I have been reading about the use of coral calcium to treat cancer as well as diabetes and many other health problems. What do you think of this research? -- Donna Lally

Coral calcium is an aggressively promoted -- and pricey -- product that supposedly provides incredible health benefits. Coral calcium is said to remove chlorine and other harmful elements from water while adding good ones, making your body more alkaline, boosting the immune system and treating everything from fatigue and digestive disorders to cancer.

Many of these claims are based on the famed long life and good health of Okinawans who supposedly drink water containing coral calcium. True, Okinawa has the world's highest concentration of centenarians, the longest disability-free life expectancy, and a very low rate of heart disease. Obesity and such common Western diseases as breast and prostate cancer are also rare there.

Researchers studying the remarkable health of the islanders have found that their diets are far superior to that of most Americans (see The Okinawa Program, Clarkson Potter, 2001). Traditional Okinawans consume at least seven servings of vegetables and fruits daily, an equal number of grains, two daily servings of soy products, green tea every day and fish rich in omega-3s (several times a week) Meat, poultry and eggs account for only three percent of the Okinawan diet.

Elderly Okinawans are more physically active than elderly Americans and also enjoy strong social networks and community support. I believe their good health has much more to do with diet, with their physically active lifestyle, and with community support than with their drinking water.

Furthermore, the notion that you can enhance health by making the body more alkaline has no scientific basis. Nor is there evidence that drinking alkaline water does anyone any good. Alkaline or "hard" water (due to high calcium concentrations) is common throughout the western United States but to my knowledge it hasn't protected people in that region from the medical problems that occur elsewhere.

I do not recommend coral calcium. I have seen no scientific research supporting any of the health claims made for it. Furthermore, these products may be contaminated with harmful heavy metals. I certainly wouldn't rely on coral calcium to treat cancer, diabetes or any other disease.

Dr. Andrew Weil

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