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MindCheck is the Weekly Wednesday Kids Mental Health series with Dr. Ray Pataracchia N.D.  MindCheck provides in depth information on the orthomolecular approach to coping with mood, behavior and psychotic disorders.  The MindCheck Health Series is endorsed by the  Mindful Network – ‘A Better Future for Children’s Mental Health’.

 Eat your broccoli! Its high in calcium and calcium is good for your brain.


Calcium in Mental Health

[The following is a revised view of calcium metabolism and its supplemental/nutritional use in various health conditions including osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, and ADD or ADHD.  Some content is derived from “Trace Minerals in Health & Disease”, a book co-authored by Dr Klaus-Georg Wenzel and myself in 2005.  This book covers all minerals and toxic elements from A to Z;  it can be obtained via the International Schizophrenia Foundation.]


Average intake calcium per day

The average male (>1year old) will consume about 870-1260mg of calcium a day from the food they eat.

The average female (>1year old) will consume about 750-970mg of calcium a day from the food they eat.

Based on the normal daily requirement for calcium, it appears that males on average meet their daily calcium need, whereas many females (non-pregnant and non-nursing) on average meet only the lower range of their daily calcium need.


Normal Daily Requirement for Calcium

Infants: 250-500mg

Children/Adults: 800-1200mg

Pregnant/Nursing Women: 1400mg

Women after Menopause: 1500mg

If our daily requirement for calcium is not met by dietary intake alone, then you may need to take a mineral supplement or eat more calcium-rich foods. 


Calcium Basics

In humans, calcium is essential for life.  It is important in the development stage of growth as it is an essential component of outer bone structure and it is useful in the growth of nails, teeth, hair, and skin.  Calcium is useful for moderating allergic reactions and it is important in the transmission of impulses in muscles (heart muscle included) and nerves.  Calcium is often low in those with fast metabolisms.


Mental Health Benefits of Calcium

Calcium’s role in the electrical signaling/transmission of impulses between nerve cells is of obvious importance in the brain.  Calcium is also important in many mental health conditions because it is a sedative mineral and therefore a calming agent.  Calcium is useful for sleep conditions, especially for those having problems falling asleep, for nervous conditions, or any conditions where overstimulation is dominant (e.g. anxiety, ADHD).

The optimal orthomolecular approach includes calcium balancing and targeted assessment and treatment principles that address methylation, heavy metals, thyroid imbalance and other syndromes common to mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, mood disorders (depression, anxiety), and behavior disorders (ADD, ADHD, OCD).


Calcium and Heavy Metal Toxicity

Calcium can reduce the deposition of heavy metals in bone and heavy metals are common in mental health conditions such psychosis and mood and behavior disorders.

Heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, alkaline earth metals such as barium, and radioactive substances such as strontium-90 (from nuclear reactor mishaps and atomic weapons testing) are readily absorbed in bone.


Bone Health and Calcium

The outer structure of bone is calcium-dependent while the inner structure of bone, the core/matrix, is protein/magnesium/phosphorous-dependent.

Caution should be warranted in over-dosing calcium especially in the elderly as the outer bone structure may become stronger than the core and more brittle and prone to fracture.

Women who get adequate supply of calcium before menarche (there first menstrual period) will likely have stronger adult bone structure because the body absorbs up to 5x more calcium before menarche.  As we age, the body shifts to a point where it absorbs calcium so poorly that bone structure enters a maintenance versus building stage.

Osteoporosis affects both women and men.

Estrogen and other female hormones are protective in women as they help the body to retain calcium.  As estrogen drops in menopause, there is less calcium retained which predisposes females to greater calcium loss than men.


Why is Calcium Deficiency Common?

Emerging dietary habits and poor levels of calcium in our food supply are considered major factors in calcium deficiency.

Cooking habits also factor in as lengthy cooking or soaking times can cause calcium to leach out of food.

Calcium loss can also occur in those with significant intake of caffeine, alcohol (interferes with vitamin D), or nicotine.


Conditions where Calcium is Potentially Too High

As with anything in nutrition balance is important.  Conditions of excess calcium or calcium dominance include:

some types of osteoporosis (where the outer structure is stronger than the inner structure)

stone formation conditions such as bile duct blockage or urinary tract obstruction (includes kidney stones) are in part linked to calcium dominance.

people with slow metabolisms may be dominant in this ‘sedative’ mineral and the majority of people are slow metabolizers.

conditions with increased risk of brain or heart cell death or other related metabolic abnormalities in these highly oxygen-dependent cells;  calcium antagonist medications are employed in conditions involving calcium dominant heart, brain, and blood vessel problems.


Natural Synergistic and Antagonistic Considerations Related to Calcium

Calcium should not be used in isolation and it is often recommended that calcium be provided in a calcium: phosphorous: magnesium ratio of 1: 1-1.5: 0.5.  

Strontium down-regulates osteoclasts and stimulates osteoblasts which build bone and therefore might be useful in osteoporosis.

Magnesium is a ‘natural calcium antagonist’ and is therefore useful for states of calcium dominance.  Magnesium is also a muscle relaxant (anti-spasmodic) and therefore has calming properties.  Muscle tetany can also occur when calcium is low.  Calcium acts synergistically with magnesium and phosphorous.

Potassium is a natural antagonistic to calcium.

Zinc is also to some extant considered a natural calcium antagonist.

Note that many medical professionals argue that calcification by supplementation is a non-issue given that calcium is highly regulated and if over-dosed would only cause transient blood elevations but, many medical professionals are comfortable advising low or no calcium supplementation when there is a history of calcification.

Rare conditions do exist where calcium levels may remain elevated but this occurs only in rare illnesses, in kidney diseases, and in cases where we see extremely high vitamin D intake (e.g. eating polar bear liver or over-dosing cod liver oil).


Calcium Uptake

Uptake of calcium can be increased if we have adequate levels vitamin D which works at an intestinal absorption level with the regulatory oversight of parathyroid hormone and calcitonin.  Daily UV sunlight exposure is vital to vitamin D formation.  Vitamin A and vitamin C increase calcium uptake.  The digestive tract needs to have adequate stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and ‘good’ bacteria to absorb calcium optimally.

Uptake can be decreased if we have a diet high in:

oxalic acid (e.g. rhubarb, spinach, cocoa, and black tea)

phosphate foods (processed cheese, sausages) or drinks (pop)

phytate foods (cereals, whole grains)


[Calcium utilization is diminished with diuretic ‘water pills’ which increase calcium excretion.]


Sources of Calcium

Calcium is found in most all food products and the list is exhaustive.

Calcium sources include dark leafy greens, watercress, bok choy, broccoli, tofu, okra, snap peas, almonds, fish, and dairy products (okay for those that are not sensitive to dairy).

Whole grains are also a good source of calcium and despite their phytate content, whole grains contain phytase enzymes that during the doughing process free the minerals (calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron) bound to phytate.