To B or Not to B: Micronutrient Deficiencies and Supplementation

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I was so caught up in the Real Food Summit last week that I hardly had time to post about it.  If you didn’t get a chance to check it out, you can purchase all 27 lectures plus a boatload of bonus materials for what I think is a steal considering the wealth of information that was covered over those nine days.  Anyway, one of the most interesting presentations, in my opinion, was given by Mira & Jayson Calton and was about micronutrient deficiency.  This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’ve had some personal experience with deficiencies despite my real food diet.  It happens…to most of us in fact.  And whether we realize it or not our cells pay the price.  Never forget, we live and die at the cellular level.

Boning up on Calcium


Let me start by saying, I love Sally Field!  I think she’s adorable…can’t look at her without smiling. So if anyone could get me to take a Rx drug it would be her.  Brilliant marketing by Boniva I must say…especially considering that their own website and package insert makes statements such as:

  • It is not known how long BONIVA works for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis.
  • BONIVA can cause serious side effects including problems with the esophagus, low blood calcium, bone, joint or muscle pain, severe jaw bone problems, and unusual thigh bone fractures.
  • Severe jaw bone problems may happen when you take BONIVA.
  • Severe and occasionally incapacitating bone, joint, and/or muscle pain has been reported in patients taking bisphosphonates that are approved for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
  • Atypical, low-energy, or low-trauma fractures of the femoral shaft have been reported in
    bisphosphonate-treated patients.

Seriously…Boniva may cause low-trauma, thigh bone fractures!?!  Women are taking Boniva to prevent fractures and meanwhile they could be out walking their dog one day and have their femur snap for no reason whatsoever…WOW!  OK, so I’m being hard on Boniva, I know.  Really I’m talking about any bisphosphonate drug, of which Boniva is only one.  These drugs work on the principle that all minerals must be kept in the bone.  Therefore, they prevent the normal rebuilding & remodeling processes that naturally occurs when injured, damaged or just plain old bone tissue is replaced with new bone tissue.  So in an effort to maintain bone density there is the potential to end up with bones that are especially fragile and painful because they are not being properly maintained and repaired by the body.  That just doesn’t sit well with me. 

Another strategy for bone health is to take a calcium supplement.  Sometimes a doctor might recommend this, but often women just decide on their own to go this route.  I’m not knocking calcium.  It is definitely important for many bodily functions including muscle contractions and nerve impulse transmission. It is also a crucial building block of teeth and bones.  In fact calcium is so essential, that the body regulates calcium concentration in the blood more strictly than anything else…even glucose (blood sugar)!  This means that if the body gets too much of a good thing it has to stash it somewhere else to keep the blood calcium levels constant.  Here’s where we run into trouble with calcium supplements.  The hope is that when the blood calcium gets too high the body will send the calcium to the bones, but this is not always the case.  Sometimes the calcium is sent to blood vessels, joints and organs instead, causing problems such as kidney stones and heart disease (source).  Another issue with calcium supplements is that most contain inexpensive, poorly absorbed forms of the mineral such as calcium dicalcium phosphate.  So you are getting very little bang for your buck.

If you really feel you must take a calcium supplement, look for one in which the only source of calcium is microcrystalline hydroxyapatite concentrate (MCHC). MCHC is a complex crystalline compound composed of calcium (about 24 percent), phosphorous, delicate organic factors, protein matrix and the full spectrum of minerals that naturally comprise healthy bone (source).  Of course (as the American Dairy Association loves to remind us), dairy is an excellent source of calcium as well.  Despite your calcium source; however, the fact is this:  the US already has one of the highest calcium intakes in the world and one of the highest rates of osteoporosis…hmmm???

So at this point I should probably reiterate my usual disclaimer.  I’m not a doctor, this is for informational purposes only… BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.  But here’s my question.  Are doctors telling their patients about the potential (side) effects of bisphosphonate drugs and the potential risks of calcium supplements?   And here’s a better question.  Is anyone telling women and girls that there are ways to improve bone mineral density that don’t threaten your health?  I certainly don’t hear much talk about this.

I recently attended a lecture on calcium and bone health and in addition to some of the information discussed above, I learned some other interesting things about bone health. First of all, calcium is but one player in bone health.  Other nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, D & K, protein and collagen also play important roles.  Without collagen, bones may become too brittle.  Without vitamins A, D & K, calcium can easily become misdirected.  Without magnesium calcium may not be properly absorbed.  This is, of course, the very abridged version of the information presented, but the “take home” was that bone health is a group effort and if there is an imbalance in the building materials it can be bad news for the bones!

So here are my thoughts on the matter.  Everything is fortified with calcium these days but younger and younger women (even kids) are losing bone mineral density.   The rates of osteoporosis have increased dramatically over the past two decades.  So, we need to start thinking about bone health at a much younger age and not just through the calcium lens that we’ve been using but from a whole food/nutrition perspective.  By eating a wide variety of foods that include all of the “players” in bone health, we can begin to build stronger bones at any age.

“Soups and broths made from bone are best because they provide MCHC; followed by whole raw milk & raw milk products, sea vegetables such as kelp, Celtic sea salt, brewer’s yeast, green leafy vegetables and molasses (source).

Antioxidants such as lycopene may also have a special role to play in this area.

“A study was designed in which tomato and other dietary sources of lycopene were removed from the diets of postmenopausal women for a period of 4 weeks, to see what effect lycopene restriction would have on bone health. At the end of 4 weeks, women in the study started to show increased signs of oxidative stress in their bones and unwanted changes in their bone tissue.” (source)

Furthermore, bone density is a matter of gravity!  That’s why astronauts lose bone mass while in space and why thin women are typically the ones with osteoporosis.  If there is less weight on your bones you lose bone mass at a greater rate.  A great way to help build and maintain bone mass is by participating in weight bearing activities.  Children and adolescents that exercise prior to the closing of the epiphyseal (“growth”) plates can actually increase total bone mass prior to the natural reduction that occurs with aging.

Other lifestyle factors that can help include not smoking or drinking cola drinks which have been linked to loss of bone mineral density in adults and children (source).

So when you make your next meal plan think beyond protein and carbohydrates and start trying to include foods that contribute to bone health.  Remember bones are living tissue, and you can gain bone mass with simple diet and lifestyle changes.  What do you have to lose?

Eat Well, Be Well,

Thanks to Amy Berger of TuitNutrition for this excellent information!

This post was shared on Fight Back Friday with Food Renegade

Bone Broth Part 1: Chicken Lips & Lizard Hips

“A good broth can raise the dead.” – South American Proverb

Up until the 1960’s stock was a staple in most homes and a go-to food in times of illness or sadness.  As processed food became more prevalent, homemade stock went out of fashion.  As with most processed foods the nutrient density of canned broth pales in comparison to its whole food counterpart.  Homemade bone broth is an amazing source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and other minerals.  Better yet, the minerals in bone broth are electrolytic so they are very easily absorbed by the body.  Bone broth is also hydrophilic.  Literally translated this means that it draws water to itself.  This is important because the stomach needs water to support digestion. Typically when we eat cooked foods the stomach needs to pull this water from the body, but not in the case of bone both, making it very easily digestible.  Gelatin is perhaps bone broth’s crowning glory.  Full of collagen, glucosamine and essential amino acids, gelatin helps to heal the gut lining making bone broth the perfect food for those with gut & digestive issues and possibly those with allergies & auto-immune disorders.   Also, gelatin has been known to help people with joint and bone issues (a tasty alternative to glucosamine/chondroitine supplements).  Not to mention,  this is the stuff that gives us healthy hair and nails!  A cup of bone broth each day will be a great addition to your family’s diet especially if your family includes athletes, pregnant or nursing moms, children with allergies or anyone with digestive issues.  The best part…it is so easy to make!

A little over a week a ago I had the pleasure of cooking with Monica Corrado of Simply Being Well and I learned the art and science of making REAL nutrient dense bone broth.  Up until recently I thought that making a good both broth was as simple as throwing some bones or a chicken in a pot with some water and veggies and letting it simmer for a few hours.  While this always makes a tasty broth, it doesn’t necessarily make a bone broth with all of the properties discussed above.  I learned that there is a very important ratio of water to bones and that the types of bones matter if you want to get gelatin…and you want to get gelatin!  

Chicken feet and heads make a lot of gelatin.

First of all you need to make sure that you have a good ratio of bones to meat.  In the case of chicken stock this means one stewing/laying hen (think scrawny) in addition to some feet and heads for instant gelatin.  If you can’t get a laying hen you can also use the carcass of 2 chickens (just freeze one until you have a second one available).  In the case of beef stock you want to have a ratio of at least 60% bony bones with both marrow and joint bones (this is what makes the gelatin) to 40% meaty bones for flavor.  But I’ll do a post on this later when my ox tail thaws out. 

Back to chicken stock…once you have your bones, coarsely chop 3 celery ribs, 2 carrots and one onion (skin on for color).  Put everything in a large (8+ quarts) stainless steel stock pot and add 4 quarts of pure water and 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar.  Let this sit for about an hour to allow the vinegar to work its magic and pull the minerals from the bones.  Then add the heat and bring it to a very gentle boil and allow to simmer, covered for 12 – 24 hours.  The more time you give it the better!  If you have to turn your stove off, just keep track of how much time it has cooked and when you turn it back on start the timer again.  There is no need to refrigerate while it’s resting.  When it’s almost done, add a bunch of parsley for additional vitamins and minerals.  After 10 minutes with the parsley, strain the chicken parts and veggies and allow the stock to cool.  Keep some for now and freeze some for later.  

It’s really that simple.  OK, so it does take 24 hours, but in that time you only have to chop 6 vegetables.   Mine has been on the stove for 5 hours now, and I’m off to dream about gelatin.  

Eat Well, Be Well,

NOTE:  If you are having difficulty finding any of the ingredients in any of my recipes contact me or contact (and join) the Weston A. Price Foundation to find farm-to-consumer groups in your area.