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 bandwagon and suggested coral 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’s benefits to sell product, and having his infomercial forced off the air was fair treatment; but should we dismiss coral 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, once again, be answering patients’ questions about the merits of coral calcium products.  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 level 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 comes from two suppliers who test every batch and offer third party lab results showing Proposition 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 seventy-three 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.
One recent coral entry is a live harvested coral from Brazil which is particularly high in trace minerals–about twelve times more than Okinawan varieties, which are long dead and somewhat depleted. (  This Brazilian coral is actually an algae and, hence, has vegetable proteins to which the minerals can chelate.  Heat treatment is avoided so the non-mineral marine nutrients stay in tact with this particular form of 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 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 were the same as from calcium carbonate, it would still be seventy-two minerals ahead.
The key to coral calcium is its mineral balance, which assists calcium’s effectiveness.  With regard to 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 with regard to 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; and, yes, Mr. Barefoot has made exaggerated claims.  Yes, coral is a form of carbonate, but closer inspection shows coral is one of the most promising organic multi-minerals available. 

Dr. Mark Percival achieved a doctorate in naturopathic medicine upon finishing his chiropractic degree. Dr. Percival pioneers the use and study of Coral Calcium and is currently the Medical Advisor to CFU for Brazilian Fresh Harvest Coral™. For more information contact 888-293-9875 or visit

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