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Coral Calcium - Debunking the Debunking!

With the FTC filing law suit against Bob Barefoot for false and misleading advertising, and the discovery of lead in one Coral Calcium brand both happening in June, Coral Calcium has been severely wounded.  Others jumped on the anti-coral calcium bandwagon and suggested coral calcium was no different from cheap calcium carbonate or limestone – that it was just an overpriced calcium supplement. 

The $64,000 question is whether the bad rap is justified or are we throwing the baby out with the bath water?  Okay, everyone agrees Mr. Barefoot exaggerated Coral Calcium’s benefits to sell product and having his infomercial forced off the air was fair treatment, but should we dismiss coral calcium entirely or does it deserve a closer look? 

Whatever your beliefs, be prepared for another round of advertising.  Several new infomercials, including one with a well-known Country Singer, are in production to be launched this fall/winter filling the void left by the removal of Robert Barefoot’s show.  These television promotions are likely to rekindle broad interest and you will soon be hearing about Coral Calcium products once again.  Here are the pitfalls to watch for.

Load of Bunk #1 - “Lead in Coral Calcium”.  Let’s get some perspective.  ConsumerLabs, a watchdog group, did find a higher than Proposition 65 lead levels in one bottle, from one batch, from one brand, of Coral Calcium.  With over 300 brands of Coral Calcium in a market experiencing vertical growth, it is not surprising that one bad apple has emerged.  The vast majority of coral calcium comes from suppliers who test every batch and offer third party lab results showing Proposition 65 Compliant lead levels.  The news that was not published is that almost every other Coral brand has been tested by ConsumerLabs or one of the many other labs around the country with passing scores.

Steaming Pile of Bunk #2 – “Coral Calcium is the same as Calcium Carbonate”.  An initial inquiry revealed that calcium from coral is indeed in a carbon-based form, but that is where the similarities end.  Even a cursory glance at the electron microscope photo below indicates differing properties.
 
Coral contains 73 minerals not found in calcium carbonate supplements. According to the National Research Council, 25 of the 73 are essential minerals, and 60 of these minerals are naturally found in human milk and blood indicating that they have unknown functions.  It is widely recognized that these trace minerals are often missing entirely from our soils and food in some locations so it makes sense to supplement.

Coral Calcium Watchdog, a non profit organization that analyses coral products has found that the majority of coral calcium products out there are all marine grade coral from Okinawa Japan.  One recent Coral entry is True Blue Coral Calcium.  What is interesting about this product is that it is above sea coral calcium that is heat treated so that the non-mineral marine nutrients stay in tact.  Another new Coral Calcium has emerged onto the scene that is also quite different from the usual Okinawa Coral.  Brazil Live Coral Calcium is a live harvested coral calcium from the shores of Brazil.  This new Brazilian coral claims to have even more mineral value than the standard Okinawa coral.
 
We also know that the minerals in Coral are found in an organic rather than elemental form.  Organic minerals are complexes which contain two or more chemical bonds with the metal (mineral) atom resulting in higher absorption rates from the intestine and greater biological activity in the tissues(1).  To compare a product loaded with organic essential and trace minerals to Calcium Carbonate is fallacious.

Absorption - The Big Non-Issue
Anti Coral Calcium groups have tried to focus the attention on calcium absorption from Coral versus from Calcium Carbonate, saying coral has similar bio-availability, but is more expensive.  The only peer reviewed, published studies available show Calcium from Coral has superior absorption compared to Calcium Carbonate.  In a small, but well controlled study, Dr. Kunihiko Ishitani reports superior absorption of calcium from Coral in food compared to calcium carbonate(2).  Other carefully controlled feeding studies performed at the Universities of Rukuyuku and Okinawa have shown calcium absorption from coral calcium in experimental animals was better than absorption of calcium from milk, hydroxiapatite or calcium carbonate(3).  Even if Calcium absorption from Coral was the same as from Calcium Carbonate, it would still be 72 minerals ahead.

The key to Coral Calcium is its mineral balance which assists Calcium’s effectiveness.  As regards the fight against osteoporosis, for example, Straise L. et al showed that a group receiving calcium together with trace minerals arrested bone loss compared to a control group which took Calcium alone(4).  A good body of science shows Calcium is more effective when taken with other minerals so as to provide a mineral balance (Heaney, Becker, and Weaver, 1990; Huliz, 1990; Beal and Scofield, 1995; Harvey, 1988).

Other well conducted, controlled studies performed at the Futaba Nutrition School at the Kagawa Nutrition University in Japan were instructive as regards coral calcium specifically.  They showed the benefit of the multi-mineral coral calcium combined with exercise in improving bone mineral density.  This research study was presented at the 52nd Japanese Society of Nutrition and Food Science in April 1998.

Clearly absorption of calcium is a red herring – it is like comparing a vitamin E supplement to a multi-vitamin containing the same Vitamin E and saying the multi-vitamin is overpriced.  It is really apples versus oranges…or in this case, apples versus a whole basket of assorted fruits.  We would expect the fruit basket to cost a little more than an apple! 

To summarize, yes, lead was found in one sample of Coral Calcium, and yes, Mr. Barefoot has made exaggerated claims.  Yes, Coral is a form of carbonate, but closer inspection shows coral calcium is one of the most promising organic multi-minerals available. 

 

1.  Defined, Measured Bio-availability key to Balanced Ration.  David Baker, Feedstuffs, 1997.
2.  Calcium Absorption from the Ingestion of Coral-Derived Calcium by Humans.  Kunihiko Ishitani et al.         National Institute of Nutrition and Health, Tokyo, Japan, 1998.
3.  Nature’s Benefit from Coral Calcium, 2002, Stephen Holt, MD.
4.  Spinal Bone Loss in Post-Menopausal Women Supplemented with Calcium and Trace Minerals Straise L. et al., J of Nutr 124(7), July 1994.

(Bio – This article was written by Mel Stevens for Coral Calcium Watchdog – compare coral calcium)

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