Opinion » Antidote

Reef Belief


Can I take coral calcium supplements if I am allergic to fish, especially shellfish?


No. There are two allergies for which coral calcium may cause a severe reaction: shellfish and horse manure. Those allergic to shellfish may react to coral calcium because it is allegedly mined from the dead, broken-off edges of an active coral reef and may contain traces of fish or shellfish. A reaction to the latter occurs because the advertising and marketing of this product may contain large amounts of crap.

Through a series of books and infomercials endorsing this supplement as the cure for all ills, promoter Robert Barefoot ruled the late-night airwaves through the first couple of years of the new millennium. His carefully spun tale presented all the elements necessary to fire the imaginations of health-conscious consumers: romantic locations, unique healing powers and possible governmental suppression. The legend began by noting that this one-of-a-kind supplement can only be found in the exotic coral reefs off Okinawa, Japan. This special material has kept the local populace completely disease-free for centuries. Coral calcium also contains, he states, particular trace minerals in perfect biologic proportion that can prevent or cure cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.

The claims are mainly based on a false assumption that all disease is a result of acidosis, or too much acid in your body. Equally erroneous is the assertion that coral calcium will neutralize the harmful acids and return you to vibrant health. It is true that Western diets encourage mild blood acidity, but little evidence exists that conditions other than those directly related to it will result (osteoporosis, kidney stones, etc).

Barefoot's most egregious fish story is that Okinawans, the longest-living and possibly healthiest community in the world, owe their longevity to coral calcium. The Okinawa Centenarian Study, a project begun in 1976, discovered many factors are involved in their extended lifespan. A heavily vegetarian diet, extensive exercise, an easy-going attitude and an unusual cultural tradition of eating until only 80 percent full, were just a few of the elements. Indeed, dietary calcium levels are high from the limestone-rich local soil, but this was just a single factor among dozens.

Wherever shameless half-truths are being promoted, look around and you'll likely find Kevin Trudeau. Author of the current New York Times bestseller, Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About, Trudeau got involved with coral calcium at the beginning of its meteoric rise. Already convicted of credit-card fraud and having served a two-year prison sentence for earlier misdeeds, he and a co-host promoted this supplement in a new infomercial. Clearly Trudeau's Mega-Memory technique was equally useless since he completely forgot a prior $500,000 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fine for making deceptive claims about his memory system.

By 2003, the FTC had their fill of the televised cancer-cure distortions and shut down the operation. Following a series of investigations, they charged both Barefoot and Trudeau with making false and misleading claims (Trudeau was probably familiar with the paperwork). In 2004, the cases were settled; Trudeau agreed to about $2 million in fines and was banned from selling any products by infomercial, with the exception of informational publications like books. But, no tears, please, since that exception--granted by the Free Speech provision of our First Amendment--has allowed him to bounce back just fine.

Calcium supplementation, in general, is an excellent idea for many people, especially women; it keeps bones strong and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Coral calcium, though, is not particularly special. It is nearly all calcium carbonate, or limestone, and is absorbed at exactly the same speed and amount as any store brand of the substance that costs pennies (not dollars) per dose. A non-price caution: Mostly due to under-sea volcanic activity, reef-mined calcium may contain high levels of heavy metals, like lead. For that reason alone, it is prudent to avoid "natural" calcium supplements. Labels that say "refined" calcium carbonate are chemically pure and are a safer alternative. Calcium citrate, another big seller, is more easily absorbed, but the molecule is bulkier. Larger doses of this type are needed to achieve the same effect as the carbonate--plus calcium citrate is also fairly expensive.

It would, indeed, be fantastic if there was a pill we could take to live as long and as well as the Japanese on Okinawa. Sadly, coral calcium is not the answer. It wasn't in the Okinawa Centenarian Study, but I've discovered another factor in the health and happiness of the community that hasn't been considered: I don't think they watch infomercials.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send Puka shell necklaces and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).