In the last installment I argued that, yes, you should take a multivitamin. I cited clear evidence, showing multivitamins can lower the risk of death from heart disease and breast cancer. In this installment, I will start exploring individual nutrients within multivitamins, empowering you to make the best choices given your age, gender and health concerns.
Let’s start with calcium. This is our best starting place because it is the nutrient we need in the highest quantities and because it may have the highest chance of being harmful.
More than other nutrients, calcium is a double-edged sword. It can protect us, but it can also harm us. The protective side of calcium is mineralization. This is its role in maintaining bone mass and in preventing bone loss. Mineralization is also critical for the growth of tendons and ligaments and for conduction of currents in muscles and nerves.
The main concerns with calcium are whether it causes calcification or lead contamination and how well it is absorbed.
The harmful side of calcium is calcification. Imagine an oyster with a sharp grain of sand inside the shell, irritating its fragile body. To protect itself, the oyster surrounds the sharp piece of sand with layer after layer of smooth calcium. This is called calcification, and it is how pearls are made. The same thing happens inside the human body, although the outcome is not celebrated.
When something is chronically irritated, it can calcify. This is how kidney stones, gallstones, joint calcifications and calcified plaque in the blood vessels form. Calcium does not cause the irritation, but the more calcium there is in circulation, the more it forms around any area of inflammation1.