Last night I was at the gym and while I was doing my warm-up there was an ad on the TVs. It was for a new fantastic 'high calcium' yogurt. In typical TV land fashion the ad was complete with little scales going up and down as this brand was compared with that brand and the two women sitting on a bench were subtly put into a "calcium competition". I was struck with the simplicity and potential misinformation of it all and decided that I needed to investigate more deeply and write a post focusing on Calcium, what it is, where to find it, how the body really absorbs and uses it and the best way to keep levels up where it needs to be for a long healthy and active life. 

So lets get started!

Calcium. This important mineral makes up 2% of our body weight and 98% of that resides in our bones, 1% in our teeth and the remaining 1% circulates in our body doing what it needs to do (more on that later). Our bones serve as a Calcium storage unit as well as the foundation from which our muscels hang and thus articulate as we live our lives. It makes sense to focus some attention on building and maintaining this vital bodily foundation.

Calcium doesn't just absorb into the body when we eat it - other minerals, hormones and nutrients are important to ensure proper absorption. Vitamin D and Phosphorous, for examples are required in order for Calcium to be absorbed from the digestive tract. 

Once in the system, Calcium works in tandem with Magnesium to regulate heart and muscle contractions as well as nerve conduction. So you can see that Calcium is very important just to function smoothly in a day-to-day way, above and beyond just producing a foundation.

When our blood Calcium levels are too low to maintain cellular functioning the body takes matters into it's own hands (you should have been getting more Calcium in your diet) and releases hormones which will inspire both the drawing of Calcium from the great reservoir that is our skeleton and a greater rate of absorption in the intestines. It works to correct the levels of Calcium in the blood any way it can. An ongoing state of low dietary Calcium intake, which remders the increased intestinal absoprtion response moot, and the body drawing Calcium from the bones ends in what is medically known as Osteoporosis. The precursor to Osteoporosis is Osteopeonia. 

Both of these conditions leave the bones in a very precarious position, brittle, weak and looking like microscopic swiss cheese. As we age, if our bone density decreases and this porification of our foundation continues we are left vulnerable to breakage of bones. The weak bones don't break cleanly like a bone of a healthy body, instead they shatter and often times it is the inability for the body to heal the messy break that turns life swiftly down a dire path. Again, we can see just how important it is to bring awareness and attention to creating and maintaining a healthy skeleton.

How, exactly, do we create and maintain a healthy skeleton? That comes down to balance, like so much else.

Factors that contribute to Calcium absorption:
- Body Needs (growth, pregnancy, lactation etc.)
- Vitamin D, A and C
- Milk Lactose
- Acid Environment (Hydrochloric Acid, Citric Acid, Vitamin C)
- Protein Intake
- Fat Intake
- Exercise
- Phosphorous Balance

Factors that detract from Calcium absorption:
- High Fat Intake
- High Phosphorous Intake
- High Protein Intake
- Low Stomach Acid
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Lack of Exercise
- Oxalic Acid Foods (Beet Greens, Chard, Spinach, Rhubarb, Cocoa)
- Phytic Acid Foods (Whole Grains)
- Stress
- Vitamin D deficiency

As we can see it is a balancing act. One thing can help absoprtion but too much of that item will actually cause the opposite effect. So, much like everything else, moderation is key. Getting enough protein is important, but taking on an Atkins style diet might be overkill. Sufficient dietary fats is also important, but again, too much and it swings in the opposite direction. Interestingly, dairy products, the very thing that inspired me to write this post, are, when balanced properly, a good source for absorbable Calcium. While skim milk products tend to contribute to a release of Calcium (the ratio of Protein to Fat is disrupted), a higher fat, whole milk will act beneficially to Calcium absoprtion as the Lactose and properly balanced Protein- Fat ratio lends itself to easy Calcium absorption. What happens when your trainer has told you to eat Fat Free Greek Yogurt?! You guessed it, BALANCE; be sure to include a healthy fat such as Avocado, Nut Butter, Udos Oil etc. and you'll be reaping the benefits of a healthy protein-fat ratio! Other good sources of Calcium are Broccoli, Cauliflower, and many types of Peas and Beans (Pinto, Adzuki, Soybeans). Nuts, specifically Almonds, Brazil Nuts and Hazelnuts, Seeds, sunflower and sesame, also contain good amounts of Calcium. Molasses is fairly high in Calcium and fruits such as Figs, Citrus, Raisins and Dried Apricots have a decent amount. 

What about supplementing. Quite often supplements come into play when we just don't want to MANAGE our diets. We worry that we aren't doing a good job and so we lean on the insurance that supplements seem to offer. Take a pill and live life knowing your bases are covered, right? Well not so much. Taking supplements is tricky business and to take JUST a Calcium supplement can send things into a spiral of deficiencies and imbalances. Calcium can help with the absorption of Vitamin B12, but too much and it competes for space in the blood and pushes out other vitals such as Magnesium, Zinc, Iron and Manganese. You are better off investing the energy you might put into sorting pills into eating a well rounded diet that looks something like 50% Carbohydrates (veggies and whole grains), 30% Protein (Lean and Clean), 20% Fat (Healthy sources such as nuts, seeds and oils there of.)

Another way to ensure a strong healthy bone structure is to MOVE your body. Use it as it was designed to be used; actually give it the opportunity to function as it was miraculously built to function. Exercise, weight bearing exercise, such as weight lifting, jumping, running, playing!, puts your body into "growth" mode. This signals your body to strengthen the structure that all the muscles are animating so as to equip it for more and safer mobility. The body has no option BUT to build better bones, absorbing all the calcium you're feeding it and storing it in its bones for fututre stability. Doing this exercise outside is a double health bonus as the Vitamin D that is produced in our skin with the help of the natural Sun increases Calcium absorption. 

Now that we've investigated a bit into Calcium we can see that it is an extremely important mineral for us to be aware of and to make sure that we are getting enough of. That being said, depsite the importance of it it's not exactly rocket science how to get the right levels. Nature built our bodies in a way that its environment could support it and if we focus on maintaining a balanced diet, remain curious with our vegetable palate, keep our Protein-Fat-Carb ratios in line, and follow a whole foods diet as well as include vigorous and challenging activity in our daily list of priorties our body will generally take care of the rest.