The Blue Zones book has powerfully influenced medical thinking on nutrition. But the Blue Zones website and Adventist Healthcare system contradict the reality of people's diets that are presented in the book itself.
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Have you considered taking calcium pills to prevent osteoporosis, the thinning of the bones responsible for lost height and fragility fractures? If so, you may have encountered the research showing how calcium pills can put you at increased risk for serious harms.
The pros and cons of calcium pills
The recommendation to take calcium pills originated in the assumption that even if they did little to help, aside from mild constipation they would be unlikely to harm.
This assumption, however, has now been called to question by recent evidence suggesting that people taking calcium supplementation are more likely to develop heart attacks, strokes, kidney stones, and painful bone spurs affecting their soft tissues and joints. I have personally treated a number of patients with pain in their joints who experienced relief after a trial off the calcium pills.
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Interestingly, women are at lower risk of these complications from calcium supplements than men. I believe this is probably because more women than men eat vegetables and take supplemental vitamin D.
How would vegetables and vitamin D intake help?
Your Bones Need Deep Nutrition
While calcium is the most talked about mineral for supporting bone health, few people realize that our bones need many nutrients besides calcium—magnesium, selenium, vitamins A, D, and K, and protein, for starters. The fact is, supplementing with calcium alone without addressing other dietary deficiencies offers marginal benefits. In order to actually build healthy bone, multiple members from a much longer list of nutrients have to work together in concert to stimulate the cells living in your bones, to activate the bone-building apparatus that orchestrates the building the of a collagen matrix and then mineralizing that matrix to form new bone.
If your diet and lifestyle are inadequate to support this complex biological activity, adding calcium to an unhealthy situation is unlikely to help.
So what’s the best way to get your calcium? From food!
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Instead of taking pills, I recommend taking some time to consider whether you follow a balanced diet that includes calcium rich foods. Dairy products, nuts and seeds, and dark green, bitter vegetables like chard and kale top the list. Unlike pills, not only do they offer the calcium, they offer your body many other building blocks together with the biochemical instructions your body listens to when it needs to build, or rebuild, healthy bone.
Remember: Food has a three critical functions. Food provides energy (primary with healthy fats). Food provides building-block material with which the body creates new tissue. And food is information, a kind of biochemical message from the Earth’s living environment to the cells of your body, all Interpreted by DNA and Transformed by enzymes and exercise.
That’s why, whenever you rely on pills instead of foods, you risk providing nutrients in an unnatural balance, in a form that the body is ill equipped to recognize and exploit.
The lack of biological ‘information’ not only limits your body’s ability to transport the supplemented nutrients from your digestive tract into your bloodstream (a process called absorption), it interferes with the ability to properly metabolize the nutrients. Without this essential guidance from biology, chaos takes over and the supplemented nutrients end up in random places where they don’t belong.
Exercise plays a key role as well. Without activity, your muscle and bones atrophy no matter how excellent your diet is. All physical activity, in proper proportion, helps keep bones healthy. And while weight bearing is the most talked about, aerobic and balance exercises are essential. Walking, jogging and swimming help optimize circulation for nutrient delivery while activities like dancing, yoga and tai chi improve coordination and balance for reducing the accidents and falls that break bone.
The type of supplement is irrelevant
While much ado is made about what form of supplemental calcium is the best—liquid versus solid, for example—or the ecologically destructive coral calcium versus calcium carbonate (which is basically chalk), the reality is that when you talk about supplementation, the various forms matter little because they are all, at least as far as the body is concerned, unnatural. There’s a reason we never developed cravings for chalk or coral, because these foreign replacements for the bone fide article confuses the body, leading to intestinal upset and constipation, as well as other problems.
in most cases, the powerfully beneficial alternative to supplements is REAL FOOD!
It’s good to remember that real food isn’t just a supplement to supplements. It’s the staff of life. It protects us, helps us grow, fights off age and disease and connects us to the earth. The truth is, the vast majority of your supplement dollar will wind up swirling down the toilet: what the body can’t use, it discards. Either it will pass right through your digestive system and exit the rear due to limited absorption, or the portion that does get into your blood will quickly be excreted by your kidneys.
That’s if you’re lucky.
If you are unlucky, the supplement will react with other elements in your body in unpredictable ways. Well, not entirely unpredictable. In the case of calcium, chemistry favors reactions with certain glycoproteins in collagen, and that’s why we get the buildup of plaque, kidney stones, and bone spurs, glycoproteins that arteries, kidneys, tendons, and ligaments contain in abundance.
I know, it sounds almost as if I have a bone to pick. But it’s not that, really. I want you to be the healthiest you can be. And for that to happen, I want you to give real food a try.
Calcium Rich Foods (with loads of other nutrients)
Sardines (canned, bone in) 380mg per 3 ounce serving (also high in protein, magnesium, vitamin D)
Sesame seeds, dry roasted 280 per 1 ounce serving (handful) (also high in magnesium, potassium, zinc)
Mackerel (canned, bone in) 240 mg per 3 ounce serving (also high in protein, magnesium, vitamin D)
Salmon (canned, bone in) 240 mg per 3 ounce serving (also high in protein, magnesium, vitamin D)
Collards, steamed 250 mg per 4 ounce serving
Whole milk yogurt 230 mg per 6 ounce serving
Cheddar cheese 220 mg per 1 ounce serving
Feta cheese 140 mg per 1 ounce serving
Broccoli, steamed 140 mg per 4 ounce serving
Cottage cheese 110 mg per 6 ounce serving
Almonds 75 mg per 1 ounce (handful) serving
Pistachio nuts, salted and roasted, 30 mg per 1 ounce (handful) serving
Thyme, dried 26 mg per tsp
Sunflower seeds, salted and dry roasted 20 mg per 1 ounce (handful) serving
Women have higher D levels than men http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20595642