Sharon Lawrence Dives Into Coral Calcium
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
NYPD Blue alum Sharon Lawrence portrayed a character that made a living
determining right from wrong. Now Lawrence is helping people make a similar
distinction when it comes to the health of the world's coral reefs.
"The destruction of coral reefs is threatening the health and stability of
the entire ocean ecosystem," cautions Lawrence, who volunteers as a spokesperson
for Reef Check, an international program that scientifically monitors, restores
and maintains global coral reef health. "We're raping and pillaging the reef
for an element - calcium -- that we can get in other sources more efficiently
and more economically."
Lawrence points out that harvesting coral for calcium supplements is just one
of the many ways the reefs are being destroyed.
"Over-fishing and catching fish by dynamiting the reef as well as pollution,
sewage and logging operations are killing reefs at an alarming rate," says Lawrence,
who is a certified scuba diver. "I've seen a dead reef in Bali - it's white
and devoid of life - like a skeleton."
While ecologically devastating practices by humans are making a virtual bone-yard
of our oceans, Lawrence is gravely concerned that people are plundering the
reefs literally to save their own bones. And in doing so they may be harming
"The coral reef is alive," Lawrence notes. "It's a living organism that provides
nutrients that are essential to life in the ocean. If the reef is taken out
of the food chain, then fish cannot feed and the entire balance of the ocean's
ecosystem will be upset. The impact to human health will be catastrophic."
But Lawrence is also sensitive to the debilitating and often disfiguring effects
of osteoporosis and recognizes a real need for people to make sure they get
enough calcium in their diets.
"My grandmother did have a broken hip so I am very aware about bone health,
especially since my husband is a physician," says Lawrence, who will appear
in the upcoming fall feature film Little Black Book. "I am a woman and
as we get older we lose bone mass if we don't stay on top of things like knowing
your family history. You don't want to have hip fracture problems."
But most Americans are unaware they are at risk for bone loss.
More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, which is defined as low bone
mass accompanied by structural deterioration of bone, leading to bone fragility
and the increased risk of spine, hip, and wrist fractures. Approximately 80%
of those afflicted are women. Another 34 million Americans have decreased bone
mass or osteopenia, placing them at higher risk for developing osteoporosis.
While bone density tests can diagnose and help identify the potential for developing
osteoporosis, lifestyle choices, including weight-bearing exercise and consuming
a calcium-rich diet, can help prevent or lessen the impact of the condition.
A 2003 poll revealed that while 64% of women understand that calcium is important
to their health, 53% surveyedhad no idea how much calcium they need. While most
women consume on average around 600 mg/day of calcium, they actually need between
1000-1500 mg/day of calcium.
For many, getting this much calcium from their diet is simply not possible.
Consuming copious amounts of dark leafy green vegetables like kale is simply
impractical. Dairy products are another source of calcium and Vitamin D. But
with so many people lactose intolerant, this can also be a challenge. One solution
is the many lactose-free dairy products which enable people who cannot digest
milk sugar to still consume milk without physical discomfort.
Another option is vitamin supplements.
Depending on the individual, the type of calcium supplement can be an issue
and subsequently cause non-compliance. Calcium carbonate-based supplements
can cause side effects like gas, bloating, constipation and upset stomach. Calcium
citrate seems to produce fewer adverse reactions and is better absorbed, but
is more expensive than calcium carbonate.
"I take calcium supplements," states Lawrence, who also does bone-building,
weight-bearing exercise three times a week. "But I don't take supplements made
from coral because it destroys the reef and in my opinion it's not as healthy
a calcium source."
One of the immediate concerns regarding coral calcium and human health is the
issue of trace elements.
"Coral has numerous trace elements like manganese, strontium and even uranium
which are not good for us," explains William Kiene, director for Conservation
Science at Reef Check and a coral reef expert with a PhD in marine science.
"Because of the intricate structure of the coral polyp and the many spaces within
the structure, there potentially can be many other materials in the coral when
it's ground up. Who knows what could be in it?"
Kiene contends that claims that coral calcium is better than calcium from other
sources like limestone or broccoli is more about marketing than fact.
"Coral seems to be an attractive marketing tool employed to sell a product
at great cost to the reef," Kiene says. "There are much easier ways to obtain
calcium. The reefs are under constant threat from so many sources that introducing
coral harvesting for some kind of luxury item is very unfortunate. We have to
remember that coral reefs benefit humans by maintaining ocean health, not by
'mining' calcium supplements."
Kiene reminds people that they have a choice in what they purchase and consume.
"It's important to be knowledgeable about where those products come from," Kiene
cautions. "Depleting our coral reefs, which are already under siege, is not
Lawrence, who supports several ecological organizations, believes the solution
starts "at home."
"I think the parallels between our health and reef health are obvious," Lawrence
says. "Both are the foundations of entire ecosystems, one global and one individual.
We have to protect both in order to insure a healthy future. Whether you spend
time in the water or not, you can help be a steward of our planet and help take
care of the environment. This is our home and we don't get another one."
For more information on osteoporosis, click here.
Created: 6/6/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.