Q: Are coral and algae calcium eco-friendly?
A: As a lactose-intolerant chick with enough grey hairs to know osteoporosis could be just around the corner, I know I don't ingest enough calcium. But hold your Cheerios - is coral calcium the one you or I want to be taking?
For a while there, coral calcium was being touted as one of those direct-line-to-god cure-alls for everything from cancer to diabetes, but those claims got smacked down as fraudulent by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Still, marketers continue to up-sell the benefits of coral calcium in the water as the secret behind the longevity of Okinawans - never mind their obvious life-extending diet/lifestyle and lifelong activity levels.
Most coral calcium makers also claim that the coral they use is all on the eco up and up, but the story is always muddier. If the calcium is sourced below sea level, aka "marine grade," then it's often vacuumed up near delicate coral reefs, which Reef Check says may disrupt and damage these threatened structures.
Ancient coral calcium gathered above sea level (like HerbaLab, Platinum and Organika's CC) is considered more sustainable, since it's taken from fossilized Okinawan deposits that have been pushed above the water line.
The biggest no-no is live coral. However, one company claims to have the sole Brazilian licence to gather live coral that happens to wash ashore on north Brazil's coastline (though claims that over 5,000 tons of live coral can appear on a 300-metre stretch of beach after a storm seem a little far-fetched).
What I can tell you is that orgs like Reef Check know of dodgy live coral mining that happens in the South Pacific, and no product lays claim to getting its coral from there. Considering the heavy, complicated implications for reefs worldwide, Whole Foods Market avoids coral calcium altogether, and you should consider doing the same.
So what calcium should you pop? Well, calcium carbonate is definitely the cheapest and most common form of calcium supplement, but it's also poorly absorbed compared to another common form, calcium citrate.
For higher bioavailability, some experts like immunologist and orthomolecular nutritionist Aileen Burford-Mason point to newer algae-based calcium. AlgaeCal hand-harvests tennis-ball-sized live algae balls that wash up on remote South American shores and has them tested for contaminants and gets them USDA-certified organic to verify the sustainability of harvest.
Garden of Life and Nature Plus sell AlgaeCal-based supplements, too. (New Chapter used to but stopped.)
Other algae-based calcium supplements get theirs from a company that vacuums up red algae skeletons from the ocean floor off Ireland and Iceland.
The supplier (Celtic Sea Minerals/Marigot) also sells large quantities to the fertilizer and animal food industry, which may raise eyebrows, but certifier Organic Trust does vouch for it being sustainably harvested. FYI, while Organic Trust says it's approved this red algae as an additive to organic products, it's false to call the algae itself certified organic, as some brands do.
A whole slew of mid- to high-end vitamin makers offer up bone health supplements made with MCHA calcium (Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite).
Again, it's supposed to be more absorbable and many naturopaths like John Dempster are fans, but it certainly ain't for vegetarians. It comes from the bones of grass-fed, free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free New Zealand cattle that naturally offer up a calcium/magnesium/phosphorus combo that boosts bone health. AOR, Garden of Life, Metagenics and New Roots all market MCHA-based calcium supplements.
Just a head's-up that Consumerlab.com, the supplement quality watchdog, found in 2009 testing that Garden of Life Living Calcium Advanced contained only 89 per cent of claimed calcium and 67 per cent of claimed vitamins K1 and K2.
Ultimately, you should be aware that the medical community is now saying we're taking too many calcium supplements and really ought be relying on dietary sources first and foremost (think dairy and certain greens like broccoli and kale, but not spinach or Swiss chard, which your body doesn't absorb). Too much isolated calcium, for instance, has been linked to heart disease in post-menopausal women.
Make sure that whatever calcium you take is nestled in a whole matrix of vitamins and minerals, including a good portion of magnesium and vitamin D, as well as K, manganese, boron, etc - that is, if you want the calcium to do your body good.
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