Which Calcium is Best?

old message Which Calcium is Best? Darrell Miller 10/17/06

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Date: October 17, 2006 03:52 PM
Subject: Which Calcium is Best?

Customers walking into a health food store today are faced with a vast array of calcium supplements. They might ask: which one should I pick? Which one is best? Not easy questions to answer. All calcium forms will accomplish the same task: providing your body with a nutrient that it needs to build healthy bones and teeth; however, which form of calcium has the features that you want in a calcium supplement? Looking at shelves of calcium products is kind of like shopping for a car; there are many makes and many models—some are basic and others are more sophisticated.

Fortunately, there are many forms of calcium to satisfy your needs. Like the car lot, a health food store offers many options; therefore, you have to select a calcium product that consumers will feel confident in taking regularly and that will provide the most benefit.

Some consumers have done research and will come armed with information. They have already made choices based on advertising, word-of-mouth or an article they have read. They already know the form of calcium they want, be it a “Ferrari” or a “Ford.” If the client doesn’t have a specific preference: asking these basic questions will help in the selection process:

1. Do you prefer tablets, capsules, softgels, liquid or powder?

  • Tablets are for consumers who want high dosage in fewer pills.
  • Capsules are flavorless and may be easier to swallow than tablets for some.
  • Softgels have a slicker surface and may slide down the throat more easily for some.
  • Liquids are easiest to swallow and are available in different flavors.
  • Powders are flavorless, versatile and can be mixed with food or beverages.

2. Do you have high or low stomach acid?

  • Should you use calcium that has buffering action or a calcium that does not further reduce your stomach acid.

3. Do you have absorption issues?

  • Rapid transit time in the bowels may affect a person’s choice of calcium.

What is calcium?

Calcium (Ca) is one of the most important minerals found in our bones and teeth—99 percent of body calcium is found there. But the calcium molecule does not like to travel alone and, in its more basic state, it comes bounded to carbon (C), Oxygen (O), and/or hydrogen (H) molecules or in more complex form, it is bonded to organic or amino acids that act as stabilizing carriers. On most labels, the amount of calcium listed actually indicates the pure or elemental calcium because it is that amount of the calcium that is deemed important to our daily supplementation, not the complex of the materials with which it is bonded.

Where does calcium come from?

Other than the calcium found in bone, the only natural form of calcium found in nature is calcium carbonate, a calcium molecule bonded to one molecule of carbon and three molecules of oxygen (CaCO3). One of the most common minerals on the face of the earth, calcium carbonate is called calcite, aragonite or vaterite by geologists. In its geological form, it constitutes approximately four percent, by weight, or the earth’s crust.

Commercial sources of calcium carbonate used to make supplements are: limestone, dolomite, oyster cell, egg shell, coral and sea water (have you ever seen that white deposit left by hard water? That’s mostly calcium carbonate). Calcium carbonate is the starting material for all other forms of calcium supplements. From this starting material, calcium can be reduced to more concentrated forms, such as oxide or hydroxide or it can be chelated (bonded) to organic acids and amino acids to help support enhanced absorption.

Lets look more closely at the different forms of calcium that are available as supplements.

Calcium Oxide (CaO): this form is 71 percent elemental calcium and is also called “lime” commercially. This is one of the oldest and most inexpensive forms of calcium used in a variety of commercial applications and it is occasionally used in supplements where space and price are a factor. It sometimes can be found in inexpensive mass market calcium/mineral combinations or multivitamin/mineral products and in a unique algal calcium from Japan. Unfortunately, CaO is a strong alkali that may cause stomach distress, which is why it isn’t often used in health food supplements.

Calcium Hydroxide (CaHO): at 54 percent elemental calcium, it is the next highest source of elemental calcium and is also known commercially as “slaked lime.” It is used where space is an issue. Although it is also a strong alkali, it is more stable than calcium oxide. It is most often used as a component of multi-mineral formulations or in addition to other forms of calcium (i.e., calcium citrate) to provide potency where space is an issue. It is not often used as a single ingredient in health food supplementation. This is for people who want a high dosage of calcium from a minimum amount of pills in multi-mineral formulas.

Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3): at 40 percent elemental calcium, it is the most widely used form of calcium in single ingredient calcium supplements as well as combination supplements. Inexpensive and an abundant source of elemental calcium, it is the only form of calcium found in nature outside of bone. It is the primary form of calcium used in the mass market and in antacid products. This is for people who have high stomach acid and who need a buffering type of calcium. Also for people who want a high dose of calcium in a minimum amount of pills.

Calcium Citrate: at 21 percent elemental calcium, it is one of the most popular forms of calcium supplements in the health food market as well as the mass market. This calcium salt does not lower stomach acid as much as calcium carbonate. This calcium salt is usually recommended for people who have low stomach acid, have had stomach surgery or who need a form of calcium that will not lower their stomach acid further.

Calcium Gluconate and Lactate: these two forms of calcium are high soluble. Since the amount of elemental calcium is much lower (9 percent and 13 percent respectively), they are used more often in powder form and mixed with liquids or food. When mixed in a beverage, the calcium is already dissolved and is ready to be absorbed. This is the best calcium salt for people who have overactive bowels, who have trouble swallowing pills or who don’t like the taste of pre-formed liquid calcium supplements. These calcium powders can be mixed in juices or smoothies or added to food as they are virtually tasteless.

Calcium Orotate and Asporotate: In the mid 20th century, Dr. Hans Nieper, a German scientist, advanced a theory that orotic and aspartic salt forms of calcium are transported directly to cell membranes for better absorption. The Solaray brand developed an asporotate formula, which combines three organic acids: aspartic acid (-Asp), orotic acid (-oro) and citric acid (-tate) into one product. The asporotate formula has become one of the most popular calcium formulas and is exclusive to the Solaray brand. This product is for customers who appreciate the idea of combining the enhanced absorbability of three organic acids into one. Aspartate and citrate are also part of the krebs (energy) cycle and are natural to the body’s metabolic systems and, according to Neiper, calcium Orotate and Aspartate are mineral transporters that enter into the cells to facilitate enzymatic actions rather than being extra-cellular. For people who believe that intracellular calcium is of importance, calcium Orotate and asporotate may be good choice.

Calcium Hydroxyapatite: this is another “natural form of calcium usually as a mineral ash form bovine source bone. Bone meal is also a form of calcium from bovine bone. These forms of animal derived calcium are for customers who want a source that is closest to their own bone matrix. Not for vegetarians.

Calcium Amino Acid Chelates (*HVP): this form is calcium carbonate bonded (Chelated) to a form of amino acid complex such as whole rice concentrate or other grain source. This form is for customers who want the additional bioavailability of amino acids.

Calcium AEP: Another form of calcium endorsed by Dr. Hans Nieper who theorized that calcium would cross the cell membranes more readily when it was combined with phosphatidyl ethanolamine or Amino Ethanol Phosphate (AEP), a nutrient found in nerve sheaths. This highly specialized form is for very educated customers who are proponets of Hans Niepers theory.

So, which form is best?

Calcium, like cars, comes in a variety of forms. Isn’t it wonderful that we have so many choices? The point is, there is no best one, there are only individual choices. Although we have our favorites, taking a calcium supplement, regardless of which one it is, should:

  • Be a matter of personal choice based on how our body feels when taking it.
  • Be in a form that is most convenient or appetizing so that we receive our daily requirements.
  • Take into consideration any personal body limitations we might have .

Our primary concern when choosing a calcium supplement should be to provide our body with the right amount of calcium daily so that our skeleton and teeth can maintain proper mineralization and strength as the cells continuously break down and rebuild. The type of calcium complex we prefer is entirely up to us.

*HVP = Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein

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