Pitfalls of calcium supplementation: How to protect your heart and bones

By Hilde Nel

Did you know that between four and six million South Africans have osteoporosis? One in three women and one in five men over 50 will develop this condition.  Hip fractures are very serious among the elderly and cause many deaths every year.

However, taking calcium incorrectly can do more harm than good. When choosing a calcium supplement, consider the following:

Digestive problems

Calcium carbonate for instance is alkalising. Taken on its own, it may affect gastric acid. This can be problematic, since our production of gastric acid slows with aging, resulting in digestive problems such as constipation and gas. Choosing a supplement that contains both magnesium and calcium may counteract this side-effect of calcium.

Good forms of organic calcium include calcium citrate, chelated calcium (such as calcium bisglycinate) and dicalcium malate.

Co-factors to build bones and prevent calcification

Calcium is a team player. It needs certain co-factors to facilitate bone-building. If a post-menopausal woman takes calcium on its own, she needs to be aware that low oestrogen levels may hamper the absorption of calcium into the bones.

Recent research has highlighted vitamin K2 and vitamin D3 as important co-factors for bone mineralisation.

  • Vitamin K2

Studies have shown that vitamin K2 (specifically MK-7, which is more bio-available and better absorbed than MK-4) is crucial to bone-building and promoting heart health.

Vitamin K2 removes calcium deposits from soft tissues and therefore prevents calcification of our blood vessels and other tissues. In fact, vitamin K2 can even reverse calcification of soft tissues! This makes vitamin K2 one of the most promising vitamins of our time. It ensures that the calcium ends up where we need it: in the bones.

Soft tissues that may calcify include the arteries and aorta, resulting in heart disease, stroke and other circulatory conditions. Other soft tissues include breast tissue, tendon sheaths (causing bone spurs), kidneys and the pancreas.

Calcification of arteries to the brain affects the functioning of the brain, causing age-related memory decline and even Alzheimer’s disease. Research indicates that people who have a genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s also have low vitamin K2 levels.

Low vitamin K2 levels are associated with loss of bone mineral density (resulting in osteoporosis) and the calcification of the aorta. People with high vitamin K2 levels have more flexible, elastic arterial walls.

Factors that may inhibit vitamin K2 production in the intestines include:

  • Medication such as antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories that destroy the friendly bacteria in the intestines.
  • Medication such as anti-coagulants that inhibit the conversion of vitamin K1 into vitamin K2.
  • A diet high in sugar and alcohol that disrupts the balance of the intestinal flora.
  • A weak immune system that can cause fungal overgrowth in the intestines, impairing the production of vitamin K2.

Food sources rich in vitamin K2 include brie, Dutch Edam cheese and natto, a Japanese fermented soy dish. The U.S. cardiologist Dr Stephen Sinatra recommends taking 150 mcg of vitamin K2 for cardiovascular health.

  • Vitamin D3

New scientific evidence shows that we need much more vitamin D than was previously thought. Vitamin D3 is not only crucial to bone-building, but also to cardiovascular protection, immunity and cancer protection. Unfortunately, a large percentage of people are deficient in vitamin D.

  • Other co-factors

Other important co-factors required for proper calcium utilisation include magnesium, boron (a crucial trace mineral for bone building), zinc, silica, copper and manganese. Hydrolysed collagen is also highly recommended to build bones.

Watching what we eat

The average South African diet is rich in animal protein and low in alkalising fruit and vegetables. If we regularly drink acidifying soft drinks, we’re heading for trouble.

To counteract an acidifying diet, our bodies remove calcium from our bones to balance our cellular environment’s pH. Over time, our bones are weakened, resulting in fractures.

Eating plenty alkalising fruit and vegetables as well as taking green Superfood supplements indirectly help to protect our bones.

Get moving

Exercise can strongly impact on bone health. A sedentary lifestyle is linked to muscle loss and reduced bone density. This combination can be deadly as we age.

Our muscles love a combination of weight-bearing exercise and resistance training. Low-impact weight-bearing exercise include dancing, jogging and tennis, to name a few. High-impact weight-bearing exercise include walking on a treadmill and doing low-impact aerobics.

Muscle-strengthening exercise includes lifting weights or one’s own body weight, using elastic exercise bands, and doing functional movements such as standing on and rising up on one’s toes. The idea is to work against gravity.


Don’t become a statistic. A combination of lifestyle changes and supplementation based on cutting-edge research have given hope to many. This program addresses not only bone strength, but also supports cardiovascular health by inhibiting calcification of soft tissues.

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