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The Newest Weight-Loss Pill
By Sarah Schmidt
Weight loss supplements have a lousy track record. From the deaths and heart attacks attributed to fen-phen in the early 1990s to the recently banned ephedra, pills hyped to promote weight loss have pretty much proven to be useless at best and dangerous—even deadly—at worst.
But new research shows there may be one pill out there that can help you shed pounds without risk. It’s legal, it’s safe, and you don’t have to buy it from some sketchy website. Good old calcium, it seems, not only strengthens your bones and helps lower your blood pressure, it can also help you lose excess weight—and keep it off.
“This is not a magic bullet, but adequate levels of calcium can help you ‘melt’ fat more quickly,” says Robert Heaney, a calcium researcher at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and the author of one of several recent studies on the subject. In fact, a calcium deficiency may be one answer to that oft-heard question, “I’m eating less, so why aren’t I losing weight?”—especially when you consider that nearly 80 percent of American adults, and 90 percent of women, aren’t getting enough of this essential mineral.
In one study, Heaney examined data from 348 young women and found that the less calcium they got from their diets, the more likely they were to be overweight or obese. Among those who took in around 400 milligrams per day or less, 15 percent were overweight. But among those who got the recommended dose of 1,000 mg, only 4 percent were heavy.
Another study comparing women on low-calorie diets found that after two years, those who took in only 500 mg of calcium a day actually gained an average of four pounds, while those who got 1,000 mg lost six. And once people reach healthy weights, adequate calcium levels have also been shown to prevent relapses. “This is particularly significant since recidivism rates for obesity are actually worse than they are for alcoholism,” says Heaney.
The reason for calcium’s fat-busting role goes back to Paleolithic days, say experts. In times of plenty, our ancestors seldom had to worry about getting enough of the mineral. The plants they gathered contained much higher levels than do our fruits, veggies, and grains, because they grew in calcium-rich soil rather than on land depleted from years of farming. They also got a lot of calcium from the small bones of the fish and birds they ate. So the only time primitive humans might have been short on the mineral was when food was scarce.
And apparently, Heaney says, when calcium levels are low, a substance called calcitriol rushes through the bloodstream and tells our fat cells to stop breaking down fat and to start storing it as efficiently as possible. Basically, the body goes into a kind of starvation prevention mode that thwarts our efforts to lose weight. A high-calcium diet, on the other hand, tells the calcitriol to back off, allowing the metabolism to speed up.
Nowadays, since most people are low on calcium despite having acces...
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