Coral Calcium: Hype or Highly Effective Supplement?

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Could a coral calcium supplement really help
keep us healthy and vital as we age? Is it better than other forms
of calcium, worthy of its higher cost?

Questions surround coral calcium. But for Fred Runnels, the
answer to all these questions is a definite yes. Based on his
personal experience and professional knowledge of chemistry,
Runnels is a confirmed devotee of nutritional supplements. A
personal-care formulating chemist in Seattle for the last 60 years,
Runnels is still going strong — running his own business every day
at age 84. That, he says, is thanks to calcium, which ended his
40-year battle with excruciating pain.

Runnels took a bad fall at age 4, and an athletic injury at age
17 caused his back to hurt intensely for the first time — a pattern
that continued until he was 54. His chronically misaligned back was
so painful that, when driving, Runnels would take every exit from
the freeway to stop and stretch his spine over the hood of the car.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” he says.

By age 50, Runnels was advised to undergo a surgical spinal
fusion. He declined — a decision that caused Runnels’ doctor to
“fire” him as a patient. Four years later, Runnels suffered a burn
at work. While on bed rest, he took large doses of several
nutrients to heal the burn. Lo and behold, his back pain let up for
the first time. He narrowed down the source to the calcium he’d
been taking. And calcium has kept him pain-free (as long as he
takes it daily) for 30 years.

Eighteen months ago, Runnels switched to coral calcium, which he
says yielded the best results yet. Coral calcium has become a
nutrition phenomenon over the past few years, and the subject of
its fair share of controversy. Proponents argue it is a superior
form of calcium. Critics claim it is an overpriced source of poorly
absorbable calcium.

What Is Coral Calcium?

Ayurvedic practitioners have used coral as a source of
supplemental calcium for centuries. A form of calcium carbonate, it
differs from other forms in that it contains minute amounts of 73
trace minerals (see “Which Calcium is Right for You?” on Page
40).

There’s no doubt these trace minerals are beneficial. Research
has shown that calcium works better, especially for bone building,
when accompanied by other minerals. But are the quantities high
enough to actually make any difference? Runnels thinks the extra
minerals are the reason coral calcium is so effective.

Coral calcium contains a ratio of 2 parts calcium to 1 part
magnesium (about 20 percent calcium and 10 percent magnesium) — the
same ratio our bones contain. That ratio has been the standard
recommendation of holistic health practitioners for many years.

Coral calcium is mined from aboveground aged coral rock deposits
or is scooped up as “marine” coral sand from around reefs, and
therefore is very pure. Sometimes called “fossilized” coral, it’s
not taken from living reefs in the sea.

Coral calcium typically has been mined in Okinawa, Japan, but
Brazilian types are now becoming available. This material, from a
different variety of coral, is harvested on sandy beaches and
contains 12 times the trace mineral content of Okinawan coral.
Although extensive research is said to have been done on this
material, the research is mainly in Portuguese and little of it has
made its way out of Brazil.

Some fossilized coral is washed up on beaches, but its low
magnesium content makes it inferior. Check product labels to be
sure your supplement contains magnesium. Likewise, bleached coral
may have a reduced mineral profile. Detractors claim that coral
calcium is high in aluminum and lead, although the total amount one
would ever consume in a supplement is miniscule.

The Start of the Controversy

Coral calcium’s reputation was seriously wounded in 2003 when an
infomercial marketer, who also was coral calcium’s main
popularizer, exaggerated the benefits to sell the product and got
into trouble with the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and
Drug Administration. The problem involved false or unsubstantiated
claims for coral calcium, not issues with the calcium itself. The
company agreed to stop making claims that their coral calcium
product could treat or cure cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart
disease, high blood pressure or other serious diseases. That does
not mean that coral calcium is not good — just that it might not be
the miracle cure.

Coral calcium is not a panacea, but it’s a good source
of calcium and trace minerals.

The Claims and the Research

• Coral calcium aficionados claim the mineral provides the body
with 95 to 100 percent absorption. Based on current knowledge of
the research, many health professionals find this claim doubtful —
coral calcium is a form of calcium carbonate, and studies of
calcium carbonate have not found absorption to be that high. Most
practitioners believe there is nothing so different about coral
calcium that would cause absorption to improve that much. This does
not mean coral calcium is bad — just that health claims for it have
been exaggerated.

• Coral calcium mainly has been promoted as a way to make the
body more alkaline. Americans tend to be overly “acid” in pH, due
to high levels of stress and excessive consumption of refined
carbohydrates and protein. It’s true that coral calcium can help
alkalinize the body, but that’s true of all forms of calcium, not
just coral.

• Proponents claim that, because coral calcium was formed in
living tissue, it has a different structure and is more absorbable
than other forms of calcium. In general, it’s true that organic
forms of minerals are better absorbed, as is the case with amino
acid chelates.

• One small study of 12 subjects, published in the Journal of
Nutritional Science and Vitaminology in 1999, compared coral and
carbonate forms of calcium given in food. The coral was better
absorbed. However, naturopathic doctor Michael Murray criticizes
this study as being fraught with errors involving inaccurate
measurements of absorption.

• A Japanese rat study, also conducted in 1999, found better
absorption from coral calcium. The scientists did not confirm the
reason, but it may have been from the magnesium content.

Bottom line? Coral calcium is not a panacea, but it is a good
source of calcium, magnesium and trace minerals.


Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, a frequent contributor to Herbs for
Health, is an adjunct faculty member in the botanical medicine
department of Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. Khalsa’s
book Body Balance is available on our Bookshelf, Page 58.

The reference list for this article is extensive. If you would
like a copy, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to
“Coral Calcium,” Herbs for Health, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS
66609; or e-mail us at editor@HerbsForHealth.com.