Should you take calcium supplements?

should you take calcium supplements

Brittle bones and bone fractures are all too common amongst the geriatric community. Osteoporosis is a leading “silent disease” known to cause bone fractures and other linked medical conditions. Physicians and patients generally address these issues by supplementing with Vitamin D and Calcium.

Although vitamin D ensures that your blood calcium levels stay high enough to meet your body’s needs, it does not fully control where the calcium in your body ends up. That is where the partnership specifically between D3 and vitamin K2 becomes important as discussed below.

How to Boost Your Calcium Intake?

When most people think of calcium deficiency, the top things that come to mind are osteoporosis and bone fractures. But your body uses calcium daily in nail, teeth, bone, and heart functions.

All of that needs to be replenished, or you will deplete calcium levels from your teeth and bones. 

There are two main ways to augment your diet with oral calcium supplements: Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate can be hard on your stomach and can cause constipation but it nonetheless requires the acidic environment of your stomach to be absorbed. Calcium citrate, which is often used as a food additive, can also be taken as a supplement, is easier on your stomach and intestinal tract and can even protect your kidneys from kidney stones

Can calcium pills be cut in half?

The main reason most companies cannot produce small calcium tablets or under the tongue dissolvable tablets is due to the fact that calcium requires a large volume per tablet which makes the tablet too large to place under the tongue and also in case of calcium carbonate it requires the acid environment of the stomach to absorb.

Most physicians recommend looking for calcium citrate tablets and suggest taking them in two divided doses daily to improve your calcium absorption.

Check Your Parathyroid Hormone Levels!

Although it gets less attention than thyroid hormones, the parathyroid hormone is still important in the body. Parathyroid hormone is connected to blood calcium levels.

Parathyroid hormone comes from four parathyroid glands in the neck, just behind the thyroid. These glands receive feedback from blood calcium levels to determine when they need to secrete their hormone. The parathyroid hormone plays a major role in regulating blood calcium levels, helping the body maintain adequate calcium stores in the bloodstream to protect bone health.

What is Vitamin D?

There are two types of vitamin D:

  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) – which is synthesized by plants
  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) – which is made in large quantities in the skin when sunlight strikes bare skin

Vitamin D₃ (cholecalciferol) is the form of vitamin D that is naturally made by our bodies after the skin is exposed to direct sunlight. It can also be found in vitamin supplements and foods, such as fortified milk, fatty fish, fish liver oil, and egg yolks.

Since vitamin D3 is naturally found in the human body, it is generally considered the preferred form of vitamin D supplementation.

Vitamin D₂ (ergocalciferol) can also be found in supplements and comes from plant and/or fungal sources that are irradiated.

  1. There is some controversy about whether vitamin D₂ should be used as a supplement because it is not the form of vitamin D naturally made by the body.
  2. Evidence also shows that our bodies can store vitamin D3 better than vitamin D2 and that vitamin D3 raises blood levels of vitamin D quicker.

In this article we will be exclusively speaking about vitamin D3 since it is naturally made by our bodies.

What Does Parathyroid Hormone Do to Vitamin D3?

National Institute of Health (NIH) states that Vitamin D3 is considered a fat-soluble prohormone which is involved in many aspects of our wellbeing and regulatory functions just like parathyroid hormone. Everyone is aware that calcium absorption and bone health are major part of vitamin D3 benefits. Most people in the western hemisphere do not obtain their vitamin D3 from sun exposure or foods sources and need to be supplemented to obtain optimal levels.

If you are taking your vitamin D3 in pill form, experts recommend taking the pill with a full meal – preferably a fatty meal – to maximize absorption; however, most of the population is either not following these instructions or not absorbing the vitamin D3 that they swallow. There is a possibility that an absorbable vitamin D3 can have an advantage over the swallowed products by direct absorption into the blood stream. The advantage of any under the tongue or what the pharmaceutical industry coins as ‘sublingual’ is the fact that the vitamin D3 absorbs under your tongue and directly into your bloodstream, no worries about fatty meals or no meals in the stomach at all! 

Parathyroid hormone helps prevent low calcium levels by acting on the bones, intestine, and kidneys. In the bones, the hormone triggers the release of calcium stores from the bones to the blood. This can lead to bone destruction. In the intestines, parathyroid hormone helps with vitamin D3 metabolism. This, in turn, allows the body to absorb more of the calcium it digests from food. In the kidneys the hormone stops the release of calcium through the urine, while also increasing vitamin D3 production.  In the kidney, parathyroid hormone stimulates activation of (Calcidiol) Vitamin D3 into Calcitriol or 1,25 dihydroxy Vitamin D3 which is the biologically active form used in the body. 

Should vitamin D be taken with calcium?

Simply taking calcium supplements is not enough to make sure that calcium gets absorbed into your bloodstream. You will need Vitamin D3 as well. Taking vitamin D3 at the same time as calcium is one of the only ways to ensure that calcium is absorbed from the intestinal tract. However even today after all these years an estimated 40% of American adults may be vitamin D3 deficient. For African Americans, that number may be nearly double at 76% according to a new study by The Cooper Institute. But, Caucasians who avoid even minimal sun exposure may even have higher levels of vitamin D3 deficiency.

We all need different amounts of Vitamin D. It all depends on how deficient you are and how your body absorbs the vitamin.  It is vitamin D that helps our bodies absorb and maintain calcium and phosphate. Both are linked to bone health. However, sunlight has long been the source of our vitamin D due to very few foods that are truly rich enough in vitamin D. Vitamin D3 has become known as the sunshine vitamin.

What Are Examples of Foods Rich in Vitamin D?

  • Cow’s milk and Vitamin-D fortified milk.
  • Oatmeal and whole-grain fortified cereals that are high in fiber.
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, halibut, mackerel, and tuna.
  • Shrimp and oysters.
  • Egg yolks (Pasture-raised).
  • Wild mushrooms.

What is Vitamin K2 vs K1?

There are three types of Vitamin K, as follows:
  1. Vitamin K1, Phytonadione, Phytomenadione or Phylloquinone, is found naturally in plants, especially green vegetables; K1 goes directly to the liver and helps to maintain and promote healthy blood clotting and clotting factors.
  2. Vitamin K2 also called Menaquinone, is made by the bacteria that line gastrointestinal tract; K2 goes straight to blood vessel walls, bones, and tissues other than liver and is believed to direct calcium deposition in the bones and teeth. “Vitamin K2 also improves bone quality, is involved in calcium transport, and prevents calcium deposition in blood vessel walls,” says dietitian Kris Sollid, RD, senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council.
  3. Vitamin K3 or menadione, is a synthetic form that is not naturally found. It's important to note that toxicity has reported in infants and adults injected with synthetic vitamin K3.

What Does Vitamin K2 Do?

The best vitamin K, recommend for supplementation is vitamin K2, which is natural and not toxic, at even 500 times the RDA. We will be discussing this variant in this article due to its presumed enhanced benefits.

Vitamin K2, which is made in body and produced by fermented foods, is a superior form of vitamin K. Increasing K2 by consuming more fermented foods is the most desirable way. The food highest in natural K2 is natto, which is a form of fermented soybeans consumed in Asia.

Vitamin K2 promotes the accumulation of calcium in your bones and teeth. It also works to reduce calcification of soft tissues, like in the kidneys and blood vessels. This is important, since blood vessel calcification has been linked to the development of chronic diseases, like heart and kidney disease.

Vitamin K2 activates MGP, a protein that helps direct calcium to the desirable places (bones) and leads it away from the undesirable places (arteries). It is also thought to aid with cardiovascular health. Individuals on Warfarin should consult their physician before taking any Vitamin K products.  It is surmised that vitamin K2 that you consume assures calcium reaches your bone and teeth and does not end up in other places such as kidneys as calcium stones.

Many calcium pills are sold already combined with Vitamin D3. However, taking the combined pills does not guarantee that you will get enough Vitamin D3 as stated above due to its poor absorption unless with a fatty environment in the gut. As stated above vitamin K2, when taken in addition to calcium and vitamin D3, will maximize the amount of calcium that makes it into your bones and teeth. 

Vitamin K is found in leafy greens like spinach and kale, fermented legumes (natto), and vegetables, and in some fatty, animal-sourced foods like egg yolk, liver, and cheese.

In Summary

Vitamin K2 and D3 are both fat soluble vitamins and best absorbed under the tongue avoiding the intestinal absorption that may or may not occur. They both help calcium absorption along with other hormones such as parathyroid hormone. They assure that not only the calcium is absorbed but it finds its way to the bones and teeth.

This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


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