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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Calcium Cholesterol Connection

If you think taking supplemental calcium is only good for bone health, think again. Calcium is a multifaceted nutrient. It happens to be the most abundant mineral in our bodies. Aside from its well-known role in promoting bone health, calcium is important for maximizing enzyme activity, facilitating nerve function, and helping to regulate heart rhythm and muscle contraction. Low calcium intake has not only been associated with poor bone health, but may also contribute to poor blood pressure and even abnormal cell growth.

The benefit of calcium now appears to extend to a completely new arena, which is cholesterol metabolism. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine, 223 women were randomly assigned to take either 1 gram (1,000 mg) of calcium daily in the form of calcium citrate or an inactive placebo for one year1.

Investigators measured levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol at the onset of study, and then again periodically over the 12-month period. At the end of the trial, both HDL cholesterol and HDL-to-LDL ratios had increased more for women taking the calcium supplement compared to those taking placebo.

On average, women taking calcium saw an increase in HDL cholesterol levels of about 7%. Authors indicated that this is another reason to encourage postmenopausal women to take calcium. Further studies are suggested to see if similar benefits are obtained with men, and whether or not calcium supplementation may affect cardiovascular health.

The Right Form of Calcium is CriticalWhen taking calcium it's important to use the right form. Studies show that calcium carbonate has variable absorption, depending on stomach pH. Calcium citrate malate is believed to be most efficiently absorbed in the stomach and intestines.

There may actually be as much as a 1000% increase in absorption rates with calcium citrate malate compared to other forms of calcium. Evidence supporting the incredible benefits of calcium citrate malate was published on September 4, 1997 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine2. Several hundred elderly patients were studied.

Half were given 500 mg elemental calcium citrate malate with 700 IU vitamin D, and the other half was given placebo. The results were excellent. Calcium/vitamin D supplements improved bone health and appeared to reduce fracture rates by more than 50%.

In addition, certain forms of calcium other than calcium citrate malate may contain toxic heavy metals. The worst offenders are carbonate (especially oyster shells, a common form). It's very important to take magnesium in addition to calcium supplements.

Most people consume only about half of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA)/Daily Values (DV) of magnesium in their diets. Low levels of magnesium may lead to poor bone and cardiovascular health.

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