Unfortunately, the symptom-drug approach (take this drug for that symptom) is often applied to nutrients (take this nutrient for that problem).
If you approach the body that way, you’re likely to run into problems.
Let’s address calcium first.
Sure, it’s found in your bones, but there are many other critical minerals that are required for healthy bone formation.
The minerals required for our bones matches the minerals found in the soil. They’re a mirror of each other – from dust to dust, right?
In fact, if you just took a calcium supplement, your bone density and risk of fracture would NOT improve and you even might increase your risk for hip fractures. (1,2) (NOTE: the form of calcium matters, read on to find out).
Calcium supplementation can also be problematic for your heart.
Use of calcium supplements have been shown to promote cardiovascular disease, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. (3,4)
You’ll see in the same studies that calcium obtained from food does not have this effect.
Though we think we need high amounts of calcium, we actually need calcium balanced with all the other minerals found in the soil – in the right proportions, as Mother Nature intended.
It’s the synergy of everything we get from our food that matters.
Good sources of calcium (and other bone supporting vitamins and minerals) include dark leafy greens, bone broth and bone-in fish like salmon and sardines, bone meal supplements (again, because they contain the entire complex of nutrients found in bone).
There are many different forms of calcium and it’s really important that we take forms that are most compatible with our bodies on a biochemical level.
Most people are taking calcium carbonate (check the ingredients on your multivitamin or calcium supplement), which is like going outside and eating the sidewalk or chewing on classroom chalk. Not the best idea. Not easily absorbed and potentially problematic. Since it’s the cheapest and most readily available form, it’s very likely the form used by many of the people participating in the above studies.
You can safely supplement with calcium if it’s the right form – a form that we can properly absorb and utilize. Those include calcium lactate (my favorite and essential for healthy immunity) and calcium citrate.
What about milk?
Milk, especially modern-day pasteurized milk, is not a good source of calcium and does not protect against fractures. (5, 6)
THE SUPERSTARS: Vitamins D and K
Now that you know which forms of calcium to take, know that it’s not enough to just have calcium in your diet, you need to get it from the right sources (plants and animals) along with the nutrients that help direct calcium to the right places – bones and teeth – and away from the wrong places – heart, kidneys, breast, prostate, veins, etc.
That’s what the superstars vitamin D and K do. They help regulate calcium metabolism and ensure that calcium is being used effectively and directed to the right place.
We have since learned that that while calcium supplementation (again, usually the wrong form of calcium) is wrought with problems, supplementing with Vitamin D and K are going to have positive effects on bone and heart health, among other things. (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)
When calcium is deposited in arteries and veins (a process called calcification), it results in the hardening of those areas contributing to heart damage, plaque formation and stroke. Vitamin D and K prevent this harmful process and support healthy bone mineral density and reduce the risk of fractures.
A good way to make sure you are getting a natural, balanced source of vitamin D is to take cod liver oil, which also contains healthy amounts of vitamins A and E, the other nutrients found in fat that are essential to life and good health. We need all of them in proper synergy.
Everything works together.
If you use a separate vitamin D supplement, make sure it’s vitamin D3 and take it with vitamin K2. Do not take vitamin D alone. Vitamin D and K work together. You can often find one supplement with both together.
Haven’t heard of Vitamin K?
Many haven’t, here’s a quick primer:
How to know if you’re deficient in Bone Building & Heart Helping Vitamins D & K:
- You use sunscreen every time you’re out in the sun.
- You don’t get at least 20min of unprotected sun each day.
- You’ve had your appendix removed.
- You’ve had your gallbladder removed or you have gallstones and/or difficulty tolerating fat in food.
- You’ve had gastric bypass surgery.
- You’re on a low fat diet or primarily consume vegetable oils.
- You avoid (healthy) animal products and animal fats.
- You don’t eat 1-2 servings of cooked dark leafy greens each day like kale, spinach or mustard greens.
- You do not consume fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, natto and miso.
- You have digestive problems (reflux, ulcers, chronic bloating, constipation, diarrhea, IBD, etc) that indicate your intestinal bacteria are not balanced or that you do not properly digest your food.
- You have been diagnosed with osteopenia, osteoporosis, heart disease or diabetes.
NOTE: Practically everyone is deficient in K2 and D3. It’s critical for our health at every age.
Natural strategies to Improve Bone and Heart Health (do all of the below):
- Get a little sun as frequently as you can. Your arms and face are a great place to expose to the sun (more of your body if you can!). 20-30min each day or weekly, if that’s all you can manage. Darker-skinned individuals should get even more than that due to their natural levels of sun protection in their skin. (Look for another post soon on how to safely maximize the health boosting benefits of the sun.)
- Eat fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, natto and miso. These foods provide us vitamin K2 and promote happy and healthy gut bacteria. Also avoid processed foods, high sugar foods, lots of refined flours and carbohydrates and limit alcohol, as these wreak havoc on our digestive systems and compromise gut health.
- Take Cod Liver Oil daily – a healthy balance of vitamins A, D, E and K.
- If you already have symptoms of digestive imbalances, IBS, IBD, reflux, bloating, constipation or other symptoms, work to restore the health of your entire gastro-intestinal tract by eating a healthy, balanced diet, and working with a health professional who can competently address any chronic digestive issues.
- Consume animal meats and fats from grass-fed cows, pastured pork and chicken, wild-caught fish.
- Eat your greens! (with healthy fat :))
- Supplement with bone meal, calcium lactate or citrate.
- Supplement with a combination Vitamin D3 and K2 (MK-7) product.
Know someone taking calcium for bones or someone concerned about their bone or heart health? Share this article.
And remember – health is individual. Some people need to supplement with certain things and others don’t. Make sure you’re working with a healthcare practitioner who can help advise you on your nutritional needs.