OSTEOPOROSIS : THE CALCIUM MYTH

Osteoporosis is a condition of loss of calcium and other alkaline minerals from the skeleton resulting in brittle bones. The popular notion is that osteoporosis is caused from lack of dietary calcium; indeed, vested interests (eg the Dairy industry, and “nutritionists” who are paid by it) suggest that regular intake of dairy products ("a glass or two a day...") is the best way to prevent and even reverse this disease.  This is actually a very cruel deception being foisted on an unsuspecting population.

Lack of Dietary Calcium?

In Western countries, osteoporosis is not caused by a lack of calcium in the diet. It is caused by a lack of calcium in the bones. Please note the distinction. Do you really think we lack calcium in our diets? Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our soils; Australian soils are especially limey (calcium-rich), and the widespread commercial use of dolomite (a calcium product) ensures there is plenty of calcium in all our food. Besides, food producers add calcium to a lot of our food products.  So what are the facts of the matter?

The largest ever investigation on diet (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1983) shows that in populations where the intake of dietary calcium and dairy products is the highest, the level of osteoporosis (as well as many other diseases) is the highest, and populations which have lower intakes of calcium actually have a stronger skeleton. For example, about 50 million female Americans over age 40 have been diagnosed with osteoporosis and arthritis. These females have been drinking in excess of 1 kilo of milk per day for their entire adult lives. Scandinavians are among the world's heaviest milk drinkers and they have the highest rates of osteoporosis.  On the other hand, African Bantu women take in only 350 mg of calcium per day (cf average Aussi - 600 mg / day). They bear nine children on average which they breast feed each for 2 years, and they rarely (if ever) suffer calcium deficiency or osteoporosis. Stone-age people did not consume animal milk; they had large, strong bones. Of course, calcium is contained in so many foods, including vegies, nuts & seeds, legumes, & fruits (eg cabbage, spinach, parsley, broccoli, lettuce, kelp, onions, beans, lentils, olives, avocado, dried fruits, figs, dates, raisins, apricots, currants, sesame & sunflower seeds, nuts, molasses, flax seed, and soy.

And note, what calcium there is in animal milk is largely unable to be absorbed by the human gut; unlike a calf, we don’t have 3 stomachs for a start. Besides this, pasteurisation (heat) destroys phosphatase, the enzyme needed for absorption of dairy-based calcium by the human gut.  Suffice to say here, dairy foods are probably the worst source of calcium (See our handout The Problems with Milk and other Dairy Foods.). Why are doctors so blind to the fact that drinking milk does not prevent osteoporosis, indeed may in fact cause it?

What Are the Causes? 

Perhaps the most significant causative factor of osteoporosis is a high intake of acid-forming foods, creating a more highly acidic environment in the system, especially tissues and the blood. Because of the body's requirement for strict acid-alkali control (for example, blood pH has to be kept within the very narrow range of 7.35 to 7.45 -alkaline- else tetany, coma and death would follow rapidly), the body has several homeostatic (balancing) control mechanisms or buffer systems which operate to maintain blood pH, such as the kidneys, and buffer compounds in the blood itself such as sodium bi-carbonate, sodium phosphate and carbonic acid. However, with excess intake of acid-producing foods, for example animal protein such as meat and dairy, cereals, and high sugar-containing foods, soft drinks, the metabolic waste-products (which are acids) formed tend to overload these buffer systems. The body’s homeostatic "fallback" positions are activated, which include pulling calcium from bones in order to buffer against the threat that excess acidity causes to the whole system. (Calcium is an alkali). It is a case of a part of the body being sacrificed for the benefit of the whole. Also, red meat contains anywhere from 20 to 50 times more phosphorus than calcium. This excess phosphorus stimulates the parathyroid glands, responsible for mobilising calcium from the bones, and this extra calcium is then deposited around the joints, explaining the common finding in osteoporosis of less dense bones with calcium buildup around the joints.  Vegetarians have less osteoporosis than meat-eaters; a good vegetarian diet will have a much better phosphorus-to-calcium ratio.  Another source of excess phosphorus is soft drinks.  See also MM Sept 1995 which quotes NEJM 330, 1776-81, 1994.

"Osteoporosis is in fact a disease caused by a number of things, the most important of which is excess intake of protein" (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1970), because of its acidity.  The irony here is that the overall metabolic effect of dairy foods is acid-forming; this problem is further complicated by the fact that most people who consume milk products (cheese, butter etc) tend also to consume high levels of other proteins such as meats and grains, which are also acid-forming. High protein diets which regularly include animal proteins such as red meat, white meats, fish, dairy foods, actually cause increased secretion of calcium from the body in the urine.

There are other factors implicit in abnormal calcium bone metabolism.  These factors can include:-

  • Poor digestion and absorption of calcium.  Among other things, proper levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach are required for making calcium bio-available for absorption.  Many factors contribute to western populations having characteristically low gastric acid levels.  Combine this with the habit of drinking water or juice etc with a meal, eating hurriedly, or whilst stressed, and it is no wonder the calcium which is more than ample in our foods is just not absorbed by the body, and is simply excreted.
  • Calcium supplements are generally very hard to absorb (see our InfoSheet on Coral Calcium)
  • High dietary fat intake also decreases calcium absorption.
  • Smoking creates an acidic internal environment.
  • Lack of vitamin D can cause dysregularities in calcium metabolism via the parathyroid glands.  Vitamin D is synthesised from direct exposure to the sun.  We have had an increasing sun-phobia and paranoia in Australia.  Women tend to get less sun on their bodies than men.
  • Excess refined sugar (sucrose) intake causes increased urinary calcium loss.
  • A high acid ash diet (meat and other high protein dairy foods, most cereal grains and other starches) increase calcium urinary excretion.  It’s all about balance.
  • Excess sodium intake causes increased urinary calcium loss.  Sodium is richly present in salt in refined (unbalanced) ratios, but also in cheeses and many other processed foods.
  • Reduction in estrogen levels around menopause also have a direct bearing on bone calcium metabolism, but there is no truth in the myth that HRT will prevent or reverse osteoporosis; estrogen levels are one small factor in what is otherwise a complex scenario.
  • Lack of magnesium in the diet1.  Through its involvement in the normal activity of the hormones controlling calcium, adequate serum levels of magnesium are necessary for proper calcium metabolism. Hypomagnesemia can result in hypocalcemia and peripheral resistance to the effects of vitamin D.  In fact a high calcium intake intensifies magnesium deficit, so people who have calcium-enriched foods or supplements to an extent that the calcium:magnesium ratio of 2:1 is exceeded, a relative or absolute magnesium deficiency will also exist.  Especially given that a stressed person requires more magnesium, and given that the trend in Australia away from magnesium sources, it is not surprising to see osteoporosis on the increase.  The best dietary sources of magnesium are the fresh leafy green vegetables.
  • There are many other western dietary habits causing increased urinary calcium loss.  Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, certain vitamin deficiencies such as vitamins K, B-group, C, as well as D, are all implicated in the causes of osteoporosis.
  • Deficiencies of other trace minerals required in bone structure, eg zinc, copper, manganese, boron, silicon, and other minerals present in bone whose function we do not understand yet such as strontium, molybdenum, vanadium and chromium.  Soils are increasingly deficient in minerals, is it any wonder we are showing increasing numbers of mineral-deficiency diseases?  Celtic salt contains all these minerals.

In Australia, whether one consumes dairy foods or not is irrelevant.  All fruit and vegetables contain calcium sufficient for even a vegan to avoid osteoporosis2.  There are very high levels of bio-available calcium in soy products3 for starters. Fertilisers such as lime and dolomite, contain lots of calcium and are used widespread on food crops.  It is safe to say, without contradiction, that no Australian is deficient in dietary calcium.  Don't waste your money on "calcium-supplemented" foods.

A proper natural progesterone level does not only help prevent osteoporosis, it can reverse it.  Natural progesterone cream has been shown to reverse osteoporosis by between 7 – 9% per year. So the rather simplistic medical approach of prescribing HRT (usually estrogen-based, or synthetic progestogens) and common calcium supplements and advising people to drink more milk, is ineffective.  It does not prevent or reverse osteoporosis.  Studies as recently as 1997 in England and Gambia suggest that increases in calcium intake, either by food or supplementation, have no effect on the normal changes in calcium and bone metabolism4.  Osteoporosis is prevented by simply not causing it5.  It is also reversible, when the specific causative processes are properly addressed, as we do in our clinic.  Weight bearing exercises are also vital to any prevention/treatment strategy.  And supplement only with ionic calcium, such as coral calcium, which is 100% absorbable.



1. recent research suggest that osteoporosis is likely to be shown to be a magnesium-deficiency disease

2. In fact, studies show vegans avoid osteoporosis better than others.

3. There is almost 3 times the amount of calcium in soy milk as in full cream dairy milk as it is

4. Prentice, A.  Perspectives in Food and Nutrition Issue 8, Dec 1997

5. Soft drinks, some medications, smoking, salt, sugar, coffee and tea may also contribute, as will lack of exercise. Immobilisation doubles the rates of calcium excretion via kidneys and bowels

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