If you’re someone who’s concerned with your health, chances are, you’re taking calcium. After all, it’s been hammered into our heads by the dairy industry, the news, health books, magazines, and the government that calcium prevents osteoporosis. No wonder calcium supplements are flying off the shelves! Unfortunately, if you’re among the 46 million Americans on the calcium train, it’s probably not doing you a speck of good.
Americans: Calcium-rich and Bone-poor
All you have to do is take a look at the cold, hard facts to see that this is true. Americans consume more calcium than almost any other group of people on the planet. Yet we also have the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world! Could we be missing something?
The answer, of course, is yes. What all those industries that profit from getting you to eat more dairy and swallow more calcium pills aren’t telling you is that when it comes to preventing osteoporosis, calcium is not the whole story. Not even close.
Without This Mineral, Calcium DOES NOT Work
To be sure, calcium is an essential mineral for bone health. But unlike we’re taught to believe, bones are not made only of calcium. They are made of living, breathing cells embedded inside a bone matrix, which includes collagen (for elasticity), ground substance (for cushioning), and a number of minerals (for strength).
Calcium is one of those bone-strengthening minerals. But without the essential mineral magnesium—which, by the way, 70% of American diets are deficient in—calcium is simply not well-absorbed. In fact, studies have shown that women with osteoporosis are more likely to be deficient in magnesium—and have less magnesium in their actual bones—than women without the bone-ravaging disease. Why? Because calcium needs magnesium’s “permission” to enter the bone cells. So if you’re taking calcium without magnesium, you might as well be flushing your calcium pills down the toilet. And actually, it gets worse.
Taking too much calcium without enough magnesium can actually cause your body to deposit calcium where it shouldn’t be—like the joints and soft tissues—instead of where it should be—like the bones and teeth. The ugly truth is that if you’re taking calcium without magnesium, you may be doing more harm than good. In fact, if you suffer from kidney stones or arthritis, and you take a calcium-only supplement, you’ll want to add magnesium to your supplement regimen right this minute.
Why You Don’t Want to Take These Minerals in One Product
Now, you might be thinking you should rush out to your local health food store and buy a product that has both calcium and magnesium in it. Not so fast. Health care professionals recommend getting a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium. Since the daily value for calcium is 1000 mg, that means you need to get 500 mg of magnesium per day. But if you take 500 mg of regular magnesium, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the bathroom. Because magnesium has strong laxative properties. At least, 99.9% of the magnesium out there does. Fortunately, there is one kind of magnesium that won’t cause the dreaded diarrhea effect: sustained release magnesium, which releases magnesium slowly into your body over an 8-10 hour time period.
So yes, by all means, take calcium to prevent osteoporosis. But the secret to making sure that calcium actually ends up in your bones is to take two separate products: a calcium supplement, which doesn’t need to be in a sustained release form, and a magnesium supplement, which does. It’s that simple!
- Hegsted DM. Calcium and osteoporosis? Adv Nutr Res. 1994;9:119-28.
- King DE, et al. Dietary Magnesium and C-reactive Protein Levels. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Jun;24(3):166-71.
- Cohen L, Kitzes R. Infrared spectroscopy and magnesium content of bone mineral in osteoporotic women. Isr J Med Sci. 1981 Dec;17(12):1123-5.