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Calcium Concerns

Q:  I just started working with a new female, 56-year-old client who is on the verge of menopause.  She’s really concerned about bone density, so given what she’s “googled” on her own, she’s taking about 1500mg of calcium daily.  Isn’t this way over the top?  I know that calcium is important, but can’t it be dangerous too?  Should I recommend she decrease this dosage?

A:  Yes, yes, yes!   Studies repeatedly show that higher calcium intake does not help bones long-term.   Flexible bones are made up of a matrix of protein. We typically become vulnerable to fractures as we age because we stop digesting protein well and/or (for women at least) our estrogen levels plummet.  Make sure her gastrointestinal tract is working well and that she is consuming adequate protein.

Strong bones are fortified with a rich mix of minerals including magnesium, boron, strontium, magnesium, manganese, and calcium. Vitamin D and Vitamin K are also critical to make sure the calcium you eat actually makes it into your bones (vs. more dangerous places like your kidneys (as stones) or arteries (in calcified lining)).  We focus on calcium-alone to our detriment!  Despite promotion otherwise, high levels of calcium can end up hiding in other places in your body and causing big problems.

Dr. Walter Willet, from Harvard University’s School of Public Health has  recommended no more than 700mg total calcium per day for healthy adults. And part of this comes from food (even without dairy). So I recommend most healthy adults don’t need to supplement over 500mg unless there is a very targeted reason for doing so (and make sure it is not calcium carbonate but rather citrate or a mixed chelate).  Given your client’s age, I also recommend a Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 (make sure it’s the MK-7 form) supplement along with magnesium.  These three are at least as important as calcium alone!   Calcium may also constipate your client; if so, try adding extra magnesium citrate at night to support normal bowel movement.

Most often, however, I recommend the convenience of a combination formula that provide all these bone-building nutrients in a single supplement.  One of my favorite supplements for maintenance bone support is Jarrow’s “Bone Up” (I only recommend at half dose). For women who have severe osteopenia or osteoporosis, the more advanced Garden of Life product called “Grow Bone” features strontium and is a powerful remedy for slowing, stopping, and eventually reversing bone density loss. I have used this blend to achieve these results very successfully with many clients over the years.

8 Questions for “Calcium Concerns”

  1. 4
    Amanda Buse says:

    Hi Tracy! I’m looking for something to help build the bone tissue in my husband’s teeth. He’s 32 and primarily has a SAD diet (in spite of my encouragement lol) and his dentist told him that he is starting to have bone loss in his teeth. He told me something about tubules and possibly he will go see a periodontist. He has always had very sensitive teeth and receding gums. I have read the article you provide semester 101 about strontium. I would like to find him a supplement with magnesium, calcium, D3, K2, and strontium. I was checking out the Synergy Bone Renewal but the serving size is 5 capsules and it seems like there is a tiny amount of strontium (5mg) to the 800mg of calcium. (Jarrow’s bone up seems a little too much for him since he’s not a 50 yr old post menopausal woman with osteopenia.) The Garden of Life Grow Bone seems to have more strontium, but in light of the strontium article, it seems like it has more strontium than calcium which concerns me. So I’m still searching. Any thoughts on an appropriate combo formula is greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    • 4.1
      SAFM says:

      If you look closely at the Grow Bone package, you’ll see that given the recommended dosages, there is indeed more calcium than strontium in the formula. Grow Bone is the supplement I most often recommend to my clients with osteoporosis – in terms of addressing the loss. Just make sure it’s taken according to package directions re: dosage and timing. However, it’s most important to find and address the root cause. In terms of bone loss in teeth, I believe the most common cause is chronic gum infections. It’s important to think about regular oral hygiene as well as immune strength in this arena, perhaps recommending that your husband check his Vitamin D, Vitamin D, and RBC Zinc – in addition to RBC Magnesium in terms of supporting bone tissue. It’s also true that your husband may or may not need more calcium – depending on his dietary content. It may be that optimizing his magnesium and boosting Vitamin K2 dramatically may be the help he needs most (e.g. Life Extension’s “Super K”). I would also explore if the bone loss might be driven by clenching or grinding his teeth, especially at night. A well-experienced dentist will be able to tell this by looking at the surface of the teeth. If this is confirmed an issue, then depending on the type of behavior, a night guard or “NTI” device might be helpful in preventing further loss. I hope that’s helpful! I wish you both the best.

  2. 3
    Shanti Pappas says:

    For this client, would you recommend she stop the calcium supplementation altogether or would you recommend maybe the Natural Calm Mg with Calcium? I have a similar client who’s only reason for taking calcium (in Tums extra-strength form) is because her doctor recommended it since she is menopausal.

    • 3.1
      SAFM says:

      I think it’s critical to understand the true status of this client’s bone density vs. being motivated by her fears. In the case of osteopenia, I typically recommend getting calcium only via food. Indeed, Natural Calm with Calcium can be a way to get a relatively low supplement dose (~200mg/day) in a form that is highly absorbable. I personally wouldn’t go beyond that dose with evidence of am psteopenia concern – and also without ensuring the body has the other supportive nutrients on board first to be able to well manage the calcium. I believe it’s much more important to boost Vitamin D, Vitamin K2, and Magnesium to address these kinds of concerns at their root. And in addition to being extremely high in calcium, both tahini and arugula are so delicious! 🙂

  3. 2

    Have you ever looked at Bone Renewal by Synergy?

    • 2.1
      SAFM says:

      Yes! My research on Synergy supplements validates their use of high-quality ingredients, GMP manufacturing, and third-party validation. I often recommend their products to clients, especially those wanting to use food-based nutrients or who insist on fully vegetarian or vegan formulas, including this bone density supplement. Just keep in mind the importance of divided doses; I would only take 1-2 caps at a time with a meal, using only 4-5 total per day maximum.

  4. 1
    Nanci Church says:

    Hi Tracy,
    Following up on your suggestion about Jarrow’s Bone Up product relative to osteoporosis. I noticed the Mg is the oxide form which Dr. Hyman says not to use since it’s poorly absorbed. Should another Mg supplement be taken with the it?
    Is Source Naturals Progesterone cream a good brand and should one be tested before using it? Not clear on this and I’m not familiar with this cream. Thank you!

    • 1.1
      SAFM says:

      Thanks for your questions! Yes, I agree that magnesium oxide is not an optimal choice, and magnesium citrate is much better absorbed (you might appreciate this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2407766). Especially for someone who has an osteoporosis diagnosis, it’s important to measure RBC magnesium regularly to gauge whether a unique person is absorbing whatever form of magnesium is being used. Indeed, they may need an alternative form to enhance absorption. Keep in mind, however, that both mag oxide and mag citrate are very stimulatory to the bowels, and this is a limiter for some clients as well. In this latter case, if your client already has optimal bowel movements (or even loose ones) magnesium forms such as mag glycinate or mag malate are better choices, neither of which generally stimulate bowels significantly.

      I have limited experience with Source Naturals progesterone cream, given feedback from a couple of colleagues about the strong “chemical like” smell of it. I typically recommend Progesta-Care or Emerita brands of natural progesterone cream for my clients who wish to use it. In no case would I recommend progesterone cream would a client having clear data indicating their need for it – and also taking into consider the other hormone levels and each client’s unique situation. Symptoms of estrogen dominance do not necessarily indicate a need for more progesterone, so I believe having conclusive data is important.

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