Remember that minerals are nonorganic substances, containing the elements essential for survival in nonorganic forms not generally appropriate for direct human ingestion. With a few notable exceptions, nonorganic substances are designed primarily for the support of plant life, while organic substances are designed primarily for the support of animal and human life. Simply put, an example of a nonorganic substance would be a rock, and an example of an organic substance would be an apple. Common sense tells us that we can directly consume only the apple. However, plants can take rock-based minerals and eventually process them into an organic form that will nourish the body. So although we cannot eat the rock directly, we can eat the plant that was partially nourished by the rock-based minerals.
The difference between inorganic and organic forms of essential elements is addressed by the concept of bioavailability. Bioavailability is NOT the same thing as absorbability. Many inorganic forms of ionic elements (for example, the magnesium in magnesium oxide and the calcium in calcium carbonate) are easily absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. However, absorption from the digestive tract does not assure delivery to the proper target sites in the proper target tissues. Nor does it assure that delivery will not be made to the wrong tissues. Many ionic element forms must be delivered to the body in organic, foodlike forms to assure delivery to the proper tissues.
Although it is not a mineral, vitamin D provides a good example of this delivery concept. When sunlight forms active vitamin D (cholecalciferol) in the skin, a specific blood protein attaches to the vitamin and carries it to target tissues. When the tissue receptor sites are physically near, the blood protein will release its attachment to the nutrient and allow its efficient binding to the receptor sites. This mechanism not only allows a very efficient delivery of a nutrient to the precise location where it is needed, but also minimizes the need to "overdose" the body with that nutrient to assure that it gets where it needs to go. This naturally efficient form of nutrient delivery also makes it much less likely that a nutrient will overaccumulate in the wrong place.
While all vitamins and minerals have not had specific blood transport proteins identified for them, variations in how different foods are digested also help to determine how a nutrient is released into the blood to find its target tissues. Many digestive processes deliver vitamin and mineral nutrients into the blood very slowly and in association with other food molecules absorbed at the same time. Never be fooled into thinking that any supplement that is easily absorbed is also a supplement that must be bioavailable as well. Remember that Mother Nature never intended for you to eat a rock, whether it is packaged as an easily swallowable pill or not. As we shall see later, such a supplement is actually toxic, further separating you from the good health that you are trying to attain. You would hope that taking any commercially produced supplement would do at least some good for you, but this is not necessarily the case.
Another reason why the concept of bioavailability is different from the concept of absorbability has to do with the rates of dissociation and reassociation seen with different mineral preparations. Anything that can be dissolved also has a tendency to precipitate and drop back out of solution into its predissolved, solid form. Just because something can ionize and go into solution doesn't mean it will stay in solution. Any dissolved substance can reassociate or re-complex together, and drop back out of solution. Highly dissolvable substances have weak ionic charges holding the substance together, tending to let them stay dissolved. However, other substances have strong ionic charges that can readily result in a recomplexing that will cause the dissolved substance to again drop out of solution. If a dissolved rock that was absorbed into the bloodstream later reas-sociates and deposits inside your tissues, it's easy to understand why your health might be severely compromised by the chronic ingestion of such a substance.
Calcium carbonate is the mineral form of calcium that is the predominant form in dolomite, a very common and cheap source of calcium used in many supplement preparations today. One of the primary characteristics of calcium carbonate in nature is its tendency to precipitate out of solution back into its hard, rocklike form. Stalactites and stalagmites, the spears of rock on the ground and hanging from the ceilings in caves, are dramatic examples of this precipitation. In nature, this precipitation occurs when the water content of the dissolved calcium carbonate begins to evaporate, concentrating the mineral and making it easier for it to drop out of solution.
In the body, similar factors can promote the undesirable precipitation of poorly dissociated mineral forms out of the blood, including this very same calcium carbonate just mentioned. Dehydration, whether caused by the failure to drink enough water or by taking medications such as diuretics, can promote this precipitation. The concentrations and numbers of other solutes, or dissolved substances, in the blood can also affect this tendency to precipitate.
The blood does not have an unlimited capacity to absorb new solutes. When too much of a new substance is absorbed, something else has to precipitate out. One's general health status also affects precipitation. When the acid-base balance of the blood gets out of whack, precipitation may increase. Also, after the precipitation process has already started in the tissues, just as with the calcium deposits seen in the atherosclerotic hardening of the arteries, it is easier for new precipitation to "attach" to the old sites of precipitation and drop out of solution. Just like the stalactites and the stalagmites, once the process has been initiated, it takes much less precipitating "pressure" to continue the process. Many processes in chemistry and biology are much easier to continue than to initiate.
Precipitation can also occur when you take large dosages of supplementation. Even a highly dissolvable form of calcium with weak ionic attractions when dissolved, such as calcium chloride or calcium citrate, will eventually saturate the blood and drop out of solution in combination with a variety of other negatively charged dissolved particles, or anions. So even if your calcium (or other min eral element) doesn't come from a rock, it can still eventually deposit abnormally in your tissues if you take too much. There is a lot of calcium in most diets, and even a relatively small amount of calcium supplementation taken on a regular basis can result in undesirable, rocklike, nonbiologic deposits of calcium in the tissues. These calcium deposits will promote and accelerate almost all of the many different degenerative diseases seen with increasing age. Short-term calcium supplementation to support bone healing and healing in general is about the only reasonable way to supplement this mineral element. Toxicity and poor nutrition are the primary causes of osteoporosis, and these factors must first be addressed if osteoporosis is to be controlled. Causing other diseases with indiscriminate calcium supplementation is not the answer to trying to protect yourself from osteoporosis.
Let's look at one horrifying example of the form many minerals take in supplementation and in foods touted to be enriched. A television station in Denver once aired a children's scientific program, aiming to reassure the children and adult viewers that their breakfast cereal was full of healthy minerals, while giving them an enjoyable lesson in magnetism. When enriched cornflakes were placed on milk, a strong magnet was actually able to steer a flake around on top of the milk! These cornflakes were advertised as containing 100 percent or more of the recommended daily allowances for most of the vitamins and minerals. What was demonstrated next should upset and even infuriate most of you. Using a plastic bag, a large portion of the cornflakes was mixed with water until a reasonably uniform slurry was formed. Then a strong magnet was applied to the outside of the bag and the slurry was sloshed back and forth across the magnet. After only a few seconds, a clear accumulation of nonfilings was clinging to the magnet through the plastic bag! If this is a bioavailable, organic, nutritious form of iron, then you should be able to just grind a nail with a file on top of your cereal for your next breakfast, just like the Parmesan cheese is ground onto your pasta.
There are really three unsettling questions that pose themselves from this demonstration. First, where in the body is all that metallic iron accumulating? Second, do the producers of the show really think metallic iron is a good thing to eat? And third, what forms do most of the other vitamins and minerals take in other "enriched" foods? The supplementation of metallic iron can be detected by a strong magnet, but the other toxic supplement forms cannot be similarly pulled out of the cereal soup in this demonstration and also be properly exposed. When you realize that these inorganic, inedible forms of common minerals are the cheapest to produce and to add to foods, you should seriously consider never eating an "enriched" food again. Eat fresh foods as close to their natural state as possible, and supplement their deficiencies intelligently in the fashion discussed later in this chapter.
Many mineral preparations advertise their products as being highly absorbable. At first blush, this might seem to be highly desirable. However, few mineral elements are needed in large amounts, and most are only required in the most tiny, infinitesimal amounts. Even the most severely mineral-depleted individual does not need, amount-wise, the quantities of minerals that are in most preparations.
Many supplement manufacturers claim good clinical results with their preparations. And many of these claims are probably true, but only when viewed in the short term. A person who is literally starving to death can be kept alive, and even temporarily restored to relatively good health, by virtually any kind of food. This does not mean that the starvation diet will sustain or promote good health if it is eaten indefinitely on a regular basis. Similarly, a mineral-depleted individual can initially show a good clinical response when "flooded" with a nonorganic source of minerals, but the benefit will only be short-lived. In the long run, a toxic effect can be expected to develop. These ionic element forms can literally recharge many of the body's important enzyme and cellular functions and in so doing acutely improve health, while at the same time they are massively accumulating in other tissues where they are not required.
When you fill a storage area with one item unintentionally, you can no longer put the other desirable items into storage there. The situation is no different with the body. Overdoses of nonorganically based elements seen in many mineral preparations must accumulate when they are continually taken, and the result is usually bad in the long run. Even though much of the excess will be naturally eliminated, an eventual accumulation is nevertheless inevitable. This accumulation will have its own toxic effect, keeping the tissues from functioning properly and preventing the accumulation of other valuable nutrients that should be present.
One of the best examples of this toxic accumulation is seen with the most common forms of calcium supplementation. The dairy industry and the osteoporosis experts have convinced the public that massively supplemented calcium is essential to good health and strong bones. In fact, calcium is available in a wide variety of foods. Although you can still become depleted of calcium in your bones with all the calcium available in foods, the real reasons for calcium depletion have more to do with toxins and the chronic ingestion of calcium-mobilizing foods than with the actual lack of calcium in the diet.
Toxins, especially those of dental origin, disrupt the calcium-phosphorus balance, causing a continual mobilization of calcium out of the bones and into the urine. Also, sugar, caffeine, and soft drinks, three of the most commonly eaten substances, all directly promote this increased urinary excretion of calcium mobilized from the bones. In most people, the calcium present in the diet cannot keep pace with this ongoing mobilization, and osteoporosis of some degree is inevitable if you get old enough.
Hair analysis studies done on patients before they had their dental toxins removed revealed an interesting finding. Calcium levels in the hair were typically elevated in most of these patients. This finding is consistent with the continual mobilization of calcium, first into the blood and then into the urine, by toxins and persistently poor food choices. It is also consistent with the regular dairy intake and calcium supplementation typical of many of those patients. However, patients aged seventy or older almost always had normal or even slightly low hair calcium levels. It appeared that patients with chronic and significant elevations of calcium in their hair simply did not live to grow old.
This observation has received some unintended support from the recent scientific literature. Zhang et al. published research that showed that women with higher bone mass were at higher risk for postmenopausal breast cancer.1 Lucas et al. and Cauley et al. reached the same conclusion.2,3 Probably the one thing that all of these women had in common was the long-term ingestion of calcium supplements, usually of rock or other nonorganic origin. Massive amounts of calcium from such sources will increase bone density only slightly, while significantly increasing unwanted calcium deposition elsewhere in the body. Such deposits of calcium will not only increase hair levels of calcium, they will also promote degenerative diseases of all kinds, of which breast cancer is only one. In fact, Evans et al. published that most of the fifty women with one kind of breast cancer (ductal carcinoma in situ) had calcifications on their mammograms.4 Furthermore, Curhan et al. demonstrated that high supplemental calcium may increase the risk of symptomatic kidney stones, while high dietary calcium intake appears to decrease this risk.5 This epidemic of calcium supplementation is also probably one of the major contributing factors to heart attack, a condition almost always associated with calcification of the blood vessels supplying the heart.
Should anyone be taking calcium supplements? In my opinion, absolutely not. Except in those rare cases where supplemental calcium is needed on a short-term basis to promote healing from an injury, calcium supplements should be avoided, even if they do come from a bioavailable source. Calcium is easily overdosed, and the effects of its overaccumulation are certainly at least as undesirable as an osteoporotic fracture. Most people would prefer to have a slightly greater chance of such a fracture than a significantly greater chance of heart attack, cancer, or some other debilitating and life-threatening degenerative disease.
Of course, the real solution to the ravages of osteoporosis is proper nutrition and proper removal of toxins, aiming to prevent or postpone the condition from happening, or to slow or stop its progression. And even if you already have advanced osteoporosis from a lifetime of toxicity and poor foods, it makes no sense to increase your predisposition to so many other diseases to achieve the slight decrease in the risk of fracture that you might get from massive calcium supplementation.
Was this article helpful?