dr dave

Calcium confusion clarified

“Is calcium good for us?”

“Absolutely. If you don’t take it, it could kill you.”

“But, I heard calcium is bad for us, might cause a heart attack.”

“Absolutely. If you take it, it could kill you. Hope that clarifies it for you. Next.”

“Well, as we need Vitamin D to absorb calcium, should we try and get more sun?”

“Absolutely. Get in the sun because taking calcium without Vitamin D is like fishing without a hook.”

“But isn’t the sun going to give us skin cancer or possibly make us look Australian.” 

“Absolutely. Get out of the sun. It could kill you.”

“Now what about magnesi...forget it.”

“Sure. Next.”

Osteoporosis is destroying many of you at this very moment and will destroy many more lives before a cure is ever found. There are approximately 300,000 fractures in the United States each year. Twenty two percent of patients who fracture a hip are dead in less than a year.
Scary enough for you?

OK, now that I have your attention .... take calcium, right? Builds bones and all that. A little is good for you so a lot should be even better, right?

Hold up! Taking calcium pills both with or without vitamin D is associated with a 15 percent increased risk for heart attacks and strokes! Treating 1000 people with calcium for five years would cause an additional six heart attacks or strokes and prevent only three fractures. 

Calcium in pills, unlike calcium in foods, causes a spike in blood calcium levels that can damage arteries by: increasing clot formation (“It is the clot that kills.”), thickening neck artery plaques and calcifying main arteries. For you guys on my hockey team, those are all bad things. And taking calcium without taking Vitamin D is even worse. It’s associated with a whopping 30 percent increase in heart attack risk. Calcium supplements have been widely promoted on the grounds that they are “natural” and, therefore, a safe way of preventing osteoporotic fractures.
Like lots of “natural” stuff, it is now becoming apparent that taking calcium in one or two daily dollops is NOT natural. So how do we take calcium without... taking calcium? Diet, naturally. Take it incorrectly and you could end up in the cardiac section of the hospital with cardiac doctors who smell nice and floss daily. Don’t take calcium and you could end up in the orthopedic ward with doctors who make Cro Magnon man look like Justin Bieber. But you get better meals. Your choice.

OK, this next part goes on your fridge with all the other Dr. Dave columns, complete with photo and a reminder to pick up (shameless plug warning) yogurt and The Doctor is In(sane) for ‘self and 37 relatives.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium from a combination of diet plus supplements is 1000 mg a day for adult women until age 50 years and 1200 mg a day for women older than 50 years of age. BUT GET AS MUCH FROM DIET AS YOU CAN! Only take calcium supplements if you don’t get your RDA in diet i.e., you hate yogurt as much as I do. And spread it out over the day. 

There are plenty of charts showing what foods are best for calcium but certainly the king is yogurt. An 8 oz cup contains 415 mg. I suggest mixing it with broccoli and a Snicker’s bar and you’re halfway there. 

“Is that a good idea?”

“Absolutely....or it could kill you.”

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