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From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
June 2003
Okinawan Health Secrets
by Robert R. Barefoot
review by Jule Klotter
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Barefoot on Coral Calcium: An Elixir of Life?
by Robert R. Barefoot
Wellness Publishing
75 Plymouth St.
Fairfield, New Jersey 07004 USA
Softbound, ISBN 0-9714224-1-9
2001, 144 pp, $19.95

Coral calcium from Okinawa has become big business. Numerous web sites advertise it. Infomercials promoting its health benefits play on television. Curious about the product, I welcomed the chance to review Robert R. Barefoot's book, Barefoot on Coral Calcium: An Elixir of Life? While no one would question the health benefits of a balanced intake of minerals, the superiority of calcium from Okinawan coral, taken as a supplement, is up for debate.
In his book, Mr. Barefoot draws on some research, usually without references, to promote his Okinawan coral calcium (sold on the website He begins by referring to long-lived groups such as the Abkasians from Georgia, the Hunzas of Pakistan, the Vilcabambas of Ecuador, and the Okinawans. He writes, "I believe that the common denominator in this group of people with longevity is that their diet is high in mineral nutrients." He mentions Dr. Jun Kobayashi, who found "a direct relationship between the 'hard water' that is consumed by Okinawans and their long-and healthy life span" (author's emphasis; no source for the quotation given).

The Okinawans are indeed a long-lived and healthy people, according to a 25-year study headed by Dr. Makoto Suzuki. Mr. Barefoot claims that Dr. Suzuki "has repeatedly declared that the most important factor that determines longevity in Okinawa is diet and nutrition." I managed to find an article on his Okinawan study in
The Boston Globe (May 22, 2001). Okinawa has the highest percentage of verifiable 100-year-olds in the world, and these people are healthy with sharp minds. Their diet primarily consists of fresh produce and grains with regularly servings of soy products and fish. The article goes on to say that older Okinawans exercise regularly (most commonly, martial arts exercises) and maintain a positive spiritual attitude and low-stress lifestyle: "Exercise is a way of life for Okinawans and it's connected to their spiritual beliefs, which combine reverence for nature with celebration of elders and ancestors and a 'help your neighbor' ethic in the community." Exercise is well documented as strengthening bones and the cardiovascular system as well as relieving stress. Community and social contacts are also documented as being important for health. Who is to say how much of the health and longevity enjoyed by older Okinawans is due to diet and how much is due to other factors?

Although Mr. Barefoot repeatedly states that mineral intake may not be the only factor in the health and longevity of Okinawans, the book continually emphasizes the health benefits of calcium, specifically Okinawan coral calcium. Mr. Barefoot goes to great lengths to assert the superiority of Okinawan marine coral, which contains about an "ideal" 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium. Major elements found in Okinawan marine coral, according to his own 'whole rock' analyses, include calcium oxide, magnesium oxide, silicon oxide, strontium oxide, aluminum oxide, and iron oxide. Aluminum has been implicated in illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease. Mr. Barefoot does not address the aluminum content, except to list it in a table of principal toxic elements (p 79). The heading to this table refers the reader to Appendix A for the source and adverse effects of these toxic elements. The book does not contain an appendix – "A" or otherwise. Since Mr. Barefoot lists aluminum oxide and strontium oxide among the primary compounds in Okinawan coral, his comment on toxic minerals was disturbing. Mr. Barefoot writes: "…minerals that are traditionally considered 'toxic' may be very valuable in small doses in biological systems. For example, the toxic element arsenic has been shown in recent research to have a beneficial health role in minute traces in the diet….As knowledge increases, we may have to redefine mineral 'toxicity.' What was once considered toxic and undesirable in terms of small amounts of certain minerals may emerge as quite desirable for health. Also, every nutrient on Earth is toxic in high enough quantities. Even excess water can kill, but water is essential for life!" Anything is possible, but I found his argument unconvincing. Nowhere in this book does Mr. Barefoot refer to any laboratory or clinical studies on the use of Okinawan coral calcium, itself, when taken as a supplement.

In addition to the lack of references and studies that support Mr. Barefoot's claims, I was also troubled by the effect of harvesting from coral beds. Mr. Barefoot explains in detail that the brand of coral calcium he recommends is harvested in a sustainable manner, supervised by the Japanese government. Given the number of web sites and infomercials offering Okinawan coral calcium, I find it hard to believe that Okinawan coral reefs are not being affected – if the contents of these products actually match the label. Pollution, global climate change, even the swim fins of scuba divers are damaging coral reefs all over the planet. Are Okinawa's coral reefs truly unaffected by mass harvesting?

Okinawans who follow a traditional diet and lifestyle do enjoy excellent health throughout their long lives. A 25-year study ascribed their health and longevity to a diet based on produce grown in naturally-mineralized soil and a balanced lifestyle that contains exercise, spirituality, gratitude, respect, and community.
Barefoot on Coral Calcium: An Elixir of Life? does not contain evidence that taking supplemental coral calcium will produce the same benefits. It is indeed questionable that this widely-touted supplement is "An Elixir of Life."


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