toxicity, and vitamin A can help prevent vitamin D toxicity. Ensuring adequate levels of both is a protective mechanism for our bodies.
In the modern world, vitamin A deficiency is common. Foods high in vitamin A such as organ and grass-fed meats are not commonly consumed and there is an unreasonable fear of vitamin A toxicity. Fortunately, vitamin A is only dangerous when taking ultra-high doses (100,000+ IU per day for more than 6 months) or when consuming excessive amounts of synthetic beta-carotene (which is not vitamin A).
- Vitamin K2
The “K” in vitamin K comes from the German word koagulation. Coagulation is the process of blood clot formation. Vitamin K allows the body to use calcium to perform its clotting function. If vitamin K levels are low, calcium cannot be used for this role.
In relation to bone health, vitamin K regulates osteocalcin, a protein important for bone mineralization and studies have shown that vitamin K2 supplementation can improve osteoporosis and reduce fracture rates.
Vitamin K2 also controls a protein called Matrix GLA which is responsible for preventing excess calcium from becoming deposited in soft tissues. It acts as a calcium mop in areas of the body that should not be hardened or calcified. The ability of vitamin K2 to not only increase calcium usage in bone formation but also prevent the calcification of arteries and muscles clearly highlights its importance in both bone and cardiovascular health.
Zinc is essential to human health. It aids in healthy cell signaling which helps control hormone release and it helps support healthy immune function by promoting the development of immune cells to help fight off infection.
Zinc also contributes to strong bones. It regulates gene activity in developing bone cells and prevents the development of osteoclasts which destroy old bone tissue. It also activates genes needed to make osteoblasts, the cells that deposit new bone tissue (by depositing calcium into bone). Zinc is critical for both preventing bones from degrading and promoting the use of calcium in new bone growth.
Zinc deficiency is not uncommon. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the global prevalence of zinc deficiency is 31%. Zinc deficiency is ranked as the fifth leading risk factor for disease worldwide. The Linus Pauling Institute estimates that up to 2 billion people are affected by marginal zinc levels, affecting every aspect of their health.
Putting it all together – We need balance
When clinical studies are done, typically a pharmaceutical approach is used. One drug, one mechanism, one group of people. From there, the results are analyzed.
When it comes to nutrition and supplementing vitamins and minerals, this often leads to disappointing results. Our bodies are complex, and the interactions between vitamins and minerals are numerous. It shouldn’t be surprising that when we test one mineral or vitamin we don’t always see significant results.
As outlined above, without sufficient magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin K2, and zinc, the body doesn’t have the resources it needs to effectively manage where calcium is directed into the body.
Chronic pain (an epidemic across the world), heart disease (the number one killer in developed nations), fibromyalgia, kidney stones, depression, anxiety, bone fractures, arthritis, (and many others, almost too many to list), are all at least partially affected by deficiencies in these crucial minerals/vitamins.
The point is not to be scared of calcium or vitamin D – they are vital for our health and we need to get enough of them. However, we need them in balance so that our bodies can use these key nutrients together. A deficiency in any of these nutrients can upset our bodies natural systems and cause disease.
What Can You Do?
Get outside – In the summer months try to get exposure to the sun for up to 30 minutes during the midday hours. Staying indoors and always using sunscreen (note: for prolonged sun exposure sunscreen is necessary) prevents our bodies from making vitamin D naturally.
Focus on nutrition – Eat lots of greens, colorful fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, cod liver oil, organ meats and grass-fed meats. Focus on eating whole, natural foods. Try to avoid processed foods and sugary beverages.
Understand how drugs affect these systems – Many medications such as cholesterol-blocking drugs like statins, and/or high blood pressure drugs can negatively affect the way vitamins and minerals work in your body. Seek out health practitioners who understand how the drugs you work take so that you can either limit their use and/or supplement effectively.
Make sure you supplement vitamin D with vitamin A & K2 – It’s difficult to always get the nutrients that your body needs on a daily basis. In winter especially, supplementing vitamin D is likely safe, especially when other nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin K2, and magnesium are included. Our supplement Vitamin D-K2 Balance includes balanced amounts of vitamin D3, K2, and A.
Supplement with magnesium and zinc – Magnesium and zinc are critical to our health, and most of us are deficient. Supplement with magnesium and zinc to help ensure that calcium is directed to the right places in the body. Our supplement Magnesium Balance includes highly absorbable magnesium (bound to amino acids malate and glycine which helps to relax and energize muscles), as well as zinc. It also contains vitamin B6 which has been shown to help deliver magnesium and zinc to the cells where it is most needed.
There Is No Magic Pill
Whether it’s drugs or supplements, there is no magic pill that can solve every problem. Our bodies are extremely complex, but the good news is that when we focus on the basic building blocks we can experience great health throughout our lives.
When it comes to changing habits related to our diets and health, it’s best to focus on one change at a time so as to not get overwhelmed. What’s one thing that you could do today to help ensure that your body can more effectively use calcium and vitamin D to create stronger bones and teeth and reduce the risk from all the calcium overload diseases?
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