Calcium and Magnesium: The Dynamic Duo
It’s hard to miss calcium. Most trusted health resources, along with the ever-present media, extol the virtues of calcium as if it were the only mineral our bodies require for good health. We can thank the American Dairy Council for milking calcium and putting it in the spotlight.
But calcium can’t act alone. It needs magnesium. These two minerals are so critical to many functions in the body that not having enough magnesium—and an excess of calcium—can cause serious health complications.
Consider any movement by the body, for example. Electrical impulses transmit signals to the nerves and brain, and movement occurs. But the conductor for these impulses is calcium which enters the cells through calcium channels operated by magnesium. Once calcium does its work, magnesium helps the body get rid of the calcium before it crystallizes.
If there’s no magnesium to help the body eliminate calcium, then the calcium builds up in the cells—which can cause symptoms of heart disease (angina, arrhythmia, hypertension), headaches and migraines, and asthma. That’s why magnesium is often called nature’s calcium channel blocker.[1,2,3]
Calcium works in the muscles, too, contracting muscle fibers while magnesium relaxes them. Too much calcium and your muscles will begin to twitch, spasm, and even result in convulsions.
The same principle applies to the bronchial tubes. Too much calcium can cause the bronchial tubes to swell, resulting in asthma. And without the muscle-relaxing effects of magnesium, calcium excess can produce spasms in the blood vessels (hypertension) and cramping in the uterus (menstrual pain).
We already know that calcium protects and keeps bones and teeth healthy. But without magnesium, the body cannot:
- Adequately absorb calcium.
- Stimulate calcitonin, a hormone that draws calcium from the blood and tissues back into the bones.
- Suppress parathyroid, another hormone that breaks down bone.
- Convert vitamin D into its active form for calcium absorption.
- Activate an enzyme required for new bone to form.
- Regulate calcium transport.
Clearly, even a mild deficiency in magnesium can radically affect bone health. Studies bear this out. A comprehensive literature review showed that chronically low intakes of magnesium, vitamin D, boron, vitamins K, B12, B6, and folic acid lead to osteoporosis—as does a chronically high intake of protein, salt, alcohol, and caffeine.[4,5]
Another study indicated that magnesium deficiency is prevalent among women with osteoporosis as compared to those in a control group.
Still another study showed that postmenopausal women with osteoporosis were able to stop the progression of the disease with just 250-750 mg of magnesium a day for two years. And 8% of those women—without any other added measures—saw an increase in bone density.
According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Miracle of Magnesium, “osteoporosis is neither a normal nor inevitable consequence of aging: our bones were designed to last a lifetime.” Yet many doctors and drug companies view bone loss as a function of estrogen loss—an “aging” disease—and treat it with estrogen, calcium, and bone-stimulating drugs. Unfortunately, there’s ample evidence in the research literature that many nutrients, especially magnesium, help keep bones healthy.
Exercise, along with dietary changes, are recommended to minimize the progression of osteoporosis. Reduce intake of protein, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine and increase the number of servings of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes in your diet.
To ensure you get the nutrients you need, consider supplementing.
Supplements for Osteoporosis
Calcium citrate [or dicalcium malate]: 500 mg per day
From The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND.
Numerous studies also show that magnesium deficiency may be responsible for kidney stones, a condition that occurs from a build-up of calcium that cannot be efficiently excreted from the body. Risk factors include a history of hypertension and low dietary intake of magnesium.
One of the primary roles of magnesium is to keep calcium from calcifying or solidifying into crystals. In the presence of magnesium deficiency, stones can form from:
- A diet high in sugar, fructose, alcohol, and caffeine which pulls calcium from the bone and excretes it through the kidneys.
- Calcium supplementation to the exclusion of magnesium and other minerals.
- High levels of oaxalic acid—found in spinach, rhubarb, parsley, chocolate, tea, and coffee—which binds to calcium making it insoluble.
- Phosphoric acid found in soft drinks depletes magnesium while eating away at bone.
Again, ample evidence exists for using magnesium to dissolve calcified kidney stones. As early as 1974, Dr. George Bunce reported the benefits of using 420 mg of magnesium each day with patients with histories of stone formation.9 And many older studies provide further evidence on the use of magnesium to prevent stone formation.[10,11,12]
In addition to dietary changes—including 6-8 glasses of water each day along with an increased intake of green vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains and decreased consumption of sugar, alcohol, coffee, and meat—supplementing with added nutrients can help reduce the formation of kidney stones.
Supplements for Kidney Stones
From The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND.
Calcium & Magnesium
Clearly, focusing on a single nutrient like calcium, to the exclusion of all of the other vitally important nutrients like magnesium, can lead to excess calcium and depleted magnesium—and an invitation for more troubling and serious conditions later on.
So to stay healthy, make sure you take calcium AND magnesium. And stay away from supplements that contain both—they’re usually less absorbed forms that are often quickly excreted before they can do any good.
Dean C, MD, ND. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books: New York, 2007.
- Iseri LT & French JH. “Magnesium: nature’s physiologic calcium blocker.” Am Heart J, 108, 188-193, 1984.
- Seelig MS. “Cardiovascular reactions to stress intensified by magnesium deficit in consequences of magnesium deficiency on the enhancement of stress reactions; preventive and therapeutic implications: a review,” J Am Coll Nutr, 13, 5:429-446, 1994.
- Rodale JR. Magnesium: The Nutrient that Could Change Your Life, Rodale Press: Emmaus, PA, 1971.
- Thomas AJ, et al. “Ca, Mg, and P status of elderly inpatients: dietary intake, metabolic balance studies and biochemical status,” Br J Nutr, 62, 211-219, 1989.
- Bunker VW. “Osteoporosis in the elderly,” Br J Biomed Sci, 51, 3:228-240, 1994.
- Brodowski J. “Levels of ionized magnesium in women with various stages of postmenopausal osteoporosis progression evaluated on the basis of densitometric examinations,” Przegl Lek, 57, 12:714-716, 2000.
- Sojka JE & Weaver CM. “Magnesium supplementation and osteoporosis,” Nutrition Reviews, 53, 71, 1995.
- Hall WD, et al. “Risk factors for kidney stones in older women in the southern United States,” Am J Med Sci, 322, 1:12-18, 2001.
- Bunce GE, et al. “Distribution of calcium and magnesium in rat kidney homogenate fractions accompanying magnesium deficiency induced nephrocalcinosis,” Exp Mol Pathol, 21, 1:16-28, 1974.
- Johannson G, et al. “Effects of magnesium hydroxide in renal stone disease,” J Am Coll Nutr, 1, 2, 1982.
- Prien EL. “Magnesium oxide-pyridoxine therapy for recurring calcium oxalate urinary calculi,” J Urology, 112, 509-551, 1974.
- Johannson G, et al. “Biochemical and clinical effects of prophylactic treatment of renal calcium stones with magnesium hydroxide,” J Urology, 124, 770-774, 1980.