Calcium remains a primary mineral when it comes to healthy bone development and maintenance. Unknown to many, calcium does more than just building strong and healthy bones. We also need the mineral to regulate nerve, muscle and hormone functions.
Doctors often recommend calcium supplements to older adults, especially women, to prevent osteoporosis and decrease the risk of fractures. However, calcium loading through supplements to prevent osteoporosis has stirred up quite a controversy in recent times.
Excessive calcium in the body has been linked to increased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular events  , especially when it is coming through over-consumption of calcium supplements, ironically taken to prevent or manage osteoporosis.
Studies have shown excessive calcium in the body can do more harm than good; and more so if you are deficient in Vitamin D and Magnesium. We have covered the role of both these nutrients in details in one of our previous articles “Is Calcium Enough for Healthy Bones?”
As a quick recap; calcium can only help you build a healthy skeletal system if you have enough Vitamin D. And you can only utilize vitamin D if you have healthy levels of magnesium in the body. This is how this fascinating relationship works:
- Magnesium works like a key that unlocks cells and allows calcium and potassium to enter the cells as and when these minerals are needed. Once their work is done magnesium, like a vigilant guard, ushers these minerals out.
- Magnesium also makes vitamin D bio-available. It converts vitamin D into its active, usable form.
- Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium (and also phosphorus).
But what happens when we are deficient in either of these nutrients?
When you take calcium supplements but are lacking in vitamin D and magnesium, there can be excessive build-up of calcium in the body. This calcification can be detrimental to your bones as well as overall health. Are the risks real? Let’s find out.
What is Calcification?
Excessive build-up of calcium in various parts of the body is known as calcification. Widespread use of calcium supplements contributes substantially to heavy mineral intake. In addition, our modern diet contains lots of food fortified with calcium. The lack of information about the role of magnesium and vitamin D in healthy calcium metabolism is again one very important factor. Infections, auto-immune diseases and injury can also cause calcification.
But how could excess calcium damage bone health?
Excessive calcium could be making our bones weaker, and here is why. The extra calcium in the body is channelled towards the bones, and for very important reasons.
We don’t want calcium levels in the blood to be rising too much, or else it will deposit into soft tissues, joints, intestines, arteries and kidneys – causing painful muscle spasms, arthritis, constipation and increased risk of heart disease. To avoid all this chaos, the body shunts the extra calcium into the bones, but not without serious repercussions.
The absorption of calcium in the bone and its deportation from the bones to bloodstream is a complicated but highly organized process. A simple explanation would look like this.
Osteoblasts are specialized bone cells that integrate calcium into the bone matrix – increasing the mineral content in the bone and making the skeleton strong and healthy. That’s why osteoblasts are also called bone-building cells. At the same time, osteoclasts, the other type of bone cells, breaks down the old bone tissue. This process helps to release calcium into the bloodstream; from where the mineral is used by the body for other functions.
Now, excess calcium triggers faster replication of osteoblasts. However, more than half of these osteoblasts die as they form the new bone mineral matrix. If your calcium intake has been abnormally high, new osteoblasts will replicate at a rapid speed and keep replacing the dying osteoblasts; but only to a certain point. It is because osteoblasts can only be replaced a fixed number of times .
Soon there will be a lack of new osteoblasts; meaning no new bone formation is taking place while the old bone tissue is constantly being broken down. This eventually results in loss of bone tissue – causing porous and brittle bones. And this is exactly what happens in osteoporosis.
Abnormal calcification in bones and soft tissue is not the only problem. Excessive calcium, especially without magnesium to keep a tight rein on it, creates more mayhem than you can imagine.
In this Huffington Post article, Dr. Carolyn Dean, a Medical and Naturopathic Doctor and an expert on Magnesium, explains that, “Too much calcium along with too little magnesium can cause some forms of arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and calcification of the arteries, leading to heart attack and cardiovascular disease.” She adds that we used to eat a magnesium rich diet about a hundred years ago but not anymore. But the amount of calcium intake has increased exponentially in the form of fortified food, supplements and of course our regular diet. “This high-calcium, low-magnesium diet, when coupled with calcium supplementation, can give a calcium to magnesium imbalance of 10:1 or even higher — which constitutes a walking time bomb of impaired bone health and heart disease.”
What can you do to make your bones healthy and strong? Increase your vitamin C intake. People usually associate vitamin C with healthy immune system. But this essential vitamin also contributes to a strong skeletal system. Vitamin C helps in the synthesis of collagen – a fibrous protein that is an important constituent of our connective tissue including bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and even blood vessels. Vitamin C has also been found to be effective in managing painful arthritis symptoms.
Get sensible sun exposure to get your dose of vitamin D and don’t forget magnesium . Daily exercise, especially the weight bearing kind such as walking, running and cycling; and staying physically active also play a very important role in making your bones heathy.
- Anderson et al. Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10‐Year Follow‐up of the Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). J Am Heart Assoc. 2016 Oct; 5(10): e003815.
- Bolland, MJ, A Grey, A Avenell, GD Gamble, and IR Reid. “Calcium Supplements with or without Vitamin D and Risk of Cardiovascular Events: Reanalysis of the Women’s Health Initiative Limited Access Dataset and Meta-Analysis.” Epub BMJ (Apr 19, 2011): 342:d2040.
- Excessive Calcium Causes Osteoporosis.