Stop Worrying About Calcium Deficiency

The com­mit­tee that put togeth­er the Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans, 2010 were try­ing to solve a nonex­is­tent prob­lem: cal­ci­um defi­cien­cy. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, their sug­gest­ed solu­tion to this nonex­is­tent prob­lem would make some of our most seri­ous real prob­lems worse. If peo­ple fol­low these guide­lines and eat more dairy foods, they will actu­al­ly increase their risk for osteo­poro­sis and sev­er­al oth­er com­mon, seri­ous health prob­lems.

The human body is sur­pris­ing­ly good at main­tain­ing cal­ci­um bal­ance on a low-cal­ci­um diet. To find cas­es of true dietary defi­cien­cy of cal­ci­um, you have to look at peo­ple who were con­sum­ing extreme­ly abnor­mal diets. Most cas­es involved babies who were being fed some bizarre sub­sti­tute for breast milk. In real­i­ty, cas­es of rick­ets (soft bones) in chil­dren are near­ly always due to a short­age of vit­a­min D, the sun­shine vit­a­min.

When you think about it, most of the world’s large land ani­mals man­age to get enough cal­ci­um from their plant-based diet to grow an enor­mous skele­ton. Nor does any species oth­er than our own con­sume the milk of anoth­er species, or any milk at all after infan­cy. So why should we expect human beings to need dairy foods, or to need a cal­ci­um intake that can be achieved only through eat­ing dairy foods or tak­ing sup­ple­ments? It makes no sense.

Sci­en­tists have known for decades that osteo­poro­sis occurs main­ly in coun­tries where peo­ple eat a lot of dairy prod­ucts and have a rel­a­tive­ly high cal­ci­um intake. In fact, there’s rea­son to believe that eat­ing too much ani­mal pro­tein and too much cal­ci­um actu­al­ly caus­es osteo­poro­sis.

The pop­u­la­tions with a high risk for osteo­poro­sis also have high rates of death from coro­nary artery dis­ease. For­tu­nate­ly, the same kind of diet that pre­vents heart attacks also helps to keep the bones strong. That means eat­ing a low-fat, plant-based diet that includes plen­ty of fruits and veg­eta­bles.

It’s also impor­tant to get enough vit­a­min D. A few min­utes of expo­sure to mid­day sun on the face and arms dur­ing the spring, sum­mer, and fall should pro­vide enough vit­a­min D for most light-skinned peo­ple in the Unit­ed States. If you are dark-skinned, live in the far North, or have some oth­er rea­son why you can’t go out in the sun­shine, your doc­tor, physi­cian assis­tant, or nurse prac­ti­tion­er can mon­i­tor your vit­a­min D lev­els and advise you about vit­a­min D sup­ple­ments.

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