To Take Calcium Or Not To Take Calcium?
Ramona Richards is available at Way of Life for free nutritional advice
What is really the question?
by Ramona A. Richard, BA, NC
A decade or two ago we were told to supplement with calcium to prevent bone loss and avoid osteoporosis. We bought a bottle of calcium. Several years later we were told to take magnesium as well; magnesium is needed to help balance calcium in the body. OK. We next bought a bottle of Cal-Mag. Some years later, we learned that we needed vitamin D in order for the calcium to get fully absorbed. We dutifully bought Cal-Mag with D.
Now we hear that taking calcium is associated with a risk for heart disease! A European study of 24,000 patients, reported in the journal Heart1 in June of this year, linked calcium supplementation with heart attacks. Support my bones or my heart? Are we confused yet???
In order to make sense of all this, we need to look at the mechanism by which calcium can contribute to heart disease. Indeed, we need look no further than the artery walls. Calcium is known to collect in arteries. This contributes to the plaquing that we know as atherosclerosis, precursor to heart attacks. Meanwhile, our bones are starving for calcium! But to advise that we should stop taking calcium is to miss the larger point. That larger point involves a nutrient known as vitamin K2 or menaquinone. This is the real question: How can we get calcium safely into our bones and keep it away from soft tissues, like arteries? K2 basically funnels calcium into the bones to strengthen mineral density and fight fractures while it prevents and even removes dangerous arterial calcifications. As Dr. Kate Rhéaume-Bleue, Naturopath and authority on vitamin K2 points out, “there is more than a coincidental association between brittle bones and hardened arteries.”
Vitamin K2 activates a protein in our bones called osteocalcin, whose job is to grab calcium and incorporate it into the bone matrix. Without K2, osteocalcin is not activated and bone density is compromised. K2 also activates a protein in our artery walls called matrix GLA protein, which prevents calcium from depositing in the artery. A deficiency of K2, then, allows soft tissue calcification and weakened bones
Did our grandmothers have these issues, we might ask? Did they have vitamin K2 available to protect their bones and their arteries? Sources of K2, indeed, used to be abundant in the human diet. Vitamin K2 is found in the fats of animals allowed to graze on green pastures. This includes the marbling of meats from pastured cows, the butter, cream and cheese made from their milk, the egg yolk of chickens allowed to peck freely, the lard of grass-fed animals in general. (It is also found in the Japanese food, natto—a food most Americans find unpalatable.) It is now easy to understand why we are so deficient that osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease are rampant. These are the very foods we have been taught are dangerous to our health! Current scientific literature has, fortunately, debunked the idea that saturated fat produces heart disease. However, our cows and chickens are now raised in confined quarters and fed grains, a situation that does not allow production of K2 in their fats. We have efficiently eliminated this important vitamin from our diets and sadly are paying the price.
Supplementing with Vitamin K2 has become not only important but critical. (see sidebar for supplements available at Way of Life) K2 supplements come in several forms: menaquinone -7 (MK-7) and menaquinone-4 (MK-4) are the most common. MK-7 is preferable as it stays in the blood stream much longer than MK-4. K2 supplementation is an easy way to correct this significant deficiency, make calcium supplements safe, strengthen our bones and protect our arteries!
Ramona Richard, BA, NC is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and life-long resident of Santa Cruz County. She owns Radiance, Diet & Nutrition Education, a consulting company and serves as Practitioner at Way of Life, in Capitola. Ramona can be reached at Way of Life at 464-4113 or at email@example.com
Ramona will be speaking at the Fall Way of Life Health lecture series on the topic Digging Deeper into the Calcium Supplementation Issue: A comprehensive look at building bone density, Tuesday September 25th 7:30-9:00PM. Save the date!
1) Li K, Kaaks R, Linseisen J, RohrmannS. (June, 2012). Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC-Heidelberg). Heart,98,920-5.
2) Rhéaume-Bleue, Kate. (2012). Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox. Ontario, Canada:John Wiley & Sons Canada,Ltd