Updated: Jun 9, 2021
A deeper look into the complex metabolic role of calcium and the central role it plays in life, disease and death.
Original post: April 8, 2011
Blended excerpts from Potential Within A Guide to Nutritional Empowerment
Authored by Franco Cavaleri ISBN 0-9731701-0-7
This article is composed of multiple excerpts to result in tone and content shifts and reference numbering that may be out of order.
Hormones, neurotransmitters, prostaglandins, and other communicators transmit their influence to target cells by stimulating production of intracellular cAMP and the influx of calcium, usually concurrently. Calcium is critical to hormone communication and vital to general biological harmony. In order to maintain cell life, tissues that aren’t directly involved in critical life support, such as bone, will sacrifice calcium if dietary calcium is in short supply. A diminished calcium status in the cells of the heart or liver, say, is quickly compensated for by bone resorption—calcium extraction from bone. Osteoporosis, then, is more a symptom of a deeper problem than the disease we think.
Ginseng has been shown to induce its adaptogenic or biological-regulating influence through cellular calcium regulation. In a 2002 in vitro study a particular gensenoside (active constituent of ginseng) was found to modulate the activity of calcium channels in neurons (18). Ginseng helps convey the correct hormone message in the right proportion from the outside of the cell to its interior. Furthermore, this facilitation of calcium influx promotes cellular resensitization, causing cells to function according to design and at more youthful levels.
Coleus forskohlii is another common herbal application used to boost cell responsiveness to hormones. It primes cells by inducing cAMP production inside them, initiating the appropriate cellular response to hormones more expeditiously. Recent studies also show that forskolin, the active compound of coleus forskohlii, induces nitric-oxide production (19).
Biological aging results in the “numbing” of cells to the stimulus of communication molecules such as endocrine hormones and the autocrine’s prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and other eicosanoid hormones produced from our essential fats. The result of this resistance is obvious: cells don’t function in synchronicity and the body may compensate by raising secretions of communication molecules, leading to possible health risks.
General metabolic inefficiency develops because of this cellular sluggishness and perpetuates a series of problems that experts believe can contribute to poor weight management, slow immune reactivity, and more. A lack of energy and strength are often consequences of this metabolic lethargy. These energy deficiencies represent subtle signals we can heed if we’re perceptive about our internalized messages. If we’re receptive to the signs our bodies give us, we can make changes in our diets and lifestyles before diseases are pronounced.
Calcium deficits are a likely underlying cause for these hard-to-detect symptoms, and the resulting bone resorption usually goes unnoticed until a fracture sheds light on the problem. Coleus forskohlii administration may prove successful in priming cAMP,regulating nitric oxide, and enhancing cellular response to our bodies’ communication systems. In other words, this herb can improve biological efficiency, strength, and energy.
However, raising efficiency in this way doesn’t change cAMP’s dependency on calcium. In fact, if the rate of cAMP production increases, so does the requirement for calcium. If cellular desensitization is caused by limitations of calcium, whether by poor diet or inadequate gastrointestinal absorption of the mineral, the result of this priming by coleus forskohlii is an accelerated resorption of bone minerals as calcium is used up in cells to support cAMP and other cell activities.
Herbs like coleus forskohlii and ginseng can only elicit long-term benefits if a functional nutritional foundation is in place. Our cells can’t perform without adequate calcium, and so our bodies will always fulfill this primary requirement to keep us alive even at the expense of bone mass. Caffeine has an effect similar to coleus in that the former blocks an enzyme called phosphodiesterase. Phosphodiesterase enzymes have various functions in the cells, one of which is to “chomp” on cAMP, reducing the “excited” status of the cell. Caffeine interferes with phosphodiesterase activity and raises the cellular response rate and intensity to signals (20).
With higher cAMP levels, cells respond more quickly to hormone and other signals characterized by the hypersensitization caffeine promotes. Calcium is vital to this process, which means chronic caffeine use or abuse can result in the depletion of this valuable mineral. Colon cancer, too, is associated with inadequate dietary calcium (21, 22). Excess dietary sodium, poor dietary protein quality, and abundant caffeine consumption can inhibit calcium absorption and status and indirectly magnify the risk of cancer.
Supplementation with calcium will thwart this danger as will the elimination of the factors inhibiting positive calcium status in the body. Caffeine has a compounding negative influence on biological calcium status. It promotes urinary excretion of calcium and induces its expulsion from the intestinal tract, resulting in fecal loss of the mineral. Moderate alcohol consumption further exacerbates poor calcium status as well as magnesium excretion (23). An individual consuming alcohol and caffeine abundantly, relying on the typical processed, mineral-stripped, sodium enriched diet, is at tremendous risk for calcium deficiency and its associated physical fallout. Again, osteoporosis is only one of the clinical risks. The underlying mess that occurs concurrently festers until other metabolic disasters are developed.
Studies today show that calcium status in the cells may also play a significant role in the synthesis of glucose-transport proteins, with calcium deficiencies resulting in impaired serum-glucose regulation (24). This relates or even contributes to the onset of insulin resistance and diabetes. The bone-density-status relationship of dietary calcium can serve as a model to describe the development of disease from the dietary shortfall of any essential nutrient. The biological manifestation of disease as a consequence of deficiency isn’t a sudden occurrence that arrives without warning.
The calcium model conveys the body’s extreme level of tolerance to depletion; the fact that one system is robbed to maintain an immediate need is a message we all must heed. The debt must eventually be paid back, even though, on the surface, health seems apparent. Similarly a diet consisting of limited or incomplete protein can sustain a healthy metabolism, as well, but at the expense of systems that have less-immediate requirements. If the liability isn’t paid back to the body, the robbed systems suffer until they can steal from one another. Persist with the dietary limitation and levels of intolerance will creep from one biological system to another and eventually one of them will fail and allow disease to surface. Long before diagnosis, disease will fester. During that state, the signs will be clear, but most people will ignore the smoldering until it flares into the wildfire we call disease. We can stomp out the early flames, but we’ll need a lot more help if the fire blazes out of control.
When it comes to protein and essential amino acids, this failing system is likely to be the immune system and/or gastrointestinal tract. However, the immune system relies on vitamins, minerals, and fats just as the rest of the body does. The answer to dysfunction or disease isn’t vitamin C, NAC, protein, or glutathione supplementation to support immune function. These specialty nutrients can only deliver expected results when a functional foundation is already in operation. They all depend on one another; they all rely on minerals.
Food intake must be densely packed with a complete array of minerals in order to meet the body’s needs and, if met, the intrinsicprotective system will ward off disease with ease. A diet abundant in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is essential for optimal health from this standpoint alone. However, bioavailability of minerals in our food supply is a critical issue that must be considered. Vegetarian diets are loaded with minerals, but the form in which these elements are delivered isn’t always the most bioavailable.
That’s why animal protein sources are strongly recommended adjuncts to a mostly vegetarian diet. Minerals such as iron, zinc, selenium, and even calcium are much better absorbed when consumed either inconjunction with animal protein or as constituents of it. Vegans, studies show, are vulnerable to iron, zinc, and selenium deficiencies that can cause grave consequences that may never be linked, especially if they’re marginal.