The Insiders Guide to Mineral Medicine
You always hear the terms “vitamins and minerals” lumped together. But it’s important to understand that minerals are very different from vitamins. And their unique complexities deserve individual attention.
Unfortunately, just like the nutrients I told you about in the previous article, the requirements for minerals set by the government are often confusing, misguided, and (in some cases) blatantly wrong.
So the general public is in constant danger of getting far too much of some potentially harmful minerals—and not enough of others.
The fact is, many of the essential minerals are really “heavy metals.” And they can be toxic in the wrong amounts. The body does need small amounts of certain metals. But it has developed very sophisticated processes for absorbing, transporting, and using them. And it isn’t easy to get rid of the excesses once you have too much. So supplementing with certain minerals raises some red flags that you need to know.
But today, let’s start with a key mineral that many people are sorely lacking—calcium. (I’ll cover the others in future issues.)
90 percent of the people who need it most aren’t getting enough
Right now the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for all adults between 19 and 50, as well as for men over 50. That number increases slightly, to 1,200 mg per day, for women over 50.
The government is continually considering raising these RDAs. But over two-thirds of the U.S. population fails to meet even the current requirements. (Let alone the optimal amount, which is at least 2,000 mg per day.)
Even worse, over 80 percent of middle-aged women, and nearly 90 percent of adolescent girls don’t meet the current requirement. Doctors don’t always understand the importance of calcium in older women to prevent osteoporosis.
But the shortfall in younger women represents a real problem in girls who are still growing and young women still of childbearing age who may become pregnant with growing fetuses. (And the potentially harmful effect on bones is compounded by the widespread deficiency of vitamin D, as I mentioned in the previous article.)
But in this instance, supplementing isn’t always sufficient.
Be careful with calcium supplements
Supplement sources of calcium come in many forms. And the calcium content varies in each. Most supplements only contain between 40 and 160 mg of calcium. Which makes it difficult to get even the RDA—let alone the optimal amount—with supplements.
But if you’re going to take a supplement, calcium carbonate is the best choice. It contains the highest percentage of calcium (40 percent). And it’s safer than some of the other common calcium supplement options, like bone meal and dolomite. (Both of these may be contaminated with toxic metals such as cadmium and lead.)
But, as usual, it’s better—and often necessary—to simply get calcium from food rather than supplements. The relatively large daily doses of calcium required make it difficult to pack it all into a pill. Plus, as I mentioned in the previous article, whole foods generally offer numerous health benefits, beyond what you could get from any single nutrient.
But there’s one big misconception that persists when it comes to getting calcium from your diet…
How the Chinese get plenty of calcium— without eating ANY dairy
Despite the impression we’ve all been given, milk isn’t the only source of calcium. In fact, Chinese cooking doesn’t use any dairy products at all. Yet, it appears the Chinese get plenty of calcium in their diets without it. Diseases we associate with low calcium (like osteoporosis) are remarkably rare in China.
Don’t get me wrong—if you like dairy, by all means go ahead and keep it in your diet. But if you want to get the most calcium from the dairy you consume, don’t choose the full-fat varieties. It’s true that some fat is absolutely essential to a healthy diet. But, in this instance, a little less fat is actually a good thing.
Believe it or not, skim, 2 percent, and buttermilk actually contain more calcium than whole milk. The same is true for low-fat yogurt and cheese.
But, again, these aren’t the only sources of calcium.
Fish such as sardines, salmon, smelts, anchovies, and herring (especially canned with the bones) are all terrific, healthy foods that are also high in calcium.
Dark green, leafy vegetables such as turnip greens, broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), mustard greens, and okra are also high in calcium. (And they’re also largely the same vegetables that protect against cancer.)
You can also get a modest amount of calcium from seeds, tofu, and nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts and filberts are all good sources).
Warning! Some “calcium-rich” chewable antacids have a sinister hidden ingredient
If you or someone you know uses chewable antacids—especially as a source of calcium—beware!
While some chewable antacids do contain the preferred form of calcium—calcium carbonate— some also contain aluminum. And even in small doses, aluminum can cause calcium loss and harm bones. There are also concerns about possible long-term dementia risks.