The Good – The Bad – The Ugly
To understand unbalanced calcium metabolism and how it is the underlying cause of dystrophic calcification, it is important to understand the basics of how the mineral calcium is actually used in the human body.
We have been led to believe that the consumption of large amounts of the mineral calcium are necessary to maintain good health in adulthood, primarily to prevent or remedy the thinning and weakening of bones. This has been fueled by quite successful ads by the dairy industry (“Got Milk?”), and by food manufacturers adding calcium to everything from breakfast cereals (up to 60% of the Daily Value) to orange juice (35% of the Daily Value). This is easy to understand. It propels an otherwise mundane product by providing an advertising “hook” to grab the consumers’ attention and make them feel they are getting something that is good for them. The government has fueled this notion with their food labeling precept by requiring the listing of the “Percent Daily Value” for calcium, which is generally perceived as somehow placing a higher degree of value on the amount of dietary calcium that should theoretically be consumed each day.
A closer look at calcium and its biological role in the function of the human body reveals some very interesting and quite significant incongruities when compared with the food manufacturer’s marketing hype, and adds real perspective to the true value of dietary calcium – as well as its shortcomings.
Calcium (Ca), like all minerals, originates in the earth. Thus, calcium is a natural constituent of soil and water and enters the diet naturally with the consumption of plants grown in soil and from the water we drink. We also get calcium from eating animal flesh and especially by consuming dairy products (cows eat the plants which concentrates calcium in their milk). According to the U.S. government, the high consumption of dairy products by the U.S. population is what contributes 55-60% of their calcium intake. In addition, calcium recently has been added to all manner of manufactured foods as so-called “fortification,” and is even the main ingredient in most antacid preparations (the most popular selling over-the-counter medication consumed in the U.S.). Added to this is the barrage of calcium supplement promotions – primarily by the manufacturers of the calcium supplements themselves, and by well-meaning if not fully knowledgeable doctors, article writers, and some talk-show and show-biz personalities.
Calcium & Bones
Calcium has several important functions in the human body. Calcium helps form bones throughout the formative years (childhood up to about the age of 20-25) during which longitudinal (length) bone growth occurs. After the longitudinal bone growth stops, their thickness and density continues to grow until about age 30-35 when peak bone mass is believed to be established. However, once peak bone mass has been established, and contrary to popular belief, supplemental calcium intake has very little impact on bone loss.
Many people (including most doctors) don’t fully realize that although calcium is a major component of bone, it is only one of several factors that are essential for the proper utilization of calcium and for bone formation and strength. Other essential nutrients required for proper calcium utilization and bone formation and strength include: Magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, fluorine, silicon, boron, silica, strontium, folic acid, vitamin B-6, vitamin C and vitamin D, as well as adequate protein amino acids to form collagen (all of which are available in a well-balanced diet, primarily based on plant foods and seafood). Fundamentally, bones are formed from collagen (with the aid of vitamin C) and are then hardened with calcium and the other minerals, with this being known as “mineralization.” It is mineralization that makes bones hard and gives them their strength, especially during the formative years.
The greatest need for dietary calcium for proper bone mineralization is during the longitudinal bone growth years (to about age 20-25), followed by the mineralization requirements to achieve peak bone mass (about age 30-35). After achieving peak bone mass, the body’s requirement for calcium drops sharply. Achieving peak bone mass is important for bone health. The greater the peak bone mass, the greater the retained bone density and bone strength as we age.
Unfortunately, we have been led to believe that large intakes of calcium are important as we age to retain bone strength. However, large intakes of calcium in older adults tends to actually make bones more brittle, while it is the mineral magnesium (which is an important part of bone mineralization) that helps keep bones more flexible. And, flexible bones are less susceptible to fracture than brittle bones – a particularly important consideration for older adults. Plus, the best and most bioavailable source for calcium is that which is naturally present in food, rather than from supplements and fortified foods.
Bone loss gradually occurs as we age – especially if physically inactive. Bone loss in women is accelerated during menopause as a result of reduced estrogen production, with bone loss in men generally lagging about 10-15 years behind that of women. Bone loss occurs in both men and women with physical inactivity – especially as we age. (Reference: “Physical Activity and Health – A Report of the Surgeon General, Executive Summary”)
Heredity influences bone mass (those who have big bones tend to come from parents with big bones), while hormones and physical activity influences bone mass and bone metabolism, which is known as “remodeling.”
Bone remodeling is a life-long process where two things occur: Bone Formation and Bone Resorption. In adults, old bone is continuously removed (resorption) and is balanced with new bone being added (formation), with this occurring at the rate of about 5-10% per year (up to 50% per year in young children). It is these two processes of bone remodeling that control the reshaping and replacement of bone during growth (and following an injury), with it being the balance between formation and resorption that is one of the most important factors in bone health – and, as it turns out, in heart health.
Bone, a dynamic functioning structure, responds to functional demands and physical demands (such as exercise). Like muscles, bone is capable of growth and strength improvements with exercise stimulation (albeit more slowly than muscles because of bone’s greater hardness structure and density than muscles). Bone remodeling is bone metabolism, and is basically how bone functions. If bone remodeling becomes out of balance, with greater bone loss than bone being added, the bones get weaker and become subject to easier breakage. Anyone with this will also have unbalanced calcium metabolism and dystrophic calcification – the result of overloading the bloodstream with the excess calcium lost from the bones.
Unbalanced bone metabolism is a contributory factor in unbalanced calcium metabolism – the underlying cause of dystrophic calcification (calcium deposits in soft tissues), which is a ticking time bomb within (as it is called in the 2005 book “The Calcium Bomb” by Douglas Mulhall & Katja Hansen). (See “Unbalanced Calcium Metabolism” for more details.)
During the bone’s formative years, until peak bone mass is reached at about age 30-35, about 99% of the calcium consumed is used for bone growth. The bones are the body’s storehouse for calcium, with calcium accounting for about 1 to 2% of adult human body weight. With calcium being heavily promoted in dairy products, manufactured foods, and calcium supplements – ostensibly to ward off weak bones – it is commonly believed that bone is 100% calcium. However, this is not correct. It has been scientifically determined that bone contains only 32.3% calcium by weight – a little less than one-third of bone. With 99% of the calcium in the human body being stored in the bones and teeth, it is easy to overlook the remaining 1%.
The remaining 1% of calcium (that is not stored in the bones and teeth) is present in the blood, in extracellular fluid, inside cells, in muscle and vascular tissues, and is critical in such vital functions as: (1) Nerve impulse transmissions; (2) Muscle and blood vessel contractions; (3) Membrane permeability; (4) Blood coagulation and blood clotting; and (5) To help maintain the pH balance of the blood. These vital functions are so important that in the face of inadequate calcium intake or absorption, calcium stored in the bones is sacrificed (i.e., drawn out of the bones) to maintain adequate calcium levels in the blood and tissues necessary for the vital functions to occur. The amount of calcium concentration in the blood and tissues is believed to be maintained by interactions with several hormones and other nutrients, most notably magnesium and phosphorus. Magnesium balances calcium, and how it is used in the human body.
Calcium also has a negative side. In the past, most just thought that excessive amounts of calcium intake only overburdened the excretory efforts of the kidneys, induced constipation, and increased the risk of urinary tract stone formation (kidney stones), which it does. However, the most recent research is beginning to provide a better understanding of exactly how excess calcium is used and affects the body. Excess calcium intake, especially with insufficient intake of the balancing nutrient magnesium, disrupts and unbalances calcium metabolism (the bodily process by which calcium is utilized). Chronically unbalanced calcium metabolism causes dystrophic calcification (unnatural calcium deposits in soft tissues), and has been established as the underlying cause of dystrophic calcification that most affects the endothelial cells of the cardiovascular system, and also affects the kidneys and the eyes.
Calcium ions (the actual calcium particles that are used in the body) are distinguished by them containing a positive electrical charge, hence calcium being a cation electrolyte, which when unbalanced may give rise to its ability to attract and fuse to negative charged soft tissue (as in dystrophic calcification). Like calcium ions, magnesium ions are also a cation electrolyte, which may help to shed light on how adequate ingested magnesium would be available and on-site to balance calcium metabolism.
A closer look at how calcium is used in the adult human body, and how much is actually needed for its biological functions, is quite revealing.
First of all, and quite importantly, calcium is not used in the sense that it is degraded in large amounts during its biological functions and then needs to be continually replenished. Rather, it is fundamentally withdrawn from storage, used, and then returned to storage. This simple fact about calcium is often overlooked. Calcium’s use is typified in muscle contractions: Ionic calcium is stored in the endoplasmic reticulum portion of muscle cells, from which it is released to activate muscle contractions, then after use it is returned to the endoplasmic reticulum organelles for storage – with very little calcium loss.
Secondly, the amount of calcium needed by the adult human body for all its biological functions is much less than most people commonly believe, and is certainly much less than most people consume.
In a landmark study of calcium consumption and arterial calcification by British researcher Dr. Stephen Seely (Department of Cardiology, University of Manchester, The Royal Infirmary, Manchester England, U.K.), the daily requirements of the human body for calcium were carefully delineated. Dr. Seely, who is a longtime specialist in the study of diet and its connection to arterial calcification formation and buildup, carefully calculated the daily requirements for dietary calcium, and in so doing carefully took into account all bodily requirements and all possible daily losses of calcium, and even took into account the relatively poor assimilation nature of dietary calcium.
Dr. Seely calculated, with considerable convincing evidence, that the amount of dietary calcium, from all sources (food and supplements combined), needed by the human body to completely satisfy all bodily requirements for the health and normal function of most healthy people under normal conditions, and at the same time does not contribute to unbalanced calcium metabolism and arterial calcification formation and buildup, to be:
650 mg per day for women in their last trimester of pregnancy and during lactation;
325 mg per day for youngsters and young adults (up to 35 years of age);
220 mg per day for middle-aged adults (36-47 years of age); and
170 mg per day for older adults (48 and older).
These represent significant differences from the amount of dietary calcium commonly recommended and actually ingested by most people in the U.S. and in other countries that consume the typical Western diet – where cardiovascular problems are of epidemic proportions. (Reference: “Is Calcium Excess in Western Diet a Major Cause of Arterial Disease” by Dr. Stephen Seely, International Journal of Cardiology, 1991, Vol. 33, pages 191-198)
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that in most Asian and African countries the average daily intake of calcium is around 300-400 mg per day. And in several epidemiological studies it has been found that in countries where the calcium intake is 200-400 mg per day arterial calcification is non-existent, and blood pressure does not increase with age. By contrast, in countries where the calcium intake is around the RDA/DRI arterial calcification buildup and elevated blood pressure are common, while in countries where the calcium intake is well in excess of the RDA/DRI arterial calcification buildup and elevated blood pressure are rampant. (Reference: World Health Organization)
The 10th Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), published by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in 1989, has some interesting and often overlooked things to say about calcium intake levels:
“Infants and Children – Infants thrive on an average intake of 240 mg of calcium from 750 ml of human milk, of which they retain approximately two-thirds. The retention of calcium from formulas based on cow’s milk is less than one-half. Therefore, the recommendation for formula-fed infants is 400 mg/day for the first 6 months of life. An allowance of 600 mg/day would suffice for the next 6 months and 800 mg/day at ages 1 to 10 years. These latter allowances are arbitrary, since specific data on requirements of this age group are lacking.” (emphasis added)
The report goes on to say:
“Adults and Adolescents – An optimal calcium intake is difficult to define, given the substantial adaptive capacity and long lag period before changes in status can be detected. It is not surprising that recommendations in different countries vary widely, from a low of 400 mg/day for women in Thailand to a high of 1,000 mg for both sexes over 75 years of age in the Netherlands. Concern for the high proportion of postmenopausal women at risk for osteoporosis has led some to suggest that the RDA for calcium should be increased markedly (NIH, 1984). This subcommittee is not persuaded by the evidence in hand that the long-standing RDAs should be revised upward in response to this medical concern.” (emphasis added)
The report continues with:
“Nor is the subcommittee convinced that levels should be lowered to those recommended by international groups (e.g., FAO, 1962) despite the evidence that many population groups seemingly maintain satisfactory status with much lower intakes of calcium than the RDA.” (emphasis added)
The Council goes on to recommend:
“An intake of 1,200 mg is recommended for both sex groups from age 11 to 24 years, [and] throughout pregnancy and lactation, irrespective of age. For older age groups, the previous allowance of 800 mg is retained.”
It is interesting to note that the most authoritative government recommendations (theoretically) of its time, the RDA (National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences), hedges by saying: (1) “An optimal amount of calcium intake is difficult to define;” (2) These are our recommendations but they are “arbitrary;” (3) We’re not sure because “data is lacking;” and (4) Perhaps most importantly, completely ignoring the evidence of other international groups, they state: “Many population groups seemingly maintain satisfactory status with much lower intakes of calcium than the RDA.” This is an interesting dichotomy. They make intake recommendations, but then heavily qualify them with statements of uncertainty.
Another important aspect of the RDA that is almost always overlooked by everyone, doctors included, is that the RDA is for: “A total calcium intake for people in good health.” That means the total amount of calcium from all sources combined – diet and supplementation – and for people who have good health. In fact, the RDA book specifically warns about too much supplemental calcium intake: “Supplementation to a total calcium intake much above the RDA is not recommended.” Further stating: “These amounts of calcium can easily be obtained if dairy products are included in the diet.” Addressing bone health, the RDA book goes on to say: “A balanced diet furnishes, in addition to calcium, other nutrients necessary for bone health”…and discourages arbitrary calcium supplementation.
Finally, the RDA book states: “Ingestion of very large amounts [of calcium] may result in hypercalciuria, hypercalcemia, and deterioration in renal [kidney] function in both sexes.”
“Hypercalciuria” is excess calcium in the urine (also caused by excess consumption of animal protein and/or caffeine), which can cause havoc with the kidneys. “Hypercalcemia” is excess calcium in the blood, which promotes and contributes to unbalanced calcium metabolism – an important health issue that is completely ignored by the RDA (as well as by the newer DRI).
Also, excess phosphorus intake, found in high concentrations in processed foods and sodas (diet and regular), increases kidney fractional tubular reabsorption of calcium, further contributing to unbalanced calcium metabolism.
(Reference: “Recommended Dietary Allowances,” 10th Edition, National Research Council, National Institutes of Health, 1989)
Then there is the DRI.
Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) to the rescue? In 1997 the DRI was first published by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, ostensibly as an updated version of the RDA. After reviewing the 75 pages devoted to calcium, and analyzing the complex data presented, one realizes the updated information is essentially the same, but with a couple of glaring exceptions – the recommended DRI is higher in adults and older children than the RDA (but at least they recognized that the RDA in infants and young children was too high). Their DRI for calcium is: 210 mg/day for infants up to 6 months of age (compared to an RDA of 240 mg for breast-fed infants, and 400 mg for formula-fed infants); DRI of 270 mg/day for infants 7-12 months of age (compared to an RDA of 600 mg/day for infants 7-12 months of age); DRI of 500 mg/day for children 1-3 years of age; DRI of 800 mg/day for children 4-8 years of age (compared to an RDA of 800 mg/day for children 1-10 years of age); DRI of 1,300 mg/day for ages 9-18 years, and DRI of 1,000-1,300 mg/day (depending on age) for pregnant or lactating women (compared to an RDA of 1,200 mg/day for ages 11-24 years, and for pregnant or lactating women); DRI of 1,000 mg/day for adults 19-50 years of age (compared to an RDA of 800 mg/day for adults 24-51+ years of age); and a DRI of 1,200 mg/day for adults 51-70+ years of age (compared to an RDA of 800 mg/day for older adults in the same age group). The DRI also shows a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) of calcium for adults (19-70 years of age) at a whopping 2,500 mg/day. Interestingly, the biggest increase for calcium from the RDA to the DRI is for the age group of adults when most cardiovascular dystrophic calcification problems are most likely to become apparent (51-70+ years of age).
Apparently, the Institute of Medicine when it published the DRI never saw the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center study in which several of their bedridden patients were given high doses of calcium supplementation in an effort to prevent and remedy bone loss (from immobilization). The result of their study showed a marked increase in calcium blood levels, unbalanced calcium metabolism, and accelerated arterial calcification buildup – which was verified with state-of-the-art electron-beam CT heart scans – and they still had bone loss anyway.
Almost all of the information in the DRI deals with calcium in relation to bone, and almost completely ignores the role of calcium in the other important functions of the human body – especially the role of calcium in unbalanced calcium metabolism. The DRI almost touched on this topic when it discussed hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the blood) when it stated: “The syndrome of hypercalcemia and, consequently, renal insufficiency with or without metabolic alkalosis is associated with severe clinical and metabolic derangements affecting virtually every organ system (Orwoll, 1982).”
One of the things the DRI did express was to demonstrate the beneficial impact weight-bearing exercise has on preventing calcium loss from bones, bone metabolism, bone density and strength, and that calcium supplementation alone (without exercise) does not have the same benefits as exercise alone: “Under the extreme condition of immobilization, rapid bone loss occurs despite consumption of 1,000 mg/day of calcium (LeBlanc et al., 1995).”
(Reference: “Dietary Reference Intakes,” Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 2006)
So, the question is: How much calcium does the average adult typically get in their diet each day, and how does that amount compare to how much calcium is actually needed by the human body for normal function and health?
Some useful insight is provided by the book “Cardiovascular Disease, Potentiated Magnesium And The True Fountain Of Youth” researched and written by orthomolecular biochemistry researcher Michael W. Dixon, which was first published in February 2000 (appropriately, February is National Heart Month), and states:
“Taking a closer look at a likely scenario, from a calcium intake point of view, is very revealing. A typical ‘lite’ breakfast might include: a cup of cereal (fortified with as much as 60% of the ‘Daily Value’ for calcium, which equals 480 mg of calcium), a cup of low fat or skim milk on the cereal (30% calcium = 240 mg), a glass of orange juice (fortified with 35% calcium = 280 mg), and a vitamin/mineral supplement that contains only 400 mg of calcium (many contain much more than that). This represents a total calcium intake of 1,400 mg – almost double the RDA for the entire day – just from this one ‘lite’ meal.”
“Imagine that at lunch and at dinner similar amounts of calcium are ingested. In this example, that’s a total daily intake of calcium of around a whopping 4,200 mg per day – more than 10 times the amount of dietary calcium the human body actually needs to maintain good health. Now, imagine what this amount of excessive calcium intake would do to the calcium/magnesium balance of the human body if this amount of calcium is ingested day in and day out for years – for decades! A strong contribution to unbalanced calcium metabolism results.”
It is interesting to note that these figures were based on the RDA for calcium. And, as we know, the DRI for calcium is even higher than the RDA for adults – especially older adults – the most vulnerable group for unbalanced calcium metabolism, endothelial cell dysfunction and damage, dystrophic calcification, arterial calcification formation and buildup, and restricted arterial blood flow (which can increase blood pressure), eventually manifesting as cardiovascular, kidney and eye problems.
No matter which figures you use, the RDA or the DRI, it is easy to see just how easily a person who consumes a typical American diet ingests an enormous amount of calcium every day. It is just as easy to see how consuming excessive amounts of calcium each day strongly contributes to unbalanced calcium metabolism, all the while thinking you are doing something healthy for yourself by ingesting calcium supplements, and by consuming dairy products and foods fortified with calcium – especially without the important balancing mineral magnesium from plant foods and seafood. And, let us not forget the strong contribution to unbalanced calcium metabolism caused by: (1) The calcium drain from bones (and dumped into the bloodstream) as a result of the lack of regular exercise (especially weight-bearing exercise such as walking); and (2) Consuming the typical American diet, which is highly acidic and as a result negatively impacts the important pH balance of the blood, contains excessive amounts of phosphorous (from animal foods and sodas, including diet sodas), and contains excessive sodium (which, in addition to contributing to the calcium drain from bones, also contributes to elevated blood pressure) – all of which are involved with unbalanced calcium metabolism, the underlying cause of dystrophic calcification and arterial calcification formation and buildup (the well-established precursor to potentially serious cardiovascular events).
Unbalanced Calcium & Blood Pressure
Excessive intake amounts of unbalanced calcium can also affect blood pressure. One of the typical areas of the arterial system prone to dystrophic calcification is the aorta. The aorta is the body’s largest artery, and is that portion of the vascular system that connects the heart to the main artery branches that provide the body with its blood supply. It sits above the heart, bends (the aortic arch) and branches (to supply the upper body with blood), and runs down the center of the body where it branches (to supply the lower body with blood). Rather than being just a static hollow tube, the aorta is a critically important, dynamically functioning part of the arterial system. The aorta functions by virtue of its elasticity, and works in conjunction with the blood pumping action of the heart. The heart has two basic cycles: Systole (the upper blood pressure number reading known as “systolic” when blood pressure is taken), and Diastole (the lower blood pressure number reading known as “diastolic” when blood pressure is taken).
During systole, the contraction of the heart pumps the blood out of the heart and propels it through the arteries throughout the body (everywhere throughout the body except the coronary arteries that supply the heart with its blood supply). As the blood is pumped out of the heart during systole it immediately goes into the aorta. As the blood hits the bend of the aortic arch (the first part of the aorta), the pressure from the force of the blood temporarily expands it, and in so doing imparts a temporarily stored dynamic expansion energy in the aortic arch.
During diastole the heart relaxes so it can fill its pumping chambers with blood, and it is at this time (during diastole) that the aortic arch releases its temporarily stored expansion energy – propelling the blood directly into the heart’s coronary arteries. The heart is unique among all of the body’s organs in its dependence upon the diastolic pressure to provide its blood supply, while the rest of the body relies upon the systolic pressure for its blood supply.
The diastolic pressure that feeds the heart muscle with its blood supply is dependent upon the elasticity of the aortic arch. If the diastolic pressure is reduced because of lessened aortic arch elasticity, the body tries to compensate by elevating the systolic pressure to maintain the diastolic pressure – which is obviously critical to supply the heart with its own blood supply. Basically, lessened aortic arch functional elasticity (the result of dystrophic calcification buildup) necessitates a higher systolic pressure in an attempt to expand the aortic arch to its previous normal volume so that the diastolic pressure is not allowed to drop.
Arterial calcification formation and buildup is systemic, and forms where the endothelial cells that line the arteries are damaged – commonly where there is blood turbulence, such as at artery bifurcations (divisions) and at the bend of the aortic arch. If dystrophic calcification is also present in the heart’s coronary arteries (which is common), the narrowing of them increases blood flow resistance which will also cause an increase in blood pressure. As blood pressure increases, so does the workload of the heart. As the workload of the heart increases, so does its need for oxygen and nutrients so it can function. This is why CoQ10 is so important for normal cardiovascular energy.
Elevated blood pressure contributes to arterial damage. As dystrophic calcification takes hold and gradually continues to increase in the aorta and other arteries, there is a gradual spiraling cycle of increasing blood pressure at the expense of the normal function of the arteries, and the functional reserve and overload capacity of the heart. This is believed to be one of the basic causes of elevated blood pressure, and is the fundamental reason why it also affects the normal function of the heart.
Calcium Channel Blockers
In a seemingly classic example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, it is interesting to note that calcium channel blocker drugs are a commonly prescribed medication for certain forms of cardiovascular problems, yet most doctors continue to recommend calcium supplements to their patients. Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to them that calcium supplements are part of the problem. Calcium channel blockers are a class of drugs that slow the influx of calcium ions into smooth muscle cells (the heart muscle cells and artery muscle cells), resulting in a decreased arterial resistance and oxygen demand. This class of drugs are used for various cardiovascular problems. (Reference: “The 19th Edition of Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary”)
One of the most important things that magnesium does in the body is its use as a natural calcium channel blocker, thus providing all of the natural health benefits of this important essential mineral, without any of the deleterious side effects associated with the doctor-prescribed calcium channel blocker drugs.
A side note about prescription drugs: It spite of being useful for certain maladies, under certain conditions, virtually all prescription drugs have side effects to one extent or another – some quite severe. It is known that more than 100,000 people a year (in the U.S. alone) die from prescription drugs – from their side effects, an interaction between the combination of drugs taken (including over-the-counter drugs), and/or an allergic reaction – plus well over 750,000 deaths in the U.S. each year from errors made while in the hospital. (Reference: “Death by Medicine” by Drs. Gary Null, Carolyn Dean, Martin Feldman, Debora Rasio and Dorothy Smith, 2003, and The Journal of The American Medical Association (JAMA), Vol. 284, No. 4, July 26, 2000, by Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health – “106,000 non-error prescription drug deaths per year, plus an unknown number of non-reported adverse events;” plus “783,936 deaths per year from conventional medicine mistakes.”)
With a better understanding of how calcium functions in the human body, and its connection to unbalanced calcium metabolism, dystrophic calcification, and arterial calcification formation and buildup, it becomes important to look at and consider the primary source of calcium in the typical American diet – dairy products and calcium supplements.
Cow’s milk has been used as a food by humans for thousands of years. But not until the advent of pasteurization in 1862 by Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard (a brilliant scientist in his own right known as “The Father of Physiology”), coupled with the modern mass production techniques employed and refined since the beginning of the 20th century, has broad scale consumption of milk and dairy products become the norm in all age groups – including adults.
To help the absorption of the calcium content of milk, vitamin D became a standard additive in the 1930s. In an historical accident, vitamin D was interestingly misnamed a “vitamin,” with it actually being a hormone.
The wholesale increase in the consumption of milk and dairy products was probably also due in part to the leftover collective consciousness from our European ancestors who reminded us of the childhood disease of “rickets” (skeleton deformation due to the lack of vitamin D) common in Europe in the past. Not knowing any better, and to the glee of the milk producing industry, the virtues of milk were (and still are) being heavily promoted. As children were growing up all over the U.S., it was common to hear well-meaning parents encourage their children to: “Drink your milk, it’s good for you.” These things occurred generationally over the last 100 years or so – which corresponds with the sharp increase of cardiovascular problems seen in the U.S. during that same time period.
Milk has often been promoted as the “perfect food.” In fact, with the advent of self-serving entities like the National Dairy Council, the Milk Advisory Board, and Dairy Management, Inc., milk has practically been raised to deity status (well, sacrosanct anyway). As it turns out, milk is the perfect food – for nursing offspring. Milk contains all of the nutrients (and in their proper proportion) needed for healthy growth and development, and is nature’s way of providing for the young before they are able to eat more solid foods. This is fundamentally true of all nursing mammals. Human breast milk is perfect for nursing human babies, and cow’s milk is perfect for nursing calves.
Because calves double their birth weight in about 47 days (compared to human babies who double their birth weight in about 180 days), and because calves grow into adult cows and bulls that are much larger and heavier than adult humans (and in a much shorter period of time than it takes humans to grow into adults), the nutrient content of cow’s milk has been designed by Mother Nature to support this growth. It is easy to see why the nutrient content of cow’s milk is so much more (with about 4 times more calcium) than what Mother Nature designed for human babies. Could a calf survive on human milk? Of course not. Why then should we think that humans should be able to maintain their health by consuming cow’s milk? The species are different, their nutrient requirements are different, their growth rates are different, and accordingly the nutritional content of their milk are different.
It would seem that Mother Nature has more inherent wisdom than the self-serving councils and boards which have been ostensibly set-up to “educate” the public, but have actually been set-up to promote the sale of cow’s milk and dairy products.
Some interesting facts about cow’s milk and dairy products:
Lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in cow’s milk) facilitates calcium absorption from cow’s milk. Dairy products are the leading cause of food allergies (primarily from lactose and milk proteins). Bovine growth hormone (bGH) can increase a dairy cow’s milk production by as much as 30%, but the small residual amounts found in commercial milk and dairy products are suspect in contributing to certain forms of abnormal cell growth (primarily of breast and prostate tissue). The FDA does not require milk producers to list the use of bGH or any other substance (such as antibiotics, a common practice) used in milk production. Cow’s milk has high phosphorus levels and is acidic, which disrupt the important pH balance of the blood and as a result tends to draw calcium from bones to maintain the proper pH balance. There is 10 times more calcium in cow’s milk than there is magnesium. The regular consumption of milk or dairy products causes excess cellular calcium to interfere with the proper use of insulin’s ability to deliver glucose (blood sugar) into the cells for energy. The naturally occurring calcium content of plant foods is actually assimilated more efficiently than the calcium content of animal foods – including cow’s milk.
Human beings are the only species on earth that continue to drink milk as adults – and that milk is from a different species.
In regards to over-recommended calcium supplements (recommended ostensibly for bone strength and health), the concentrated calcium in calcium supplements is used differently, and not well, by the body than the calcium that is naturally present in food, and as a result it contributes to unbalanced calcium metabolism and dystrophic calcification. Moreover, and contrary to popular belief, the calcium in calcium supplements tend to make bones brittle and as a result more susceptible to fracture. By contrast, the balancing mineral magnesium tends to make bones flexible and as a result less susceptible to fracture. The most body-useable source for calcium is that which is naturally present in food rather than from calcium supplements.
The adult biological requirement for calcium can easily be met by plant foods (from fresh green vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds). Add a wide variety of other vegetables and fresh fruits, and fish and other seafood (and plenty of fresh water), and you will have what constitutes a proper diet. However, the foundation of health, youthful vitality, and an increased “Health Span” is not just from a proper diet. The real basis, as with everything in nature, is a balanced proper diet.
Everything in nature requires balance to survive. The human body is no exception. We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide (while plants do just the opposite). The human body is in a continuous state of building up (anabolism) and tearing down (catabolism). Obviously, maintaining that balance is absolutely critical for life. When that balance exists, allowing the cells and body to function in a normal way, a condition of homeostasis is said to exist. Homeostasis, the state of equilibrium (balance), is required for health and survival.
The foods and fluids we eat and drink provide the nutrients necessary for the structure and function of the human body – and for life to exist. Each nutrient has specific functions within the body. As with everything else in nature, the nutrients we take in must be in balance. Too much or too little of one or more nutrient can spell disaster. A severe nutrient shortage or massive nutrient intake throws the balance off so much that life cannot be sustained. If the imbalance is not severe but instead chronic, then that imbalance will cause impaired body function. Such impaired body function occurs imperceptively at first on the cellular level, but eventually manifests as degenerative health conditions and an abbreviated life span. The cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) is no exception, fully requiring proper balance for its normal function and health. The two most important minerals required to be in balance for the normal healthy function of the cardiovascular system are calcium and magnesium – along with adequate vitamin C for maintaining the structural integrity of the blood vessels.
The typical American diet (aka the Standard American Diet or “SAD”) throws the necessary balance askew. Too much animal foods, with hefty amounts of dairy products, along with too much processed foods, manufactured foods, junk foods, sodas, and calcium fortified foods – with the added insult of large amounts of calcium supplements – completely throws off the balance. Concurrently, the lack of sufficient intake of plant foods and seafood (which contain the balancing nutrients) – lacking the especially important nutrients magnesium and vitamin C – completes the imbalance. This imbalance between calcium and magnesium is at the very heart of unbalanced calcium metabolism, while suboptimal amounts of vitamin C of long duration significantly weaken the blood vessels (along with other collagen structures, such as bone and joints), which sets the stage for blood vessel damage.
Unbalanced calcium metabolism in a weakened arterial system of long duration is the fundamental underlying cause of endothelial cell dysfunction and damage, dystrophic calcification, arterial calcification formation and buildup, and restricted blood flow – the well-established contributors to elevated blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, which is the number one cause of an abbreviated life span in the U.S. and in all industrialized countries around the world who predominately consume the Western diet.
The obvious remedy: Balance calcium metabolism.
(See “Calcium,” “Magnesium,” “Potentiated Magnesium,” “How pMg Works,” “The Importance of Magnesium & Vitamin C,” “Unbalanced Calcium Metabolism,” “Back To Basics With Mother Nature” and “The Five Pillars of Health” for more details.)