Calcium is an important mineral for maintenance of bone health and for preventing the more serious condition called osteoporosis and the associated risk of vertebral, spine and wrist fractures especially in postmenopausal women. Recently, calcium has once again come under some negative light. Various studies published in reputable journals like JAMA and Heart have found that “excessive” supplemental calcium could lead to higher risk of heart disease. The latest research from Sweden shows that a large group of women, over sixty thousand, who consume high amounts of calcium from both their diet as well as taking supplements were likely to have twice the risk of heart disease when compared to women with lower intake. This study which was recently published in the prestigious British Medical Journal highlight the risks associated with calcium and how it outweighs the benefits. In the previous JAMA study the authors concluded that, “accumulating data suggests a significant body of evidence that says there is concern with too much calcium. We find that for every thousand people we give calcium to for five years, we cause six heart attacks and we prevent three fractures. This is not a very effective way of preventing fractures.”
The most authoritative bodies like The Institute of Medicine and Council for Responsible Nutrition recommend a daily intake of 1,200mg for women over 50 years of age with an upper limit of 2,000mg from all sources of calcium. However, where does this figure originate from? Surprisingly, no one knows. A review of the scientific literature shows virtually all the studies use 1000mg or more of calcium in the studies but no rationale is provided as to why that amount of calcium was chosen, but if preventing three fractures is at the risk of incurring five heart attacks then clearly this needs a re-think. It all boils down to the dose. All the studies show that calcium in lower doses i.e. between 600mg-999mg incurs a low risk whereas a dose of1000mg and more seems to greatly increase the risk. Excess calcium is thought to deposit in the walls of the blood vessels and eventually cause hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis which may cause an increased risk of stroke. So what can consumers do while reducing their chances of osteoporosis but at the same time not increasing the risk of heart disease?
The answer may lie in a completely new way of viewing bone and cardiovascular health. Rather than increasing the calcium intake above 1000mg, it is better to find ways of how the body can extract and absorb more calcium from the diet. Recently, the Japanese have uncovered a new molecule that does precisely that. Calcium lactobionate or lactobionic acid isn’t so much a source of calcium since it contains much lower elemental (or useful) amount of calcium, rather, it has a unique characteristic of helping the body absorb more calcium from the diet and from the supplements and thus preventing calcification of the arteries. It does this by binding to calcium ions from the diet that are in the stomach, intestines and the blood and helping to take them to the site where they are needed most i.e. the bone. The solubility of this form of calcium is sixty five times higher than other forms of calcium like the citrate which is considered one of the most bioavailable forms. Originally found in the yogurt from the Bulgaria and regions nearby, the Japanese were able to identify this unique form of calcium and its ability to help absorb additional calcium and increase bone mineral density. In addition lactobionic acid also increases the production of equol by the gut microbes. Equol is a unique isoflavone similar to soy isoflavanoid daidzein but more powerful in its bone health effects. Finally, lactobionic acid is considered a prebiotic, which is a source of food for the friendly bacteria in the gut so that they can properly compete with other less desirable bacteria and pathogens thereby facilitating optimal health of our gut.
Lactobionic acid offers a unique solution by helping to absorb more calcium from the diet and thus helping to maintain optimal bone health without necessarily increasing intake of calcium above 1000mg.
Michaelsson K et-al “Long term calcium intake and rates of all cause and cardiovascular mortality: community based prospective longitudinal cohort study” BMJ 2013; 346: 1-13