Jon has a Ph.D in chemistry. Living an active outdoor lifestyle, he also has an interest in nutrition science and nature conservation.
Red Mineral Algae Calcium vs. Mineral Calcium
Red mineral algae calcium supplements are made from the calcified remains of red algae, Lithothamnion calcareum, which is found in just three locations in the world. The algae itself gathers minerals naturally from the sea during its lifetime and at the end of its life cycle it leaves behind skeletal remains that contain calcium, magnesium, iron and several other trace minerals which are excellent for bone tissue and general health. These remains are harvested, processed and then placed in capsules for human consumption.
As the algae itself is not killed in the process it is also a natural and organic source of these minerals should the red marine algae be harvested in a sustainable manner.
On the other hand, most calcium in traditional dietary supplements is purely calcium carbonate, sourced from lime-rock and other inorganic sources. It is produced by extracting the calcium carbonate from the inorganic source through a complex process involving the use of large amounts of chemicals and then purified to contain nearly only calcium carbonate, which is placed in capsules or pressed into tablets for human consumption.
While dietary supplements from red mineral algae are also mostly calcium carbonate they contain a considerable amount of other minerals derived from the sea where the algae live. It is believed that these additional minerals are the cause of the extra benefits obtained from the consumption of red mineral algae supplements compared to most regular calcium supplements.
Why Calcium From Red Mineral Algae?
The calcium found in calcified algae remains is of course no different from calcium derived from lime rock. There can however be considerable differences in how the digestive tract and the human body deal with calcium from these two very different sources. Unlike calcium from lime rock which has usually been purified, red mineral algae dietary supplements contain a vast amount of other minerals, 74 in total, which seem to have a positive effect on how the body digests and absorbs calcium.
There have been scientific studies showing that red mineral algae calcium has a wide range of positive effects beyond that of the traditional type. The full reference for the following studies is at the bottom of this page. Scientific studies on the benefits of red mineral algae have shown a positive effect in warding off osteoporosis (Aslam, MN, 2010), osteoarthritis (Frestedt JL, 2009) and nearly eliminating colon polyp formation (Aslam, MN, 2012).
Bone Density and Calcium Supplements
A highly interesting study suggests that red mineral algae calcium supplements are able to restore bone density (Michalek JE, 2011). How this happens is unclear and future studies are needed to determine the cause of this interesting effect as it could have wide-ranging effects on the health of the elderly.
As can be seen in the chart below, bone density starts to reduce soon after the age of 40 and women lose a significant amount of bone density between the age of 50 and 60. If confirmed through further studies, the use of red mineral algae supplements will become a mainstream recommendation for the preservation and restoration of bone mass.
And even though scientific studies have not confirmed this fact, there is no reason to wait if you are in the age range that experiences the greatest loss of bone mass.
There have also been studies that link increased risk of heart attacks and calcium carbonate dietary supplements (Kuanrong Li, 2012). This study showed that increased calcium intake from food sources such as vegetables reduced the chances of heart attacks, while taking traditional calcium supplements increased the chances of heart attacks by as much as 86%. It should be noted that this study is being contested, yet it does present a plausible case.
Since foods that contain calcium also contain a variety of other minerals as well, it is reasonable to assume that using calcium supplements that originate from red mineral algae would behave more like plants and not increase the risk of heart attacks as opposed to supplements derived from lime rock. There have however been no studies to test this as of yet.
Mineral Content of Red Mineral Algae Remains
What About Calcium Directly From Plants?
Obviously the very best dietary practice is to eat a well-balanced diet, filled with nutritious vegetables, dairy products, fruits, nuts and other goodies to get your necessary daily amount of calcium and other minerals and nutrients.
However, in some cases that may not be sufficient, or there might be a need to ensure a daily intake of calcium at precise time intervals. There might also be problems getting enough daily calcium due to dietary restrictions such as lactose intolerance.
In those cases, it would seem that dietary supplements derived from the Lithothamnion calcareum red mineral algae are the best possible choice overall to ensure the necessary daily amount.
Calcium Supplements and Weightlifting
And lastly, as I'm a weightlifter, calcium plays an important part in my own diet. Calcium is important for the transportation of amino acids and creatine, it helps with getting good sleep by relieving stress and supporting the muscle's ability to relax between contractions. I personally prefer to supplement my meals with red mineral algae calcium from NOW, as my normal daily meals do not contain enough calcium for my activities. That way I feel I get the benefits of supplementation without the added risk of heart disease.
Aslam MN et al. A Mineral-Rich Extract from the Red Marine Algae Lithothamnion calcareum Preserves Bone Structure and Function in Female Mice on a Western-Style Diet. Calcif Tissue Int. 2010;86:313–324.
Aslam MN, Bergin I, Naik M, Paruchuri T, Hampton A, Rehman M, et al. A multimineral natural product from red marine algae reduces colon polyp formation in C57BL/6 mice. Nutr Cancer (2012) 64:1020–8
Frestedt JL, Walsh M, Kuskowski MA, Zenk JL. A natural mineral supplement provides relief from knee osteoarthritis symptoms: a randomized controlled pilot trial. Nutr J. 2008
Li K, Kaaks R, Linseisen J, Rohrmann S, Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC-Heidelberg). Heart 2012;98
Michalek JE, Preuss HG, Croft HA, Keith PL, Keith SC, Dapilmoto M, Periicone NV, Leckie RB, Kaats GR. Changes in total body bone mineral density following a common bone health plan with two versions of a unique bone health supplement: a comparative effectiveness research study. Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:32.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: I just purchased a product that is a liquid plant-based magnesium from aquamin seawater, magnesium hydroxide and calcium from aquamin. I also bought some red algae named lithothamnium Thalius which I can't find out anything about. Do you know if the Thalius species is comparable to the calcarea? I also am concerned about the aluminum content the other type carries. Any thoughts?
Answer: To answer your first question. Yes, the Thallus subspecies should be compatible with the calcareum subspecies when comparing the mineral content of the calcified remains.
Also, both subspecies have a similar amount of aluminum. Aluminum is found in almost all sea species as the sea has on average 1.9 micrograms of aluminum per gram of seawater. Aluminum then builds up in sea organism over time.
Supplements made from Lithothamnium sp Thallus should still be safe to eat as only 0.3% of the aluminum a healthy human eats is absorbed in the GI tract and the kidneys effectively eliminate it. If you, however, have reduced kidney function for some reason then it is sensible to limit aluminum intake.
© 2016 Jon Sigurdsson