Many people of all ages take dietary supplements containing calcium, and would greatly benefit to balance their supplementation with Magnesium. When everything is in proper balance, magnesium helps the body to absorb and metabolise calcium.
Unfortunately, the modern diet and supplementation practices can lead to overconsumption of calcium, and soil depletion and processing of foods leads to under consumption of magnesium.
Magnesium plays a vital role in digestion, energy production, bone formation, muscle contraction and relaxation and in the nervous and cardiovascular systems. In addition, magnesium is responsible for many biochemical reactions, all necessary for optimum health.
Osteoporosis is synonymous with calcium but what people don’t realise is magnesium aids calcium absorption. Many researchers and nutritionists now believe magnesium is more important than calcium in order to maintain healthy bones. The hormone calcitonin is stimulated by magnesium, calcitonin draws calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones.
If magnesium didn’t stimulate this function calcium could end up in places it should not be leading to calcification, and other unwanted symptoms. Also without magnesium it may not end up where it should be resulting in osteoporosis and osteoporotic bone fractures. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include insomnia, muscle tension, cramps or spasms, constipation, headaches, heart palpitations, premenstrual symptoms of pain and cramping, calcification of tissues or joints and nervousness or irritability.
What is causing the imbalance?
The accepted calcium-to-magnesium ratio is 2:1, but this is based on a flawed understanding of the body’s needs. Scientist and Doctor Jean Durlach proposed the 2:1 ratio as the level that should not be exceeded when considering calcium intake from all sources (food, water and supplements).
But most people are assuming that this ratio is only about supplements and fail to look at their dietary intake of calcium and magnesium. The typical modern diet, especially when it contains dairy products, is high in calcium. Less than half of the calcium in dairy and calcium fortified foods people ingest is actually absorbed in the gut.
This can result in greater amounts of unabsorbed calcium in the body. The fact that most people do not meet the minimum daily requirement for magnesium exacerbates the situation. The high calcium and low magnesium diet of most Australians, when coupled with calcium supplementation, can skew the ratio to 4:1 or 5:1 (or even higher) increasing risk of impaired bone health and cardiovascular health.
Striking a balance
So if you have a calcium deficiency and therefore have to take a calcium supplement it is recommended that you monitor your dietary calcium intake. Take a calcium supplement that includes magnesium, manganese, vitamin D3, copper and zinc, as this will help ensure maximum absorption and mineral balance. Also look at increasing magnesium in your diet to ensure you are getting the minimum daily requirement, aiming for a 1:2 or at least a 1:1 calcium-magnesium ratio. Dietary sources of magnesium include:
Bran (rice, wheat, and oat)
Dried herbs (eg. coriander, chives, spearmint, dill ,sage and basil)
Squash, pumpkin, sunflower and watermelon seeds
Raw or dark \chocolate
Flax, sesame seeds, and tahini
Brazil nuts, almonds and cashews (mixed nuts, pine nuts)
Soybeans, mixed beans and lentils
Vegetable sources include spinach, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, mustard greens, squash, green beans and cucumbers.
The benefits of Magnesium supplementation
Besides the ones already mentioned, there are many benefits to increasing magnesium intake. It is particularly important for the healthy function of the nervous and muscular systems, in the conduction of nerve impulses and contraction and relaxation of muscle fibres.
Magnesium supplementation may help alleviate muscular cramps and spasms and may also be beneficial during times of stress and nervous tension and during periods of prolonged or vigorous exercise. Magnesium is involved in the metabolism of calcium and helps in the maintenance of strong healthy bones and the production of energy.
Magnesium supplements are considered safe for long term use as they are easily excreted and do not store for long in the body. If you plan to supplement with magnesium, it is recommended to build up to 300 mg daily to avoid stomach problems and diarrhoea.
People who should avoid self-administering magnesium are those with heart block or pacemaker, myasthenia gravis (because their muscles are already too relaxed) or bowel obstruction, and people who are on kidney dialysis. If you have any of those conditions or if in doubt consult your health practitioner before taking magnesium.
By Sarah Chambers
BHSc. (Nat), Dip.Remedial Massage, BVA