Unbalanced Calcium Metabolism

Get to The Heart of The Matter

Calcium metabolism is how the mineral calcium is used in the body on the cellular level.  All ingested nutrients are broken down by the body into their smallest usable components (molecules or ions) and utilized by the cells so they are able to function.  A mineral ion is an electrically charged molecule (or atom) of a mineral element (such as calcium or magnesium), and is the actual form of the mineral that is used by the cells.  Unbalanced calcium metabolism is the faulty use of calcium ions on the cellular level.

Within each cell are numerous organ-like structures called organelles that have specific functions.  One of the functions of the endoplasmic reticulum organelle is to act as a storage unit for the mineral calcium (known as calcium sequestration), and making it available for use when needed (such as to trigger muscle contractions and blood clot formation).  If too much calcium is allowed to enter the cell, because there isn’t enough balancing magnesium on-site to properly regulate it (magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker), then the excess calcium causes the endoplasmic reticulum to fill up and spill over, flooding the interior of the cell with calcium ions.

Because ions have an electrical charge they are reactive, not unlike radicals.  In this regard, excess and unbalanced calcium ions act similar to the way in which free radicals act.  Excess and unbalanced calcium ions within the cells inhibit normal cellular function, causing dysfunction and eventually damaging the cells.  Such cell dysfunction and damage leads to eventual (and premature) cell demise – the source of many degenerative health conditions and premature aging.  The cells that get the greatest direct exposure to unbalanced calcium are the protective cells that line the interior of the arteries, the endothelial cells, because of their direct contact with the contents of the bloodstream (the body’s transport system for ingested nutrients, and where calcium is dumped if drained from the bones).

Damage to the endothelial cells is what sparks inflammation, which can be measured with a C-reactive protein (CRP) blood test.  It is the damage and inflammation together that trigger the formation of dystrophic calcification (as a sort of repair “patch” for the damage).  The damage is contributed to by free radicals, which causes even more damage, and it is this damage that stimulates the immune system’s inflammation signaling cytokines – forming a vicious cycle (which forms the basis for the dystrophic calcification to continue to slowly and insidiously grow and buildup).

This process can affect the function of the cardiovascular system, the kidneys, and the eyes.  It is contributed to by calcium being leached from the bones (the result of the regular consumption of acid-forming foods and drinks, such as meat, dairy products and sodas, as alkaline calcium attempts to buffer the excess acid), which weakens the bones.  This is also contributed to by the excess consumption of calcium (from food) and calcium supplements.

The damage (and resulting inflammation) that affects the cardiovascular system tends to occur where the arteries are the weakest and/or undergo the most amount of strain or blood turbulence, typically at the bifurcation (division) of the coronary arteries (that provide the heart with its blood supply), the carotid arteries (that provide the brain with its blood supply), and around the continuously opening and closing heart valves.  Gradual weakening of the blood vessels occurs beforehand with inadequate intakes of vitamin C (the anti-scurvy vitamin) over time.

Basically, excess calcium ions that are not properly balanced by adequate magnesium ions on an ongoing basis causes the metabolic condition of unbalanced calcium metabolism, which causes the endothelial cells that line the already weakened arteries to malfunction, eventually damaging these cells and artery lining, which causes arterial inflammation, which in turn triggers dystrophic calcification deposits.  The basic sequence: Too much calcium and not enough magnesium intake > unbalanced calcium metabolism > too much cellular calcium > endothelial cell dysfunction > endothelial cell damage > damage caused inflammation > dystrophic calcification formation and buildup in a sub-scurvy weakened cardiovascular system.

This cycle explains why, once started, arterial calcification always continues to grow and increase as time passes – unless the cycle is broken at the source – by balancing calcium metabolism, and is assisted by keeping the arterial system strong.

An adequate intake of the essential mineral magnesium (in its most bioavailable form), consumed on a daily basis, is the only thing that is able to balance calcium metabolism.  An adequate intake of vitamin C is the only thing that is able to prevent sub-scurvy.

The basic cause of unbalanced calcium metabolism, and weakened blood vessels, is the habitual consumption of an improper diet, and is contributed to by a lack of regular exercise which causes a drain of calcium from the bones and dumps it into the bloodstream.

Improper Diet

An improper diet consists of: 1. Habitual consumption of an excess amount of foods that contain excessive amounts of calcium (such as dairy and meat products); 2. Habitual consumption of foods that cause calcium to be leached out of the bones and dumped into the bloodstream (such as acid-forming animal foods, processed foods, sugar and other refined carbs, and sodas, even “diet” sodas, because of their high phosphoric acid content, all of which can upset the normal pH balance of the blood); and 3. Habitual consumption of calcium-fortified foods and excess calcium supplements (ostensibly for bone health).  (See “The Role of Calcium” for informative and insightful information about how calcium is actually used in the human body, with optimum amounts suggested for health that do not contribute to unbalanced calcium metabolism.)

A diet that primarily consists of animal foods (meat and dairy) and processed foods causes a shift in the blood’s normal and critically important pH balance from slightly alkaline to acidic.  When this occurs, alkaline calcium is drawn from the bones in an effort to correct this imbalance and return the blood to its normal pH balance.  Alkaline fruit and vegetable consumption and regular exercise (especially regular walking) are the best ways to maintain a normal pH balance of the blood and prevent a calcium drain from the bones.  The best way to maintain or even increase bone density and strength is to exercise regularly, and to regularly consume pH balancing fruits and vegetables.  From a pH balancing standpoint, plant foods balance animal foods.  Balance is the key.

Contributing to an improper diet is the regular consumption of excess amounts of saturated fats (from animal foods), and consuming any amount of the especially unhealthy trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in processed foods), both of which can spark free radical production that can contribute to damage of the endothelial cells that line the arteries – which can be controlled to a large extent by the naturally occurring antioxidants in fruits and vegetables.  Trans fats (vegetable oils that have had hydrogen molecules added transforming a polyunsaturated fat into more of a hydrogen saturated fat, thus called “hydrogenated”), and excess saturated fats (from meat and dairy products) are considered the “bad fats.” From an antioxidant and health standpoint, plant foods balance animal foods (and trans fats shouldn’t be consumed at all).

Also contributing to an improper diet is the predominate consumption of omega-6 polyunsaturated vegetable oils in favor of the much healthier omega-3 fatty acids (from fish and seafood) and non-hydrogenated omega-9 fatty acids (from olive, canola and peanut oils, avocados, peanuts, olives, nuts and seeds).  (All dietary fats and oils are composed of fatty acids.)  Diets where omega-6 fatty acids predominate are known to accentuate free radical production and have been implicated in various health conditions.  A healthy diet is one where omega-3 fatty acids and non-hydrogenated omega-9 fatty acids have a dominant balance over omega-6 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids and non-hydrogenated omega-9 fatty acids are considered the “good fats.”

Some food producers in an effort to extend product shelf life ruin an otherwise healthy oil (such as olive oil or canola oil) by hydrogenating it, thus transforming it into a decidedly unhealthy trans fat.

“Interesterification,” a process that has replaced hydrogenation in some products such as certain brands of margarine to make the oil into a solid, unfortunately also changes the molecular structure of the oil similar to hydrogenation, which carries with it untold health consequences when regularly consumed over time.  Also, excessive cooking heat, or the charring of meat, can change the molecular structure of fats and oils rendering them unhealthy (the excessive heat and charring forms substances thought to be especially unhealthful if consumed).  Olive oil, with its low heating threshold (aka: smoke point), is especially susceptible to breakdown, while canola oil and coconut oil, with their higher heating threshold, are thought to be better choices for cooking.

It has also been found that processed and cured meat products are particularly unhealthy, primarily because of their high sodium content and the preservatives sodium nitrate (NaNO3) and sodium nitrite (NaNO2) which together are thought to be especially unhealthy and can affect the colon, breasts, prostate, and pancreas.  (Reference: Pulse, April 23, 2005, Vol. 65, Issue 16, page 10.)  Research has shown that sodium nitrite can react with protein-rich foods, such as meat, to produce particularly unhealthy N-nitroso compounds when cooked, especially when using high heat.  (Reference: World Cancer Research Fund UK, et al.)  Recent research has indicated that the regular consumption of processed meat products increases the risk of cardiovascular problems by 42% (reported by the journal Circulation, 2011), and increases the risk of blood glucose problems by 19% (reported by Agence France-Presse, 2011).

Another very significant aspect of an improper diet is the regular or excessive consumption of carbohydrates (carbs) that have been refined, which are known as “bad carbs” (refined grain products, all forms of sugar, and alcohol).  The refining process literally strips away the nutrient value while leaving only the “bad carb” portion.  When ingested, the body can’t distinguish between ordinary white refined sugar and any other form of “bad carb” which are rapidly taken up and converted to blood glucose (blood sugar).  Because they are refined they require less processing by the body and is why they are quickly converted to blood glucose.  This explains the so-called “sugar high” when eating excessive amounts of sweets, and contributes to the slight “buzz” an infrequent drinker may sometimes feel with only a sip or two of an alcoholic beverage on an empty stomach.  The brain preferentially needs a continuous supply of blood glucose to function, but when the refined “bad carbs” are consumed they spike the blood glucose level which is quickly delivered to the brain via the bloodstream (which is especially a problem for those with blood glucose problems).  The regular consumption of refined carbs, sugar, sugar-laden foods, or alcoholic beverages leads to weight gain, obesity, insulin resistance, and eventually to more serious blood glucose problems, and is a contributory factor in free radical production and damage to the endothelial cells that line the interior of the arteries.  Blood glucose problems, which is caused by the habitual consumption of refined carbs and sugar-laden foods (i.e., the “bad carbs”), is the fundamental inability of the body (on the cellular level) to properly process glucose and utilize insulin.  (See “The Advanced Glycemic Index” and the mineral “Chromium” for more details about insulin resistance and blood glucose problems, and their link to cardiovascular problems.)

“Bad carbs” should not be confused with the “good carbs” (100% whole grain products, legumes, vegetables, whole fresh fruits, and foods that contain dietary fiber), which are taken up by the body and converted into blood glucose in a slower and more steady manner (not causing a spike of blood glucose or insulin levels), and are needed by the body to provide metabolism energy in a healthful way.

Metabolism is the series of dynamic processes by which food is converted into energy on the cellular level for generating body heat (which is vital for life and is distributed throughout the body via the bloodstream), and to support the life-sustaining function of the cells.  The energy potential of food is measured in calories.  A “calorie” is not a physical thing but rather is a measurement of body heat potential, similar to the way in which a “degree” is not a physical thing but rather a measurement of temperature.  Hence, when calories are “burned” they stoke the metabolism to generate body heat and facilitate cell function.  As a result (and even though a little misleading), the word “energy” is often synonymously interchanged for the word “calories,” especially by food producers for product promotion purposes, with it being much easier to promote a food that supplies “energy” rather than saying it supplies “calories.”  The number of calories per gram of food are: Fats = 9, Alcohol = 7, Protein = 4, and Carbs = 4.  However, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source for energy, while fats are the secondary source, with protein being spared as the last source.  The major nutrients can be thought of as providing: Protein for structure, Carbs for energy, and Fats for protection.  (See “Nutrients – The Basis of Life & Health” for more detailed information.)

“Bad carbs” used to be called “empty calories” (which they are) because they contain no healthful nutrients and only provide calories.  The consumption of empty calories (“bad carbs”) causes a quick elevation in blood glucose (blood sugar), an excess of which is converted into triglycerides (blood fats) and readily stored in adipose tissues as body fat (excess dietary fat is also stored as body fat, but because refined “bad carbs” are taken up quicker they are stored as body fat much more readily).  This is compared to the “good carbs” which requires more processing by the body before they are converted into blood glucose, which is also slowed by their fiber content (which is missing in the refined “bad carbs”), thus preventing a blood glucose flood.

Chronically elevated blood glucose (measured with a simple blood test) causes eventual insulin resistance, which can lead to more serious blood glucose problems, and is readily transformed into triglycerides.  Elevated blood triglycerides (which is also measured with a simple blood test) is the root cause of body fat storage and weight gain, and is especially susceptible to free radical damage.  Elevated blood glucose and elevated blood triglycerides (caused by the regular consumption of “bad carbs”) are well-established as promoting obesity and are risk factors for cardiovascular problems.  In addition to being a major risk factor for cardiovascular problems, elevated triglycerides is also one of the best predictors of impending serious blood glucose problems.

Interestingly, and in addition to lung and cardiovascular problems, it is well-known that smokers are especially prone to dystrophic calcification in the carotid arteries that supplies the brain with its vitally needed blood supply, while the regular daily intake of adequate vitamin C is thought to somewhat help counter some of the damage done by smoking.  This is yet another example of how what we put in our mouth affects our health.

The Remedy

Simply put, the remedy for unbalanced calcium metabolism and a fragile vascular system is regularly consuming a proper diet, assisted by regular exercise.

Not consuming enough of the foods that contain the balancing mineral magnesium (such as a variety of plant foods and seafood), results in insufficient magnesium that is needed to balance excess calcium.  Only magnesium can balance calcium metabolism.

Not consuming enough of the foods that contain the blood vessel-strengthening vitamin C (such as a variety of fruits and vegetables), results in insufficient vitamin C that is needed to maintain the structural integrity of the blood vessels.  Only vitamin C can maintain the structural integrity of the vascular system and prevent the deficiency condition of “scurvy.”

Consuming a proper diet on a regular basis is the foundation of health, and especially supports heart health.  However, if the damage has already been done as a result of habitually consuming an improper diet, then perhaps it’s time to consider supplementing the diet with magnesium and vitamin C – in their most effective form available – in addition to switching over to a proper diet and engaging in regular exercise.

(See “Proper Nutrition” and “Regular Exercise” in the “Five Pillars of Health,” “Potentiated Magnesium,” “How pMg Works,” “The Role of Calcium,” “Magnesium,” and “Vitamin C” for more insightful information.)

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