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How to Optimize Your Calcium Intake

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calcium supplements

Here are five ways to maximize your calcium absorption.

Getting enough calcium is only part of the equation: Making sure that you keep the calcium you take in, and that your body can use it, is important, too.

“You can take the recommended daily allowance of calcium, but if you don’t maximize absorption and minimize loss, it won’t matter,” says Mark Hyman, MD. “It’s the net effect that counts.” Keep these strategies in mind:

Optimize!

Vitamin D. “Vitamin D is the most important nutrient in our diet in terms of bone health,” says Hyman. “It works synergistically with calcium to improve absorption.”

Vitamin K2. This vitamin directs calcium to where it’s needed most. “It’s a kind of glue that helps your body build bone,” says Amanda Archibald, RDN. A 2001 study in the journal Nutrition found that Japanese women who ate foods heavy in K2, such as fermented soybeans, had a reduced risk of hip fractures. Other K2-rich fare includes egg yolk, chicken (including chicken liver), and grassfed butter or ghee.

Magnesium. Most of us have an inadequate supply of this mineral, says Deborah Wiancek, ND, author of The Natural Healing Companion. Calcium and magnesium work together to relax muscles and move fluids through cells for optimal bone health. (Learn more at “Magnesium: Your Body’s Spark Plug.”)

Minimize!

Calcium-depleting foods. Some aspects of the Western diet may deplete calcium stores and contribute to bone loss. Excessive sodium is associated with urinary calcium loss. Experts debate optimal sodium levels (see “Is Salt Bad for You — Or Not?“), but they agree that nearly 70 percent of Americans’ salt intake comes in the form of processed foods.

Hyman points to coffee and cola, which have been shown to leach calcium, perhaps due to their caffeine content (though notably, black tea does not have this effect) or the phosphoric acid in cola.

And even healthy whole foods can negatively affect calcium availability. Phytates in beans and legumes can decrease calcium absorption (soaking can reduce this), as can oxalates in spinach and beet greens (a good reason to mix things up now and then).

Medications. Common medications, including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), glucocorticoids, and anticonvulsants, have been shown to diminish bone density, because they affect how calcium is absorbed and metabolized.

This originally appeared as “Make the Most of Your Calcium” in “Got Calcium?” in the October 2018 print issue of Experience Life.

is a Long Island, N.Y.–based health journalist.

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