By Clifford M. Sonnie, M.D.
Nothing in this world is caused by one thing and one thing only. Anything from A to Z and beyond has more than one reason for happening. Likewise, in medicine and heart disease there is always more than one cause. Remember last week where we discussed cholesterol and suggested that it was the whipping boy for heart disease? Well now let’s talk about calcium as it may play a role in heart disease.
What?? I need my calcium for my osteoporosis!! My friend, calcium doesn’t even make the top five remedies for osteoporosis but that’s a subject for another time. A medical journal back in 1991 stated that the mortality rate is highest in countries that consume the most calcium and vise versa. Yes, the USA is one if them. In fact, the major cause of death was heart disease. You see, the calcium can accumulate not only on heart valves rendering them ineffective (over time) but it is also the major component of all plaque in all arteries. The study also showed that the calcium these people ate was already contained in many foods that they bought from the grocery (“calcium fortified”). Suffice it to say that in the USA, we eat at least 800 to 1000 milligrams of calcium a day. Here’s the debate. Is that enough, too much or just right and do we really need any extra calcium in our diets?
There is a fancy new CT scanner that has several names. One of the more common ones is the “Ultra-Fast CT”. It’s fast enough to show a clear picture of a beating heart and its vessels (at least the bigger ones). It gives you a “calcium score” (Agatston score) which essentially measures calcium deposits in your arteries. A calcium score of zero means that you have very little risk for heart disease and a higher score is not as promising. A zero score does not mean you can go out smoking, not exercise and watch “Bowling for Furniture” all day long. Remember, there are many causes for everything. It does mean you are OK with respect to the calcium. But it still must be watched. In addition, these studies also showed that people who had sudden heart attacks had low normal or normal cholesterol in the first place (40 to 60% of them). However they all had high calcium scores when scanned! These scans are now readily available and since the American Heart Association finally saw the light and said the scan was worthwhile, most insurance plans will cover them. Even if they don’t, there are several places to obtain these scans for a reasonable price.
I’m not saying you should, but for those who choose to take supplemental calcium there are several types. So, which one to use? The easiest form to absorb is either calcium citrate or calcium lactate. Calcium carbonate (chalk) is also absorbable but not as easily. In fact, most forms are absorbable. Coral calcium claims to be the best of them all but it is nothing special. More of it may be absorbed but not by much. Also, since there are no real regulatory standards, except those of the individual company, depending on where it is obtained, there may be contaminants in the coral calcium.
Remember, too much calcium in your body will over alkalinize the blood and place you at higher risk for electrical abnormalities in the heart and depositing hunks of calcium in things like kidneys, arteries, heart valves, etc. Too little calcium also has significant side effects. Just like cholesterol there are a couple viewpoints. What is too much or too little, how do we determine which is so and how do we treat either. There are several things to do naturally. Magnesium is the first and best way to help. Just as calcium will stimulate muscle, magnesium will calm it down. In the typical American diet, we do not have anywhere near enough magnesium in our diet. It is contained in foods like, almonds, spinach and pumpkin seeds. Magnesium such as citrate, glycinate, lactate and malate are the best form to get them in a supplement. Don’t use magnesium oxide as it won’t be absorbed. Vitamin D is also a good remedy (no we don’t get enough made by the sun in Ohio) as well as Vitamin K. This can be found in spinach, broccoli and turnip greens.
Now don’t just go out to your local health food store a buy a boat load of these supplements and down a handful of each. Taken in too high amounts, anything can be toxic, even water and oxygen. Make sure you don’t stop any medications given to you by your family MD until you’ve talked to them and while you’re there, ask them about supplements. Or contact us at the Balance of Life Clinic and we can sit down with you and discuss the possible benefits of supplements and which ones you may or may not need. No matter whom you see, make sure they are a trained MD or DO knowledgeable in supplements. Remember, think, ask questions and be aware.
Clifford Sonnie, M.D., M.P.H. is a physician at the Balance of Life Clinic