Calcium supplements are big business and they are enjoying a period of popularity especially for their ability to improve bone health and density.
There are many different forms of supplementary calcium on the market and navigating them is a bit of a minefield. Among the available forms are calcium carbonate, calcium orotate and calcium citrate.
One of the more unique forms available is coral calcium for which many bold health claims have been made but scientific evidence is still lacking.
What exactly is Coral Calcium?
Coral calcium is another form of calcium carbonate and as its name implies, it is a form of calcium derived from fossilized coral deposits and is actually the most prevalent form of calcium in the world but environmental questions have been raised regarding the harvesting of the coral for its calcium.
Coral calcium is derived from marine invertebrates which secrete calcium in the ocean and this regulates pH levels of the surrounding water. When secreted, a hard skeleton is creates and when a many corals are secreted, the familiar coral reef is built.
Coral does not only contain calcium but also other minerals such as magnesium making coral calcium a broad spectrum supplement. However, with these coral beds being irreplaceable, is it actually worth ravaging them for supplementary purposes when calcium is available in several very similar forms?
How is Coral Calcium Different from Regular Calcium?
Despite being carbonates, coral calcium is actually quite different from regular rock based calcium. The geometrical structure is created by living organisms which gives coral calcium unique properties.
According to research, organic molecules are embedded inside the crystals which is entirely different from calcium sourced from rock.
These organic molecules are transferred into the structure of the calcium which in theory means that coral minerals have a far higher mineral content than regular calcium.
Is Coral Calcium more Effective?
There has been quite a bit of hype regarding the health benefits of coral calcium but despite this we should proceed with caution.
None of the claims made regarding the benefits of coral calcium have been backed up by scientific evidence. That does not mean that coral calcium is not effective but any claims probably need to be tempered with a touch of realism.
Much of the coral calcium found in dietary supplements is sourced from the coral reefs in the shallow waters of Okinawa in japan. The reason that it was hyped so much was that the inhabitants of this region had life spans well in excess of worldwide life expectancy rates.
The theory being that because the local inhabitants drank water which was rich in coral calcium, they were living longer and healthier lives.
However, it has been found that these locals were actually consuming less than a thousand milligrams of coral calcium each day and that many other factors are likely responsible for their longevity including a notoriously healthy diet and exercise regime as well as low levels of stress.
As of now, there have been so few studies into the benefits of coral calcium that it is difficult to say how effective it is. What we do know however is that the Federal Trade
Commission of the US reprimanded a number of coral calcium manufacturers in 2004 for making claims that it could cure a range of diseases including cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and hypertension.
The Difference Between Coral Calcium and Rock based Calcium
Coral calcium has two parts calcium to one part of magnesium as well as many other important trace minerals. Testing of the Japanese coral calcium products is conducted in the US to ensure that the product is authentic coral calcium.
Ionization tests show coral calcium ionizes quickly within around 15 minutes which makes it easier for the body to absorb. This is a big difference between coral and regular calcium carbonate which needs a large amount of digestive acid in order to ionize and absorb.
A single study comparing absorption rates showed that coral calcium absorbed significantly better than regular calcium carbonate. However, it was a very small scale study involving just 12 volunteers and researchers recommended caution regarding the results.
Bone Health and Coral Calcium
There is plenty of evidence that calcium is an important factor in maintaining bone health however when it comes to coral calcium in particular there is very little. In fact there is only a single animal study published so far which showed coral calcium may be effective in preventing bone loss due to estrogen deficiency. (2)
Of course the lack of scientific data does not necessarily mean that coral calcium is ineffective and there is probably little profit in funding expensive research into coral calcium’s effect on bone health.
However, when it comes to bone grafting material, there is plenty of positive research. Studies done into coral calcium’s effectiveness as a bone graft material can be taken to mean that it is good for bone health in general.
A German study conducted in 1998 reported 89 cases of coral calcium being used for face and jaw grafts and found that it was very well tolerated and helped facilitate growth of new bones.
Other Uses of Coral Calcium
Calcium is mostly utilized by the human body in bones but calcium signaling is also considered to be an important part of cell function and overall good health.
Unfortunately, very few studies have been done regarding the effects of coral calcium on non-bone health so very few conclusions can be made. We can however look at some of the traditional uses which date back a surprisingly long time.
Coral calcium has been used for its medicinal benefits in Europe since the Middle-Ages. It was actually sold by Asian traders and transported to Italy before being distributed to other areas of Europe.
It was traditionally used back in those days to treat eye diseases and inflammation, bleeding problems and to give strength to the heart. Whether or not coral calcium is useful for these purposes is unknown and we are dependent on very old anecdotal evidence.
Coral Calcium and Colon Cancer
A single animal study has been conducted to evaluate the effects of coral calcium on colonic cancer. The research which was published by Japanese researchers in 1999 found that coral calcium was able to inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells by boosting the amount of macrophages and cancer killing cells.
This process helped to boost the animals’ immune response and impair metastasis. By comparison, regular calcium carbonate was ineffective. (3)
Coral Calcium Antiviral ability
Again we are dependent on the results of a single study done to evaluate the antiviral abilities of coral calcium. Coral calcium was combined with a variety of flu viruses in the laboratory including the avian flu virus and H1N1 responsible for a pandemic in 2009.
The researchers discovered that these viruses were attracted into the porous surfaces of the coral calcium which helped neutralize the viruses. They concluded by hypothesizing that coral calcium may be a useful weapon against influenza.
Coral Calcium Side Effects
- Serious side effects are rare but less severe common side effects are bloating and abdominal swelling
- More uncommon side effects include abdominal pain, feelings of nausea and infrequent bowel movement.
- More serious but very rare effects are kidney stones, loss of appetite and elevated levels of calcium in the blood.
With what we know at the moment, there seem to be few real advantages of taking coral calcium over better researched types of calcium like calcium orotate. Many experts believe you are better off sticking with what you know.
Have you taken coral calcium and can you let us know whether it was worth the extra cost?