Viewpoints

Published: Sunday August 17, 2008 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday July 30, 2013 MYT 5:38:21 PM

Calcium power

Many important body functions depend on calcium and its binding proteins, especially calmodulin.

CALCIUM is the most abundant mineral element found in the body. It is the main mineral that makes up the bones and teeth. In the average man, the bones are strengthened and supported by about 2kg of calcium (and phosphorous).

Babies get abundant calcium through mothers’ milk for their growth, and all infant formulas are fortified with calcium. Older children and adults get their supply from eggs and dairy foods (milk, yeast, yoghurt), fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, grains and a variety of fish (like the ikan bilis).

Although calcium is plentiful in a wide variety of foods, many of us still do not take enough because our diet is not that healthy, and we underestimate the daily calcium requirement.

Adults should take about 1,000mg per day, while teenagers and post-menopausal women should take more (1,200-1,300mg). Pregnant women should take a minimum of 1,500mg daily.

Calcium is needed for muscles and nerves to work properly. In addition, calcium helps you to manage your weight and blood pressure, and may help in preventing colon cancer. Calcium is also involved in reproduction (fertilisation stage) and cell division.

Vitamin D is important in the body’s use of calcium, especially in bone formation. Vitamin D also has anti-cancer benefits (for example, it helps prevent skin cancers, and makes melanocarcinomas less aggressive).

Most women are aware of the threat of osteoporosis as they become menopausal (average age 50 years) and usually start taking calcium supplements or calcium-enriched milk. However, because of the lack of hormones, other nutrients (vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, trace minerals, collagen), and insufficient weight-bearing exercise, bone formation is minimal in spite of adequate calcium intake, and bone destruction continues to weaken the skeleton. As a result, many post-menopausal women suffer fractures.

Actually the weakening of bones starts from about age 35 in women, and about 45 in men, as evidenced from the rise of vertebral fractures (collapse of the vertebral bones) in such ages. The rise in incidence of hip fractures starts after menopause, and 10 years later in men.

The right time to start preventing osteoporosis is when you are young so that you have strong bones to start with, and you will enter menopause (or andropause) with an advantage. Teenage girls should take calcium supplements as insurance, and continue throughout life, unless they are sure that their diets have 1,000mg of calcium daily.

The body maintains most of the calcium outside the cell, because calcium ions actually have many important actions inside the cell, and the entry of calcium ions into the cell can trigger many important functions through their interaction with calcium-sensing proteins (for example, causing a muscle to contract, releasing insulin from the pancreatic cell, or blocking the entry of additional sperm cells once an egg has been fertilised).

Like many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, research has uncovered many more functions affected by calcium than what was known when I was a medical student 35 years ago.

The level of calcium outside the cell is 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than inside, and this environment is achieved through several calcium-binding proteins, and the action of calcium “pumps” and calcium “channels” at the cellular membrane.

Calmodulin – the calcium modulator

Calcium-binding proteins transport most of the calcium and function as signal modulators by carrying calcium ions (Ca2+). With their combined role of transporter and signal sensor/modulator/transducer, calcium-binding proteins contribute to many aspects of cellular function, and hence influence our health and our lives tremendously, from reproduction, to the heart beat, to having strong bones and muscles, and even to learning and memory.

Many other proteins also bind calcium, although binding calcium may not be their main function.

The most important calcium-binding protein is calmodulin (calcium modulating protein, shortened to CaM). It is a small dumb-bell shaped protein with a “flexible” middle link. The flexibility of calmodulin’s middle region allows the molecule to “wrap around” its target, which may be of different shapes and sizes. This property allows it to tightly bind to a wide range of different target proteins within the cell, and that explains its amazingly wide range of functions.

Calmodulin is involved in inflammation, metabolism, apoptosis (programmed cell death, which may explain how calcium works against cancer), muscle contraction, intracellular movement, short-term and long-term memory, nerve growth and the immune response.

Calmodulin is so versatile that the anthrax bacteria (which does not have its own calmodulin) actually uses the host cell’s calmodulin to execute its attack on the host and take over the cellular machinery. Once calmodulin binds to the toxin, a structural change occurs in the toxin which activates its enzyme activity, which then depletes the host cell’s energy stores.

Calcium channel control

The control of calcium ions through the cellular calcium channels are very important in the management of homeostasis (a healthy, balanced environment within the body), blood pressure and heart function, among others. For example, calcium ions are essential for cardiac excitation and contraction that results in the propulsion of blood.

Calcium channel blockers are substances (drugs or natural) which block the calcium channels and modify the function of excitable cells like heart muscle, smooth muscles of the blood vessels and nerve cells. Such drugs are widely used to treat hypertension. Some anti-epilepsy drugs also capitalise on the calcium channels in brain cells.

Calcium channel blockers decrease the force of contraction of the heart muscle or cause a lowering of the heart rate, or exert their effects on the peripheral blood vessels (vasodilation and reduced peripheral resistance).

Many drugs have a combination of these effects. They are suitable for patients with hypertension and certain heart arrhythmias.

Calmodulin supplementation

With so many important body functions depending on calcium and its binding proteins (especially calmodulin), it is important to ensure that we take enough calcium and ensure we have enough binding proteins as well.

Like many other important proteins, hormones and signal or messenger molecules in the body, the level of calmodulin also declines as we age, and may be a major reason for a host of health problems since it modulates so many body functions.

The most obvious result of this age-related decline is bone-thinning leading to osteopenia or osteoporosis. Abnormal bone formation may also result in inappropriate calcification, leading to fragile bones which easily break. Many of us past 40 have noticeable bent or even crooked spines.

We also know that it affects the maintenance of our blood pressure, heart health, brain and nerve functions, and the integrity of our immune system.

Calmodulin is now available in supplement form and has helped many people improve their health. Improvements in bone structure, especially in the reversal of osteopenia and osteoporosis and the restoration of the proper shape of the vertebrae, have been validated with bone density mineral DXT scans.

Even curvature of the spine (scoliosis or kyphosis) has been shown to improve following the strengthening and normalisation of the shape of the vertebrae.

From its role in heart and smooth muscles, we can expect better heart health and blood pressure control if we have sufficient calmodulin. Its role as a signal transducer in nerves explains why some patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease who take calmodulin-rich supplements have reported drastic improvements in the disappearance of their tremors.

It should not be taken as medicine to replace any drugs, but as a nutritional supplement to complement the drugs if you already suffer from any such problems mentioned above, and as preventive healthcare in those who are still healthy, especially those who are past 35.

However, do not expect immediate results, because it takes time for health restoration through nutritional modification to become apparent, especially for bone formation and reshaping to happen.

For bone health, you must patiently consume the supplement for at least four months before you go for a repeat scan to see improvements in your spine. You can look forward to a stronger and straighter spine. You will be surprised.

  • Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my.

    The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

    advertisement

    1. Charity does give back
    2. Malaysia's first celebrity power couple, P. Ramlee and Saloma
    3. Rojak 1Malaysia or fruit salad with Malaysian attitude
    4. What’s in your medicine cabinet?
    5. 5 most memorable Merdeka commercials
    6. The Hundred-Foot Journey
    7. Rodeo coral ride: How to enjoy our beautiful islands
    8. Instant noodles carry higher health risks for women
    9. At your service: Paediatricians set up site to help parents
    10. M’sian proud of Nobel prize win

    advertisement

    advertisement