“There has been a considerable amount of cautionary news coverage of calcium recently,” Eric Anderson, vice president of marketing for Norwegian company Nattopharma told NutraIngredients-USA. “The story has been that we are getting too much calcium in our diets because of food and supplements.”
Conflicting messages on calcium
Calcium supplementation had been advocated for decades to counteract rising tides of osteoporosis, especially among postmenopausal women. Calcium does in fact fortify bones, but there are indications it ends up other places as well, such as in the plaques that stiffen and narrow blood vessels near the heart.
“Hardening of the arteries” is an old fashioned term, but one that describes for the layman what goes on. Incorporation of calcium into a matrix in the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels, is a natural feature of aging in humans and doesn’t seem very amenable to intervention, said Ralph La Forge, a physiologist and lipid specialist at Duke University. What is new in the health history of Western societies is the accumulation of plaques that further stiffen and narrow the blood vessels. These calcium formations are thought to be the body's attempt to wall off areas of the arteries that have been injured by excess cholesterol or by smoking.
Some studies showing negative cardiovascular effects of calcium supplementation have been reported, and have led to some confusion about the need for the mineral, said Duffy McKay, executive vice president of science and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition. The studies don’t entirely agree with one another, and in any case should not be taken as a recommendation that younger adults should lay off the calcium plus vitamin D supplements. “For pre-menopausal women it is critical to establish the bone density,” McKay said.
Nevertheless, the negative publicity has had a chilling effect on sales, Anderson said.
“When Dr Oz goes on and says that too much calcium in the diet is one of his major concerns, that has an impact. We’ve seen in food-drug-mass especially but also and in the natural channel and in the direct-to-consumer channel that sales are under pressure. Sales of calcium supplements are down as much as 30% in the past two years,” Anderson said.
Word getting out on K2
Anderson said evidence shows that K2 plays a critical role in the mobilization of calcium into and out of the bones. Western diets used to supply adequate amounts of K2. The vitamin can be found in meat, fermented cheese and other dairy foods. Changing dietary habits and more processed foods on the market mean people now consume 50% less in the diet than they used to, Anderson said.
“I think mac and cheese should really be called mac and chemicals,” he said. “There is no vitamin K2 in a processed cheese slice. We are depriving our kids of this essential vitamin right at the time when they are building their skeletons.”
The company’s education efforts are starting to bear fruit, he said. For evidence he points to the nationwide launch just in the last few days of private label calcium plus vitamin K2 supplements on the shelves of Walgreens and CVS pharmacies.
“We believe that without adequate vitamin K2 the body cannot process enough calcium. Our evidence shows that with K2 supplementation bones got stronger and the arteries became more elastic,” Anderson said.