Why calcium isn’t all bad
We have nothing against calcium. It’s an essential mineral necessary for good health. But bone health doesn’t depend on taking lots of calcium. Just look at these studies:
- Four worldwide epidemiological surveys show that the nations that consume the most calcium have the highest rates of hip fracture.
- One epidemiological study correlated hip fractures with the amount of animal and vegetable protein various countries consume. As animal food consumption increases, so do hip fractures.
- Since 1975, 136 trials have explored calcium’s effects on osteoporotic fracture risk. Two-thirds of these studies show that high calcium intake yields no reduction in the number of fractures–even if people begin taking calcium (with vitamin D) during childhood.
- In one study, Harvard researchers surveyed diet and hip fractures among 72,337 older women for 18 years. They concluded, “Neither milk nor a high-calcium diet appears to reduce [fracture] risk.”
- Another Harvard team analyzed seven trials that followed 170,991 women for several years and found “no association between total calcium intake and hip fracture risk.”
So why the almost monomaniacal emphasis on calcium? Because your body needs it. Calcium supports the structure and function of your bones and your teeth. So, the logic goes, since your body needs a lot of calcium, you should consume lots of dairy, which is high in calcium. But here’s where that theory breaks down: Think of calcium as the bricks in a brick wall of bones. Bricks are essential, for sure, but without enough mortar–which comes in the form of about 16 other nutrients–the wall can’t hold itself up. So, yes, you do need calcium, but you must supply the body with the right kind of calcium–which does not come from dairy products–along with plenty of other vitamins and minerals.
A better bone-health diet
In order to get the right balance of bricks and mortar, so to speak, you need a diet that’s packed with fruits and vegetables and includes few (if any) high-protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish, milk, and dairy. Why? Strange as it may sound, good bone health begins in the bloodstream–and a high-protein diet acidifies the blood. For the body to function properly, the blood must maintain a pH (relative acidity or alkalinity) that’s slightly alkaline.
Protein is composed of amino acids. As the body digests high-protein foods, amino acids flood the bloodstream. The body must then neutralize these acids to avoid life-threatening problems, including osteoporosis. To do so, the body draws from its own reservoir of alkaline material, such as the calcium compounds stored in bone. The bones release their calcium, which eventually gets excreted in urine. Unfortunately, as many studies suggest, the more dietary protein we consume, the more acidic the blood becomes and the more calcium the body must leach from the bones to bring the blood’s pH back into balance.
While dairy does contain ample calcium, it’s also highly acidic. So if you drink milk (or eat a lot of animal protein) and don’t include plenty of alkalizing foods, your diet will–ironically–suck more calcium from bone than it provides, and eventually cause osteoporosis.
Next: Vegetable proteins