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We need to know more about calcium supplementation: Why menopausal women need more nutrients for bone health; do coffee, grains and sugar affect bone health; why do so many people suffer from osteoporosis and why is it more common in women; and how can we maintain the correct ratio of minerals and vitamins that are needed for optimal bone health? Natural Medicine magazine asks clinical nutritionist Mark Timon for answers to these burning questions.
1. What is a plant calcium and how does its potency differ from other supplemental calciums?M.T. Plant-based calcium comes from living nature. It is part of the biomass of the plant, held within the roots, leaves, stem and fruits. In plants, elemental calcium is attached to complex carbohydrates, bioflavonoids, fibres, and/or proteins.
Synthetic calcium compounds are made in clean laboratories usually as the result of common acid-base reactions. A simple, molecular calcium compound is formed by adding inexpensive, purified calcium oxide to an acid solution.
In general, calcium from plant-based supplements should be more thoroughly absorbed and rapidly delivered into the bloodstream, i.e. more bioavailable. However, the elemental potency of calcium in plant foods will necessarily be far lower than the elemental potency of synthetic calcium compounds. For example, calcium carbonate is about 36% elemental calcium, calcium ascorbate is about 10% calcium, and some other compounds can run as low as 4% elemental calcium. A typical plant with a relatively high biomass of elemental calcium will run between 1.5% and 2% elemental calcium after the plant has been dried
and powdered. Hydrilla verticillata is a unique plant that hyper-accumulates mineral compounds. Its elemental calcium content on a dry weight basis can reach 15% if the soil is rich in calcium.But the biological value of calcium cannot be determined solely on the elemental content of the source material. Calcium carbonate (36% elemental) is renowned for having the lowest bioavailability among all other supplemental forms when tested in humans over the age of 30. Calcium citrate, calcium citrate-malate, Krebs cycle calcium, and some amino acid chelates are far more worthwhile sources of calcium. Nevertheless, plant calcium from Hydrilla has demonstrated superior bioavailability in unofficial, anecdotal reports. Calcium from other plants, including spinach and broccoli, show similarly superior bioavailability.
There is one new form of alleged plant- derived calcium that can be viewed as a hybrid between a purely plant calcium and a synthesised calcium. It is a form of calcium carbonate synthesised by the tendrils of the North Atlantic sea algae, Lithothamnium. This unique species precipitates calcium carbonate out of ocean water to form a protective shell around the delicate tendrils of the plant. Lithothamnium’s calcium carbonate also contains trace amounts of other minerals and substances present in the seawater yet still contains around 32% elemental calcium. Although synthetic calcium carbonate has a long history demonstrating low to no bioavailability in humans, the processors and marketers of Lithothamnium calcium carbonate claim that it has high bioavailability. Early tests confirm good absorption, but more work has to be done to absolutely verify that the delicate Lithothamnium algae has overcome the innately poor bioavailability of pure calcium carbonate.
2. Does it matter which form of calcium one takes?M.T. Ultimately, it does matter. At the bottom of the list, or rather not on the list, should be purified calcium carbonate, eggshell calcium, oyster shell calcium and coral calcium, all of which are minimally different forms of calcium carbonate. Initial claims of high bioavailability for all of these materials by the purveyors of the raw material have ultimately been proved false. The most bioavailable forms instead include legitimate plant calciums, Krebs cycle calcium, calcium orotate, calcium citrate-malate, true, fully reacted calcium amino acid chelate and calcium aspartate.
3. Are there any side effects from taking a plant calcium?M.T. Plant calcium is the most benign form of calcium to ingest. It lacks any acidic overload associated with a synthetic compound that might be encountered from dissociation of an acid ligand as the elemental calcium is separated and readied for absorption. Even in those persons who can absorb calcium from calcium carbonate, it has been demonstrated that no biological benefit will be derived, and certainly no additional calcium deposited into bone tissue due to the accompanying uptake of carbonic acid from dissociated CaCO3.
Individuals may also exhibit a variety of side effects to the ingestion of synthetic forms of calcium including mild constipation, digestive disturbance (gas), muscle cramping, or fatigue. Plant calcium, on the other hand, may have one notable side effect, and that could be muscle cramping. The symptom reflects the innate imbalance of calcium to magnesium in all known plants rich in calcium. Absorbing calcium from any source without a balancing amount of magnesium will result in muscle cramps as a simple fact of human biochemistry.
4. Calcium is well known as a bone nutrient but few seem to know about the need for boron and vitamin D3. Why does one need to supplement with all three?M.T. Calcium is not the sole contributor to bone health. The mineral portion of bone is made up of large molecular crystals of a substance called hydroxyapatite. Hydroxyapatite contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, silicon, strontium, zinc and, because we all live in a contaminated world, lead and perhaps some other contaminants reflective of a person’s local environment. In the final analysis, healthy bone usually runs between 60 to 70% mineral, 10 to 20% water and up to 30%, or a little more, collagen with trace amounts of other proteins and inorganic salts.
Nutrients essential for the formation of healthy bone absolutely include calcium, the most dominant mineral (1.5 times more calcium than phosphorus). But we should not forget vitamin D, without which calcium cannot be absorbed from the digestive tract, or zinc, for zinc plays a part in activating enzymes necessary for the construction of the hydroxyapatite crystals.
Vitamin DAs recommended intakes have increased, epidemiological studies have made it evident that major segments of the world population do not actually take in or manufacture enough vitamin D unless they live in sunny regions of the world where adequate vitamin D can be manufactured by the skin. Of course, one must get outside and not use sunscreen for skin synthesis to be successful. As a result, it is recommended that persons living in temperate zones of the world where the climate is cooler and the skies cloudier, or those whose occupations keep them indoors during daylight hours, should take supplemental vitamin D. The latest research data indicate the following dosages to be appropriate: ■ Infants: 1 000 i.u. per day■ Children & teenagers: 2 000 i.u. per day■ Adults: 2 000 to 4 000 i.u. per day■ Seniors: 4 000 to 10 000 i.u. per day.
Boron has an indirect role to play in the health and formation of bone. Boron is necessary to both create and sustain hormonal homeostasis among dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), androgens, oestrogens, and the hormonal form of vitamin D, calcitriol. Without sufficient boron in the diet, ratios of these related hormones will become unbalanced. We know that the androgen, testosterone, and calcitriol, as well as oestrogen, help drive calcium into bone. DHEA is a neuter hormone that plays no direct role in bone formation until needed. If a person needs some extra androgens to achieve proper balance, DHEA will be converted into those androgens. If extra oestrogens are needed to achieve proper balance, DHEA will be converted into those oestrogens. Boron helps maintain the proper balance. Without it, conversion, synthesis and activity of the hormones necessary to build strong bone will lag.
Neither boron nor potassium is stored in the human body. They come in and go out with equal rapidity. The implication is that one must be sure to take in at least 3 mg of elemental boron each day, as far as bone health is concerned. Modern diets provide only 1 to 1½ mg, however. It appears supplementation is necessary in order to maintain hormonal homeostasis and bone health
5. Is there anything else one can do for bone healthM.T. There is much one can do. The adage, ‘use it or lose it,’ is often touted as the primary remedy for bone loss. As a person places physical force against the skeleton, stressing it through exercises such as walking, running, and, significantly, weightlifting, electrical charges are triggered across the surface of the bone that help draw minerals to it. Dietary habits can work against bone health or work in favour of bone health. Consumption of confectionery foods, grains, and (this almost seems counterintuitive) dairy products create a profoundly acidifying burden on human metabolism that overruns the bicarbonate buffering system in the blood, and forces the release of mineral from bone in order to neutralise the acid load. Indeed, grains, refined sugars and dairy foods are the worst culprits along with consumption of more than 2 cups of coffee per day.
Eliminating or restricting grains, sugars and dairy foods in favour of vegetables is a better tactic. Diets rich in vegetables with moderate meat intake create a net alkaline balance that preserves bone tissue.
6. Can one’s bone density and tensility be improved with supplementation?M.T. Yes. Following the dietary recommendations above along with calcium, vitamin D, zinc, boron and vitamin C supplementation plus weight-bearing exercise can improve bone density and tensile strength.
7. How long does bone take to regenerate? Can bone regeneration be speeded up?M.T. Under normal circumstances, the human skeleton is replaced every seven years. However, osteoblast (bone-building activity) and osteoclast activity (osteoclast cells break down bone) can be altered within hours of changing the diet and supplementation. For example, when we retire for the night, and the pull of gravity is greatly reduced as we stretch out in a prone position, osteoclast activity is stimulated while osteoblast activity is suppressed. However, it has been shown that taking supplemental doses of calcium and vitamin D at night stimulates osteoblast (bone building) activity.
8. Is it important to focus on building stronger bones when one is young?M.T. Absolutely! Approximately 1% of bodily calcium must be kept in solution in the bloodstream to sustain normal biochemistry. If the precise amount of calcium cannot be maintained from dietary intake, calcium will gradually be liberated from the bone in order to maintain the essential blood calcium levels.
Age-related changes in digestive and hormonal function lead women by age 30 and men by age 40 to slip into ‘negative calcium balance.’ This is the state where a person loses more calcium through the urine than is absorbed from the digestive tract. In order to maintain required blood levels of calcium, the absorptive shortfall associated with ageing creates a daily net loss of bodily calcium that reduces bone mass over time. Therefore, it is critically important that a young person build deep and rich stores of calcium in their bones while digestive capabilities and hormonal functions are running at their peak prior to reaching middle age.
Get Ripped Sometimes it’s a little hard to keep motivated in the depths of winter. Packed full of vitamin K this delicious workout juice helps strengthen bones, improve your blood and increase brain function!
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As the toll of daily stress strips us of our ability to maintain a healthy inner equilibrium we experience symptoms of dis-ease. Kinesiology offers a natural healing process to put us back on track and live life to our full potential.
Kinesiology is a ‘verification tool’. It originates from the root words ‘kinein’ meaning ‘to move’ and ‘aesthesis’ meaning ‘perception’. Kinesiology originated in the 1960s through the work of a chiropractor, Dr George Goodheart, whose aim it was to enhance and improve the quality of his work and, through that, the quality of his patients’ lives. Since Goodheart’s initial work many different kinesiology modalities have been formed.
Yoga is not for the elite, it is for everyone. Groups of dedicated South Africans are bringing this practice to the poor and underprivileged communities in our townships so that they too may be empowered and at peace.
As passionate yogis we know the benefits that yoga, meditation and positive living can bring to one’s life. We know that yoga calms us, strengthens us, empowers us, and assists in living a happier life through connecting more to ourselves as well as to the people around us and environment in which we live. We know all of this because of the books that we have read, the celebrities that we follow, the exposure we have had, the personal experience we have acquired with yoga.
However, what if you were never exposed to the wonders and healing of yoga? What if you had never heard of it and if the environment that you lived in was one of poverty, hardship, fear, survival, suffering and extreme stress – where yoga is not just a luxury but is completely unheard of and non-existent in your world? How can yoga then help the townships of South Africa where the effects of crime, gangsterism, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, unemployment and HIV/AIDS run high, if the people of the community have never had the privilege to experience yoga for themselves?
TAKING IT TO THE TOWNSHIPSI feel that yoga is not a privilege. Yoga is not just for the elite, or for the people that can afford to go to classes, buy DVDs or stream YouTube videos. Yoga is not just for the haves or the have-nots. Yoga is for EVERYONE!
Yoga in the townships is a growing demand and thankfully there are dedicated yogis and NGOs that are spreading the power of yoga through our mass poverty and disease-ridden communities.
The Earthchild Project has been teaching yoga, healthy living and the power of positive thinking to township children in more than eight schools throughout the Western Cape for more than nine years now. Janna Kretzmar, Director of The Earthchild Project, says that the impact of the project has been profound. ‘They do yoga every day at home, they have gotten their families to eat more vegetables, they are drinking more water, they are eating less sugar, and their teachers are telling us that they are feeling different, concentrating better, have more confidence and they are getting higher marks.’
BRINGING CHANGEThe programme is changing not only the children’s lives but also that of their immediate families and communities for the better.After more than five years of teaching yoga to the children in Khayelitsha through The Earthchild Project, I have seen and have been exposed to the incredible life-changing and positive ripple effect that yoga can have on these children. Soso is one of them…
Sonwabise Sifo, or Soso as she is affectionately known, was one of the very first earthchildren. Now many years later and at 19 years old, she has become part of the Earthchild team, doing a gap year internship with The Earthchild Project. She is also a yoga teacher in her own right and has been teaching yoga and meditation in under-resourced primary schools as well as creating an after-school girls’ club to promote strong female leadership and connection in her community.
Soso says, ‘I started doing yoga in grade 4 at school. At first it was kind of awkward because I had never done yoga before, I had never heard of yoga and I didn’t know I could communicate with my body. So I started doing yoga classes because I wanted to try something new. I loved it and it soon became a habit and I introduced it to my little sister. Actually, I thank yoga and The Earthchild Project, because if I wasn’t doing yoga, maybe I would have been pregnant, because all of my friends have children and I am the odd one out. Yoga taught me about my body, how to respect it and how to take care of it.
Also, I come from a very dirty environment, where no one cares about clean living. I try to change things a little bit by teaching a small group of kids in our neighbourhood about yoga and how to care for the environment. Yoga makes me feel full and gives me hope that I can accomplish anything.’
INCREASING DEMANDThere is such a big demand from the children and the teachers wanting more yoga and life-skills classes that this year The Earthchild Project have over 2 000 children who are doing yoga – through their ‘Share the Love of Yoga Campaign’ each child is sponsored to do yoga every week for a year.
This is not just happening in Cape Town. In Durban, and now recently expanded to Johannesburg, The Township Yogi Project is teaching yoga throughout many townships. The Township Yogi Project is not only providing weekly yoga to men, women, children and gogo grandmothers but is also empowering local people living in the community – who all have their own stories of suffering – and training them as yoga teachers so they are now running their own yoga classes.
FROM DESPERATION TO HOPEFor Elle Matthews, a film producer with Green Shoot Films and brainchild of The Township Yogi Project, yoga has become a way to assist people suffering from HIV/Aids and the victims of crime. After following her own passion Elle found how the practice of yoga can help boost immune system function, reduce stress, improve muscle tone and maybe even slow the progression of the disease.
‘Our goal is not to change townships, but rather to change individuals who live in those townships — and then the spirit of the townships will change. We want to change hopelessness and desperation to peace and hope, ill health and suffering to strong, empowered people who can face their ill health and difficulties with true strength of spirit . . . that’s the kind of change we’re seeing because of the power of yoga.
‘The practice teaches people to breathe correctly, as well as strengthening the immune system, thus reducing stress. Yoga promotes strength, flexibility, relief from pressure on the abdominal organs, and enhances circulation, and can be hugely beneficial to the millions of people we have living with illnesses such as TB and HIV,’ says Elle.
Kwazi Manzi, 47, has qualified as one of their teachers. He describes how it has given him ‘confidence, perseverance and understanding’. ‘I feel physically and mentally connected – it brings peace, and tones your muscles.’ He says, too, that it has changed his life – he now looks at things more optimistically, and can ‘inspire others to do good.’
CONCLUSIONPeople in the townships of South Africa, who were once feeling disempowered, are now saying that yoga coming to their neighbourhood has changed their mindset, given them health and hope, taken away the hatred and makes them believe in themselves. It has already changed them, as they hope it will continue to do.
This is how we change a nation, this is how we inspire health and happiness in our country, this is how we not only keep the joy and wonders of yoga for ourselves, but share the love, share the knowledge, share the power and share the healing.
Yoga is for everybody!
For more information on Earthchild Project’s ‘Share the Love of Yoga’ the campaign or to sponsor a child visit www.earthchildproject.orgTo see the difference that the Township Yogi Project is making watch their documentary: www.townshipyogimovie.com
Shiitake is an intelligent mushroom! I’ve said it. Call me crazy but if you were to do the research, you would support my statement. For example, a chemical in shiitake could activate various components of the immune system1,2 and modulate its response to fight viruses, cancer, arthritis and even allergies.
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6 000 years and China produces over 80% of all commercially sold shiitake mushrooms today. During the late 1930s, Japanese professor Kisaku Mori established a mushroom research institute in Tokyo and stimulated the interest of scientists from around the world in the medicinal uses and benefits of shiitake. His human trials showed the benefits of consuming shiitake in stomach ulcers, acidity levels, elevated cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, anaemia and other vitamin deficiencies (the shiitake mushroom is an excellent source of iron). More recent research has shown further benefits of shiitake in the treatment of cancer, modulation of the immune response and even optimising brain function.
NUTRIENT PROFILEApart from providing a wide variety of unique phytonutrients, shiitake is rich in B-vitamins, vitamin D2, folate, dietary fibre and concentrated in minerals selenium, copper, manganese and zinc.The powder can be encapsulated in supplement form, added to sauces, and superfood drinks and smoothies. Encapsulated extracts of mushrooms are easy to travel with and consume, and they are less oxidised, so slightly more potent.
IMMUNE SUPPORTAccording to mycologist John Donoghue, co-author of Shiitake Growers Handbook: ‘Immune system failure or dysfunction is a common element in cancer, viruses, and immune-deficiency diseases.’ His book raises awareness of the health-promoting compounds found in mushrooms, especially the shiitake mushroom with its fascinating track record. Shiitake contains a free-radical-fighting polysaccharide called lentinan, which appears to stimulate the immune system to clear the body of tumour cells. No health benefit is better documented for the shiitake mushroom than its immune modulating action. In most laboratory studies, lentinan was injected intravenously and intramuscularly, killing viruses and microbes. Lentinan is now an approved drug in Japan. It is generally administered by injection and has been used as an agent to prolong survival of patients in conventional cancer therapy as well as in AIDS research.3
CARDIOVASCULAR BENEFITSSeveral animal studies conducted over the last 10 years on the benefits of shiitake mushrooms stretch over three basic areas of research: Lowering cholesterol – an active component in shiitake mushrooms called d-Eritadenine lowers cholesterol levels. The beta-glucans in shiitake mushrooms are also very likely to contribute to its cholesterol-lowering impact.
Cardiovascular-immune system interaction – shiitake reduces the production of adhesion molecules and this prevents immune cells from binding to the lining of our blood vessels.Antioxidant support – critical to the development of atherosclerosis is chronic oxidative stress and the best way to reduce this is by increasing antioxidant consumption. Apart from some unusual phytonutrient antioxidants, shiitake mushrooms are a very good source of three key antioxidant minerals: manganese, selenium and zinc.
ANTI-CANCER BENEFITSMostly cancer research has been done on animal and laboratory studies using mushroom extracts (anti-tumour mycochemicals), as opposed to humans consuming mushrooms as food. It has been shown that shiitake mushrooms can inhibit growth in tumour cells.4,5 Both polysaccharide and non-polysaccharide components have anti-tumour effects.6,7
OTHER BENEFITSShiitake extracts have been shown to affect viruses, bacteria and fungi.8 Hopefully studies will soon be conducted to show the possible efficacy of the shiitake mushroom against the common cold and flu viruses.
A substance isolated from shiitake called cortinelin, a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent, kills a wide range of pathogenic bacteria. A sulphide compound extracted from shiitake has been found to have an effect against the fungus that causes ringworm and other skin diseases.
BUYING AND STORINGShiitake mushrooms may not be that readily available in South Africa as a fresh food, but have a look at the Asian food stores – they may carry various medicinal mushrooms, fresh and dry. The fresh mushrooms should not be wrinkly or have slimy spots. Store in the refrigerator in a loosely closed paper bag. They will keep fresh for about one week. Dried mushrooms should be stored in a tightly sealed container in either the refrigerator or freezer where they will stay fresh for six months to one year.
Make your own shiitake tea The dried mushroom can be made into a tea.Steep the mushrooms in hot (not boiling) water (ideally spring water), preferably for at least an hour. Then drink the tea/broth. According to David Wolfe: ‘For the compounds to extract properly, the water temperature should be 65 to 75°C. Whole mushrooms do not need to be cut up into little pieces or mechanically ground down. Instead, before putting the mushrooms in the water, break them up by hand (cutting with a metal knife increases oxidation, damages polysaccharides, and decreases the medicinal potency)’.
MEDICINAL MUSHROOM SUPPLEMENTSAvailable as a tincture (compounds extracted into an alcohol solution), powder or capsule. See various product labels for dosage recommendations. A list of references is available from the Natural Medicine office. Tel: 021 880 1444
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