Calcium here, calcium there, I see calcium everywhere.
Calcium is the most abundant essential macro-mineral in our body. A person weighing about 135 lbs will have about 1150 grams of calcium in their body at any given time. Almost 98% of that calcium will be wrapped up in the bones and teeth. Calcium is a busy mineral and has a number of important jobs to perform from muscle contractions and stimulating hormone creation and release, to calming the nerves and helping regulate heart rate. Did you know that it also cools heat conditions? And that’s my purpose with this blog– to look at calcium through the eyes of both western and eastern nutrition. Shall we?
Western nutritional look at calcium
Calcium is the most abundant minerals in humans, making up about 1.75-2% of your body weight. Most of it is found in the bones about – about 98%, equaling about 2.5- 3 lbs. worth in an adult. A meager 1% of the overall calcium is found in the teeth. Although our bones make up our frame and create structure, they are highly subject to the body’s needs – meaning they aren’t static – calcium is moving in and out depending on our needs. Bones are at their strongest at about age 30, and they are constantly restoring themselves if they have the necessary building supplies. There is a constant adding to and pulling from the bones. If there is a deficiency of calcium in the blood and nerves during times of high stress, we will pull the calcium from our bones weakening ourselves. After about the age of 30, our bone’s ability to build and restore declines. Women are at greater risk of bone loss (osteoporosis) and calcium loss simply because of varying hormonal and physiological related to the menstrual cycle. However, whatever your gender it is important to build bone mass during youth and early adulthood. Chronic illness is another factor in depleting calcium along with other life resources.
What does calcium do? Here is a starter list of the big items:
- Builds and maintains strong bones and teeth – smile pretty and stand tall.
- Calms and sedates the nervous system – relaxes you…ahhh….
- Alkalizes the body – blood PH likes to be slightly acidic, however, the standard American diet is highly acidic due to processed foods, lots of meats and fats, a primary factor in many diseases, calcium helps to bring the balance back. Fun fact- most alkalizing foods are vegetables.
- Aids in proper muscle contraction – everything from leg cramps to regulation of heart beats replies on adequate calcium intake.
- Assists in proper blood clotting.
- Essential for proper parathyroid (PT) functions–also if the parathyroid is not functioning properly you will not absorb calcium properly.
- Essential for proper creation and secretion of hormones – all hormones.
- Aids in proper bowel and gastrointestinal functioning.
Calcium and your heart
Calcium circulating in the system as Ca ++ (ionized calcium) is responsible for simulating the contraction of the heart. Magnesium aids in the relaxation phase of the heart, while sodium and potassium buzz about creating the impulse for the heart to beat. Generally, calcium and magnesium are recommended at a 2:1 ratio.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Sunshine increases the body’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D, which is essential in helping the body absorb calcium. You just need about 20 minutes a day. Want to get more specific? Expose the back of your neck to the sun, as the sun’s rays more easily absorb in the occipital and posterior neck region.
Calcium and acid
Although calcium helps to alkalize our body, it requires stomach acid to absorb it. For this reason, I recommend taking calcium supplements (if you use them) between meals when the stomach acid is higher. Taken before bedtime the calcium will help calm and settle the nervous system and aid in sleep, reduce hot flashes and combat restless leg syndrome. For seniors, women over age 35 and those with low stomach acid, calcium citrate is most easily absorbed form. If you have weak digestion add in fermented foods that will also help regulate and generate the stomach acids.
Although it is true that calcium is high in some dairy products, it can be hard to absorb for those with lactose intolerance, and it create a lot of phlegm and congestion. Therefore, dairy should not be the only source of calcium and it may actually need to be avoided by some. I find this to be especially true for my clients whose background and ethnicity is cultures or regions where dairy is relatively new, like the Asian and Native American cultures. They simply haven’t adapted to it over generations unlike those of middle European decent whose culture has utilized diary for centuries. Fortunately, calcium is abundant in plant sources like nuts, seeds, leafy greens and seaweed if you are lactose intolerant or have a lot of phlegm and mucus that dairy can increase. More on this below.
Calcium’s functions and energetics according to Asian medicine.
Calcium is sweet, salty and cold – Calcium cools, soothes and nourishes, anchors the mind and relaxes the nervous system-ahhhh… Heat can enter any organ in the body causing a number of issues for example: Stomach heat – gnawing hunger, acid reflux, bleeding gums and foul breath. Heat affecting the Heart causes agitation, anxiety and worry. In Colon it can cause constipation or hot, burning diarrhea. Here’s a list of other heat symptoms:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding Gums
- Burnt sensation on the tongue
- Dry skin
- Dry eyes
- Dry throat
- Gnawing hunger
- Heat prickles on the skin
- Hot flashes
- Night Sweats
- Nose bleeds
- Sensation of heat
- Tidal fevers
Enters the Heart – Calcium clears blood heat, and calming the mind. Like most minerals, calcium ‘anchors the spirit’ – meaning it settles down anxieties, worries and relaxes us. We see these patterns in mania, ADD, ADHD, anxiety, emotional and nervous conditions. The Heart, along with the Pericardium, Small Intestines and Triple Warmer comprise the Fire Element organs that correspond to the summer season. All of which are susceptible to heat patterns.
Enters the Liver – Cools Liver Yang rising and Liver Fire. So if you are “hot headed” you might want to up your calcium. Liver Yang can arise from too much heat flaring up or too little Yin to anchor the heat. Look for headaches, ringing in the ears, red eyes, anger and rage.
Enters the Kidneys and nourishes Yin – For Asian medicine practitioners look to calcium to help with Fire/Water imbalances in 5 Element tradition or Kidney Heart imbalance in the 8 Principle tradition. Kidney Yin deficiency is what we see in menopausal hot flashes, diabetic heat flashes and other “flaming and burning bone” syndromes.
I should note here that I have not differentiated between a true excess heat (summer heat and fevers) or a deficiency heat (menopause and some post viral fevers). Both patterns create symptoms of heat in the body and, fortunately for us, calcium doesn’t care if it is excess or deficiency based – it clears and cools. Asian medicine practitioners, look for a red tongue and rapid pulse.
The Kidneys, bones and calcium – In Asian medicine the development of the spine, brain, bones, and teeth are a part of the Kidney’s functions (there is no correlation in western medicine here really). Any development delay or abnormality in these processes is an indicator of “failure to grow and thrive and essence (Jing) deficiency.” Asian medicine places heavy emphasis on the health of the mother and father at the time of conception, as their Jing will be the passed down to the child as the blueprint for their constitution. Strong tonics and specific points would be utilized to increase Kidney’s rule over growth and development. Again, this is Eastern functional principles and has no real correlation to western medicine.
How much calcium do you need a day?
Like every other mineral and vitamin it depends on your age, gender, life conditions (stress, etc) and what you eat.
The current adequate intake (AI) is:
- Infants-1 year: 220-500 mg./day
- Children 1-10: 800-1,000 mg./day
- Children 10-18: 1,1000 mg./day
- Adult men and women: 800-1,000 mg./day
- Pregnant and lactating women: 1,200 mg./day
- Postmenopausal women (not taking estrogen): 1,200 mg./day
Daily intake of up to 2,500 mgs. of calcium is considered safe. If you have a healthy diet and lifestyle activity that is mostly free of calcium killers you may not need much supplementation. Increase supplementation during times of growth, stress, spiritual growth, lactation, pregnancy, acute illness and heart issues. Check with your nutritionist to see what additional dosing and form you may need.
How to get more calcium and build bones
- Exercise regularly. Regular walking makes the body lay down extra minerals on the the bones – specifically in the hips, legs and spine.
- Increase silicon rich foods which aid calcium absorption: Horsetail tea (the herb, not actual horse’s tail), oatstraw, kelp, kombu, lettuce, parsnips, buckwheat, millet, dandelion greens, celery and cucumber (esp. the peel), carrots and apricots.
- Eat foods rich in calcium, magnesium and chlorophyll – you know the green things.
- Keep foods in the solanum family in check–aka the nightshades – potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers. Too many of the nightshades can deplete calcium.
- Eat marrow broth regularly – ‘like begets like’. Eating stock made from bones and marrow is a fantastic way to build bones.
- Eat foods with bone in them – anchovies and such. I had grandparents that would gnaw on bones from the meats they were eating.
- Dairy – Sometimes…however, it is never where I start. Why? Dairy is difficult for many people to digest. It is highly congesting and phlegm forming. Not great if you are damp and have phlegm conditions like allergies and asthma. The dairy industry spends millions on advertising which has helped a generation believe that dairy is essential for calcium. However, it is not the most viable source of calcium out there. Also, unless you are drinking organic, you are likely getting hormones, antibiotics and FDA “acceptable levels” of puss – nummers. Dairy is also a high allergen, high in saturated fats and only about 25% of the calcium in milk is bio-available. Boiling or pasteurizing decreases it even further. So, some clean, organic dairy is fine. We should note that goat and sheep’s dairy are easier for the body to assimilate and digest. Find out more about clearing congestion.
- I rarely recommend the use of supplements, preferring to increase health through real, whole foods. Calcium, however, is one of the few supplements that I carry and recommend for regular use with clients.
High Calcium Foods – calcium in mg for 3 1/2 oz. portions
|Food||Mg of Ca|
|sardine w/ bones||440|
|black strap molasses||130|
|beet greens, cooked||117|
|poppy seeds (mg/T)||127|
See there are a lot of choices out there.
Calcium and bone killers
The following is a list of lifestyle and nutritional habits that increase bone loss and strip the body of calcium.
- High fat and/or protein diet – calcium is used to neutralize high acidity in blood. You may choose to do a ketogenic style diet for a period of time to loose weight but don’t stay on them forever. They are too dense and acidic and cause excess that the body will have to try to neutralize with calcium and they can create enzyme imbalances too.
- Foods high in phosphorus – Meat, deli meats, processed and refined foods. Like the bubbles in soft drinks, the body has to work to bring the pH closer to alkaline when these foods are high in the diet.
- Caffeine – Stimulants like caffeine agitate the system and generate heat.
- Alcohol – Alcohol generates and enormous amount of heat in the body. Which the body has to temper–calcium to the rescue.
- Bubbles – The trouble with bubbles is that they are acidic, the body uses calcium to neutralize and try to balance out your pH each time you sip your favorite bubbly water.
- High sugar and chocolate – Rich, sweet and dense, calcium is called to neutralize the sweets we so love.
- Coffee – Sorry, coffee doesn’t just rob the body because of its caffeine content. The energetic temperature and acidity of coffee depletes calcium, so even if you are drinking decaf you are leaching out calcium to neutralize it. How about a coffee substitute?
- Lack of regular exercise – Especially weight bearing. Weight bearing exercise help the body build the bones up. Too little weight bearing and the body will reduce the amount of calcium going to the structure of the body.
- High oxalic foods – Well, Popeye was mostly right, but in some people too many oxaliate foods lead the creation of stones and excess excretion of calcium. High oxalate foods include spinach, chard, rhubarb and chocolate. Check out my blog on stones to find out more about oxalate foods.
- Stress–Stress that isn’t properly managed harms the adrenocortical hormones and causes increased calcium loss.
- Acute or chronic illness–Depletes the minerals of the body.
- Tobacco–Put it in the stimulant and acidic category, add in the chemicals and you have a triple whammy that the body is trying to neutralize, clear and cool.
- Drugs–Antibiotics, corticosteroids, steroids, tetracycline…just scroll through the list of meds. very few do not rob calcium including your antacids and aspirin.
- Menses–Blood loss and hormonal tips cause natural calcium loss. Which is why it is so very important to build blood after the cycle.
Here’s to a calmer you.