With most of our client’s nutrition plans we recommend they stay away from dairy products as they tend to come back positive in food sensitivity panels and are a source of inflammation for many people. This is especially true for milk and cheese as they come back as a problem for a large percentage of the population. We do still allow organic butter and whey protein if they don’t have a sensitivity to them. Once our clients hear that we don’t recommend dairy, the first question they ask is “but without milk where do I get my calcium from?”
Calcium is found in many founds other than dairy products. Calcium is found in vegetables such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, nuts and seeds, to name a few. Calcium is important for healthy bones, teeth, nerves, and muscles. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body. About 99% of the calcium is found in the bones and teeth, the other 1% is found in cells and body fluids. Calcium is important for muscle contractions, nerve impulses, and is involved in the body’s blood clotting process.
Even with all of its important functions, when it comes to calcium, having a lot doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good thing. In the Western world we have a high consumption of calcium but we also have high rates of osteoporosis. It is more important to ensure you are absorbing the calcium you get from your diet and that it is being deposited in the right places as opposed to just having more calcium in total. Magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus, and potassium are all important nutrients in the absorption of calcium and good health. Too much calcium (which is found a lot in our modern diet) can limit our ability to absorb magnesium (magnesium is deficient in a lot of our population) and many experts suggest that vitamin D may be more important for bone health than calcium is. It is about having a proper balance between nutrients.
If these vitamins and minerals are not present or functioning properly in the body then calcium will not be absorbed properly no matter how much calcium you take in. Calcium that isn’t absorbed properly can have a tendency to form kidney stones or cause plaque in the arteries.
Calcium in the heart can be a huge problem. From studies done on cardiovascular disease it has been shown that having a faster progression of coronary artery calcium gives you a 17.2 fold increase in heart attack risk. Coronary artery calcification is a big risk factor for heart disease but tends to be overlooked because of the focus on cholesterol. This is why it is important to ensure you are absorbing the calcium you take in and that it is being utilized efficiently. It highlights the need for optimal magnesium levels as magnesium inhibits platelet aggregation, relaxes blood vessels, dilates arteries, and helps reduce blood pressure. It also shows why supplementation with calcium has to be carefully monitored and only used when there is a definite need for it. Men tend to develop calcifications 10 to 15 years earlier than women do.
By looking at your blood work you may be able to identify a few correlations such as:
If your calcium is low you may be deficient in vitamin D
Magnesium deficiency could be a cause of calcium deficiency
If low calcium and anemia have been found then it is important to address malabsorption issues. A few doctors have suggested testing for celiac disease in this case.
Another thing to consider is that dairy products are acid forming. The body likes to be alkaline. An acidic environment actually decreases the amount of calcium that can be absorbed so instead of using dairy products to get your calcium needs you are better off selecting foods that are more alkaline such as leafy greens, nuts, and even sweet potatoes. If your diet contains a high amount of acidic foods then you will lose more calcium through your urine than if you eat more alkaline foods which help you retain calcium. Foods that are more acidic are cereals, dairy products (cheese being most acidic), legumes, meat, fish, processed foods, and eggs. This is why it is important to eat sufficient amounts of vegetables and some fruits to balance out the acidic load of your meat at meals.
This is how hunter gatherers survived and thrived without dairy products. They never drank milk and didn’t have bone-mineral problems because they ate a lot of fruit and vegetables that gave them enough calcium to build strong bones and because of the fruit and vegetables their diet was quite alkaline which prevented the excretion of calcium in the urine.
It is interesting to note that with different soil content of calcium all over the world, even the soils that are depleted in calcium, the population shows no calcium deficiency and this is in a population that drinks no milk. This is because almost all foods and vegetables contain some calcium. Again this stresses the point that it is not necessarily how much calcium you have but how much you absorb. To absorb calcium, stomach acid, magnesium, and vitamin D play a crucial role. Magnesium and vitamin B6 are important for calcium to be used in bone formation. If these two nutrients are deficient then calcium is less likely to become bone and can form calcifications of tissues and joints, leading to tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis, and bone spurs.
There is an important relationship between calcium and phosphorus within the body that must be balanced as well. A calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1:1 or 2.5:1 seems to be optimal. In the body calcium and phosphorus combine to make calcium phosphate which is essential for healthy teeth and bones. Phosphorus is a mineral that is important for energy, muscle contraction, nerve contraction, and enzyme activity. It is mostly found in meats and eggs. If the ratio between calcium to phosphorus shifts and the phosphorus level dominates then this can speed up bone loss. An easy way to upset this balance is drinking a lot of soft drink. If calcium stores are low or don’t match the intake of phosphorus in the soft drink the body will leach (borrow) calcium from wherever it can be
found, mostly from bone and muscle.
Some other factors that inhibit the absorption of calcium are lack of exercise, deficiencies in estrogen and progesterone, excessive fluoride, and antibiotics. This is far from an extensive list but should give you some insight.
If you are going to supplement with calcium then it is important to use forms that are best absorbed such as microcrystalline hydroxyapatite, calcium citrate, or calcium citrate/malate. It is important to note that a lot of experts recommend most people’s total daily intake of calcium should be about 600 to 800 milligrams with the upper range being 1,000 to 1,200 mg. It is quite easy to get this amount from your diet so many people don’t actually need to supplement with calcium. For example a cup of spinach contains about 300 mg of calcium.
So when it comes to calcium it isn’t just about your total intake. It has more to do with how much you absorb and use. Milk isn’t the only source of calcium as many people think and green leafy vegetables are a good source. Many factors are at play when it comes to bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis not just total calcium levels.