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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine May 2003

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Coral Calcium
The best calcium. . . True or False?

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Q I have been hearing about coral calcium everywhere. The companies selling it say it is the best calcium supplement on the market and that it provides many health benefits. Is this true?

A Coral calcium has been heavily promoted to the American public as a superior calcium supplement. In reviewing the materials supplied by a manufacturer, Life Extension cannot corroborate this claim. Coral rock consists of calcium carbonate, an inexpensive form of calcium used in products like TumsĀ® and low cost calcium supplements. A meta-analysis of all pertinent published studies showed that calcium citrate is better absorbed than calcium carbonate by approximately 22% to 27%. Calcium bisglycinate has been shown to be better absorbed than calcium citrate [Calcified Tissue International 1990, 46:300-304]. The manufacturer of coral calcium bases the superiority claims on a study showing that when compared to other calcium sources, such as milk or cow bone, coral calcium carbonate absorbed better. This is not surprising, since milk and cow bone are hardly ideal ways of supplementing calcium. Calcium should always be taken with vitamin D for optimal assimilation and utilization by the bones. Not all coral calcium supplements appear to provide vitamin D. Coral calcium does supply magnesium, however, there are many calcium supplements that also contain magnesium. The daily recommended intake for calcium is about 1000 elemental milligrams or higher. Some coral calcium supplements only supply 400 mg of elemental calcium in their recommended daily dose. Companies distributing coral calcium sometimes point out that the people of Okinawa, Japan are the longest lived in the world. Since their coral calcium comes from Okinawa, they imply it will make you live longer. Current theories for the longevity enjoyed by Okinawans focuses on their reduced calorie diet, consumption of disease preventing plants, and strong social ties that keeps elderly people part of the family for life. Calcium carbonate has long been considered the cheapest source of calcium. While it is not harmful to take, there are other forms of calcium (citrate and bisglycinate) that have been shown to absorb better. The benefits to supplementing with calcium are enormous. Coral calcium companies make strong health claims that relate to the benefits of calcium itself, and not necessarily to coral calcium. The only positive comment we can make about the various promoters of coral calcium is that they have raised the public's awareness about the importance of calcium supplementation. A typical person's health will improve if they take coral calcium compared to no calcium at all. To obtain ideal potencies of calcium, take 1000 elemental milligrams of either calcium citrate or calcium bisglycinate every night. Make sure the supplement provides vitamin D3 [Am J Ther 1999 Nov;6(6):313-21].

Q If you had to choose only one product for good brain function, what would it be and why?

A The best choice would be a multi-ingredient formula that provides the best documented nutrients to improve neurological function. One such product is Cognitex, which contains over six different brain-boosting nutrients that function in a variety of mechanisms to support aging brain cells and to enhance memory and learning. These nutrients include vinpocetine and phosphatidylserine, which have been sold as drugs in Europe and Japan to correct cognitive impairment inflicted by degenerative brain disease. Cognitex also contains choline. The brain has a voracious appetite for choline and uses this nutrient for building and maintaining brain cell membranes. Choline is also required for the synthesis of a key neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. In Alzheimer's disease, the levels of acetylcholine are abnormally low and it is the cholinergic neurons that show the most degeneration as Alzheimer's disease progresses.

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Q I have heard that those with liver problems should not use Kava Kava because of dangerous side effects on the liver. I have some minor problems with my liver, but need something natural for nervousness, do you have any suggestions?

A Anyone with liver problems should avoid Kava and use theanine instead. L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that produces tranquilizing effects in the brain. L-theanine won't make you drowsy or groggy, but helps to calm you by increasing alpha-brain waves, an electrical brain activity commonly present when you are very relaxed. Additionally, there are no known side effects to the liver. This amino acid helps to increase GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid), an important inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA can be considered the brain's natural sedative that brings balance to excitability that can sometimes lead to restlessness, insomnia and other disruptive conditions. Theanine also increases levels of dopamine, another brain chemical with mood-enhancing effects [Am J Hypertens 8:74-9, Trends Food Sci Tech 10:199-204].

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Q I know creatine has been used for muscle building, but is there any truth that it can help with muscular dystrophy (MD)?

A There has been some research on the use of creatine and its effect on neuromuscular diseases such as MD. One study looked at the safety and efficacy of creatine monohydrate in various types of muscular dystrophies using a double blind, crossover trial. Thirty-six patients (12 patients with facioscapulohumeral dystrophy, 10 patients with Becker dystrophy, eight patients with Duchenne dystrophy and six patients with sarcoglycan-deficient limb girdle muscular dystrophy) were randomized to receive creatine or placebo for eight weeks. The researchers found there was a "mild but significant improvement" in muscle strength in all groups. The study also found a general improvement in the patients' daily-life activities as demonstrated by improved scores in the Medical Research Council scales and the Neuromuscular Symptom scale. Creatine was well tolerated throughout the study period, according to the researchers [Neurology 2000 May 9; 54(9): 1848-50].

Q My doctor is not convinced that C-reactive protein is a strong predictor of heart disease. Can you provide any information or studies that I can show him?

A There were several studies conducted by Dr. Paul Ridker, which indicate that 25 to 35 million Americans have total cholesterol within normal range but above-average levels of inflammation within their cardiovascular systems, and that this inflammation has significant impact on heart disease risk. The Women's Health Study, which involved 39,876 healthy postmenopausal women, supports the C-reactive protein link to cardiovascular disease. Those with the highest levels of C-reactive protein had five times the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and seven times the risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to subjects with the lowest levels. C-reactive protein levels predicted risk of these events even in women who appeared to have no other pertinent risk factors.

The Physicians' Health Study, which evaluated C-reactive protein levels and heart disease risk in 22,000 initially healthy men, also supports the relationship between inflammation and heart attack. Research on C-reactive protein indicates that cholesterol-filled plaques in blood vessels may not pose any real danger unless they are affected by inflammation. Inflammation weakens plaques, making them more vulnerable to bursting or pinching off a clot that can then block coronary vessels. Data from the Framingham Heart Study correlated high C-reactive protein with calcification of the coronary arteries.

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