By Dr. Mercola
Your body not only depends on nutrients in the food you eat, but is actually composed — atom-by-atom, molecule-by-molecule – by them, which is why we should not be surprised by the profound power that certain nutrients and food constituents have in supporting optimal health.
One of them, calcium, is an old-standby in many people’s supplement stashes, but new research suggests this is one nutrient you’re better off getting from food sources.
Two lesser known, but extremely therapeutic, nutrients are turmeric (the spice that gives curry its deep yellow color) and resveratrol (a polyphenol found in plants, particularly grape skins), and which in two new studies have been revealed to have exciting health benefits.
Calcium: Good From Food, Not From Supplements?
Calcium is one of the most popular dietary supplements on the market, largely because of the widely circulated belief that regular supplemental doses of this mineral are essential for building and maintaining healthy bones. As a result, many people believe that taking a calcium supplement is one of the best — if not an essential — strategy to prevent bone fractures resulting from osteoporosis.
However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that while organically-bound calcium from your diet is beneficial, elemental calcium supplements, e.g. calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, etc., may dramatically increase heart attack risk, and other health problems.
A recent study published in the journal Heart found that people who took calcium supplements regularly had an 86 percent greater risk of having a heart attack, which led researchers to suggest such pills should be “taken with caution.”i Dietary calcium, on the other hand, had no such risk! In fact, those who got their calcium exclusively from supplements more than doubled their risk of a heart attack compared to those who took no supplements.
A similar trend has been seen for kidney stones, with people taking calcium supplements at a greater risk, while those who consume a high level of calcium in food at a reduced risk.ii There have been a number of studies that indicate calcium supplements increase your risk for cardiovascular incidents and other problems, as well as NOT being of much benefit to your bones.
- A 2010 meta-analysis showed calcium supplements (without coadministered vitamin D) are associated with a 27% increased risk for heart attack.iii Even when calcium was administered with vitamin D, which helps you absorb and utilize calcium, elemental calcium still increased heart attack risk by 24 percentiv
- A 2008 study found calcium supplements are associated with a greater number of heart attacks in postmenopausal womenv
- A 2004 study showed that people with excess calcium in their coronary artery and who take statins have a 17-fold higher risk of heart attacks than do those with lower arterial calcium levels; researchers concluded that the two most definitive indicators of heart attack were LDL levels and arterial calcium build-up
Osteoporosis and Bone Density
- A 2010 article presented evidence for a total lack of support in the research for calcium supplements reducing fracture riskvi
- A 2007 study showed that calcium from dietary sources has more favorable effects on bone health than calcium from supplements in postmenopausal womenvii
- A 2009 study of postmenopausal women using calcium supplements showed that, although calcium loss from bone was slowed, bone loss was still occurringviii
What Makes Calcium Supplements Potentially Dangerous?
Your body does not make calcium, and in fact loses this important mineral daily through your skin, nails, hair, sweat and elimination, which is why you must replace it on a regular basis. Historically this has been through dietary sources.
It has been estimated, however, that your body excretes as little as 100 mg a day, making the current recommendations by the National Osteoporosis Foundation for women over 50 to take 1,200 mg a day a bit troubling. When we compare our calcium-rich diet to the traditional calcium-poor Chinese peasant diet, which was free of cow’s milk and calcium supplements, approximately 250 mg a day of plant-based calcium was all that was needed to fulfill their bodily needs – and this is a culture with no word for “osteoporosis” in its 3,000+ year old language!
Due to the fact that about 99 percent of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones and teeth, if you don’t get enough calcium, your body will use the calcium reserves in your bones to perform vital metabolic functions. This is where the idea that supplementing with calcium could prevent calcium loss from your bones comes from — but it is an overly simplified theory that lacks solid evidence to back it up, especially in Western, modernized cultures, which consume unprecedentedly large amounts of dairy-derived, fortification-based and supplemental calcium.
The truth is that taking any calcium in excess or isolation, without complementary nutrients like magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2, which help keep your body in balance, can have adverse effects, such as calcium building up in coronary arteries and inducing heart attacks. Even taking calcium with vitamin D does not appear to be sufficient to prevent these types of adverse effects.
So when you take a biologically foreign form of calcium (such as limestone, oyster shell and bone meal (hydroxylapatite)), or when your body’s ability to direct calcium to the right places becomes impaired (as when you are deficient in vitamin K2), calcium may be deposited where it shouldn’t be, which can lead to multiple health problems, including heart attacks. It’s more likely your body can use calcium correctly if it’s food-based calcium.
Good sources include:
- Organic grass fed and finished raw milk and cheese from pasture-raised cows
- Leafy green vegetables
- The pith of citrus fruits
- Sesame seeds and wheatgrass
Calcium from dietary sources is typically better absorbed and utilized than calcium from supplements, which is why studies involving calcium from natural food sources have shown favorable results, including a 25 percent lower risk of dying from all causes.ix
It is also vital to remember that magnesium, along with a variety of additional trace minerals such as strontium, boron, and the other crucial vitamin K2, may all be every bit as, if not even more important than calcium.
Turmeric Provides Heart and Diabetes Protection, and Anti-Cancer Effects
The next nutrient in the news is turmeric, which is no surprise as there are so many research studies that show it has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antioxidant properties. Last year, a study by Penn State researchers revealed that an antioxidant-rich spice blend made of turmeric, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika could reduce your insulin levels by 21 percent, and your triglycerides by 31 percent when added to a meal.x
Separate research has shown that turmeric and its active compound curcumin reduced blood sugar in diabetic rates, leading to less insulin sensitivity and lowered oxidative stress.xi
A persistent question has been: How can a single agent possess such diverse effects? Part of the answer lies in the herb’s ability to affect signaling molecules. For example, curcumin has been shown to directly interact with:
Inflammatory molecules Cell survival proteins Histone Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV1) integrase and protease DNA and RNA Various carrier proteins and metal ions
Curcumin has been shown to influence more than 700 genes, and it can positively modulate both the activity and the synthesis of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) and 5-lipooxygenase (5-LOX), as well as other enzymes that are involved in pathological states of excessive inflammation.
Curcumin currently has the most evidence-based literature supporting its use against cancer among all nutrients.xii Interestingly this also includes the metabolite of curcumin and its derivatives, which are also anti-cancerous. Best of all, curcumin appears to be safe in the treatment of all cancers, and has been shown to be nontoxic. Researchers have found that curcumin can affect more than 100 different pathways, once it gets into the cell. More specifically, curcumin has been found to:
Inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells Decrease inflammation Inhibit the transformation of cells from normal to tumor Inhibit the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation Help your body destroy mutated cancer cells so they cannot spread throughout your body Help prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth (angiogenesis) Have chemosensitizing activity Have radiosensitizing activity
Curcumin is difficult for your body to absorb, so for tips on how to most effectively use curcumin, see the guidelines in this article. Another study, published in the Natural Product Reports describes curcumin as being therapeutic for a wide range of diseases aside from cancer,xiii such as:
Lung- and liver diseases Neurological diseases Metabolic diseases Autoimmune disorders Cardiovascular diseases Inflammatory diseases
Resveratrol – A Natural Chemosensitizer and Chemopreventive
The conventional cancer therapies currently available are surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy; aka the “cut, poison, burn” model. Chemotherapy is typically the main regimen for most cancers.
However, many tumors develop resistance to these harsh drugs, known as chemoresistance, which can complicate matters, to say the least. Chemoresistance also leads to other complications. Hence researchers are looking for effective chemosensitizers that can help overcome such resistance. This strategy basically uses one drug to enhance the activity of another, by modulating the mechanisms that cause the resistance.
A number of natural products and compounds have been shown to act as effective chemosensitizers, among them curcumin and the third nutrient I want to highlight today: resveratrol.
Natural agents such as resveratrol, a potent antioxidant chemical found in red wine and other foods, have multi-targeting properties, which make them ideally suited for anti-cancer drugs. In a 2011 review of dietary agents that sensitize tumors, making them more susceptible to the treatment with chemotherapy drugs, resveratrol was featured as a clear candidate.xiv Specific types of tumors shown to respond favorably include:
Lung carcinoma Acute myeloid- and promyelocytic leukemia Multiple myeloma Prostate cancer Oral epidermoid carcinoma Pancreatic cancer
Better still, research suggests resveratrol may be chemopreventive, which means it may help prevent cancer. One study revealed resveratrol has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, as well as may inhibit platelet aggregation and the growth of a variety of cancer cells. Researchers noted:xv
“Its potential chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic activities have been demonstrated in all three stages of carcinogenesis (initiation, promotion, and progression), in both chemically and UVB-induced skin carcinogenesis in mice, as well as in various murine models of human cancers.”
Like curcumin, resveratrol has wide-ranging benefits, and separate research showed it improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels in older adults with impaired glucose tolerance (pre-diabetes), at doses of 1-2 grams a day.xvi Lowered glucose and insulin levels without any changes in diet or taking other drugs? I certainly do not recommend that you replace a healthy diet or exercise program with resveratrol, but the research suggests it is a powerful addition to a healthy lifestyle.
Resveratrol, which can be found in red wine, red grape skins, fruits, vegetables, legumes, cocoa, dark chocolate and weeds, and also in supplement form, has been found to have the following actions and functions:
- Broad-spectrum antimicrobial and anti-infective
- Anti-cancer, anti-diabetes
- Alzheimer’s protection and boosts brain health
Nature is a Powerful Ally to Your Health
Natural foods and supplements contain a countless number of disease-fighting, health-boosting nutrients. There are so many, it’s impossible to describe them all and many are likely yet to be discovered. The synergistic, healing potential of consuming nutrients in whole food form is simply amazing, which is why I suggest you learn about the foundations of a healthy diet in my nutrition plan, and be generous and adventurous in including many herbs, spices and veggies in your meals.
There are some cases when supplements will provide a more concentrated source of a specific nutrient, like curcumin or resveratrol, but generally speaking, aiming to meet your body’s nutrient needs with whole foods is an admirable, and smart, goal.