Magnesium, NOT Calcium, Is the Key to Healthy Bones

Magnesium is a mineral that’s crucial to the body’s function. Magnesium helps keep blood pressure normal, bones strong, and the heart rhythm steady.

Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation [1-3]. Magnesium is required for energy production, oxidative phosphorylation, and glycolysis. It contributes to the structural development of bone and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione.

The amount of research regarding the benefits of magnesium and the need to take magnesium supplements to counteract a deficiency is staggering.

For many people, a magnesium deficiency causes noticeable negative symptoms – including muscle aches or spasms, poor digestion, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Yet, magnesium deficiency is often overlooked and rarely tested. Therefore, magnesium may be one of the most underutilized but most necessary supplements there is.

One method of assessing your magnesium status is to simply contact your health care provider and request detailed magnesium testing. Yet magnesium assessment is typically done using blood serum testing, and these tests can be misleading. Only 1% of magnesium in the body is actually found in blood, and only .3% is found in blood serum, so clinical blood serum testing may not successfully identify magnesium deficiency.

Although severe magnesium deficiency is uncommon, it has been induced experimentally. When magnesium deficiency was induced in humans, the earliest sign was decreased serum magnesium levels (hypomagnesemia). Over time, serum calcium levels also began to decrease (hypocalcemia) despite adequate dietary calcium. Hypocalcemia persisted despite increased secretion of parathyroid hormone (PTH), which regulates calcium homeostasis. Usually, increased PTH secretion quickly results in the mobilization of calcium from bone and normalization of blood calcium levels. As the magnesium depletion progressed, PTH secretion diminished to low levels.

Magnesium is an essential cofactor in 80% of all cellular enzymes. It is necessary for the conversion of vitamin D into its active form, and a deficiency of magnesium can lead to a syndrome known as vitamin D resistance. The enzyme that is required for forming new calcium crystals, alkaline phosphatase, also requires magnesium for activation, and if levels are low, abnormal bone crystal formation can result. Even mild magnesium deficiency is reported to be a leading risk factor for osteoporosis.

As with calcium, the majority of the body’s reserves of magnesium are held in the bone (60%), and the bones act as a storage reservoir, transferring magnesium into the blood stream in times of need. Adequate daily intake of magnesium is important throughout life to keep the magnesium that is stored in the bones from being lost. Low magnesium intake, as well as low blood and bone magnesium levels, has been widely associated with osteoporosis in women.

The richest food sources of magnesium are nuts, seeds, legumes, green leafy vegetables like kale and collards, whole grains and avocados. But most people are so deficient in this critical mineral that oral magnesium in the form of a supplement will likely be required. The way to prevent a deficiency is to keep up a continuous high intake of magnesium – for life!

As osteoporosis becomes more prevalent in the U.S. due to the aging of America, new preventive options become more important as a means to control the financial burden of osteoporosis. Calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium are the key available dietary supplement options that have been shown to have a substantiated preventive effect on osteoporosis-attributed events

Bone loss is more gradual in men, but once they reach age 70 their risk for osteoporosis increases significantly. Men in this age group are at increased risk for fractures, particularly if they are sedentary and have a diet low in calcium.

The most accurate testing method to measure bone density and diagnose osteoporosis is the DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry), which uses a computer to scan an image of the hip and spine. Less accurate screening methods are now available in pharmacies and at health fairs. X-rays, which were used in the past, are not sensitive. At least 25 percent of bone loss has to occur before osteoporosis can be diagnosed from a routine X-ray.

The effectiveness and benefits of calcium in preventing and treating osteoporosis are enormously impaired in the absence of adequate levels of magnesium. Magnesium keeps calcium dissolved in the blood. Too much calcium along with too little magnesium can cause some forms of arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis and calcification of the arteries, leading to heart attack and cardiovascular disease. So, it’s not just the calcium causing these problems but an associated lack of magnesium.

Over the past 30 years, women have been told to take supplemental calcium to avoid osteoporosis. Many foods have also been fortified with extra calcium to prevent calcium deficiency among the general population.

Despite such measures, osteoporosis has continued to climb, and this could be, in part, because of an imbalanced calcium-magnesium ratio.

Calcium levels in the blood increase when you take in more magnesium, which is probably because magnesium is vital for calcium to be used by the body. More magnesium means more calcium is absorbed into your bloodstream and, ultimately, into your bones. Beware, though, that too much calcium actually inhibits the absorption of magnesium and can cause magnesium deficiency.

The theory behind it is that magnesium is needed, by the pituitary gland. This gland regulates all the other glands of the body, and to do this regulating it uses magnesium. This mineral acts as a sedative, counteracting the stimulant effect of the adrenal glands. These glands must be restrained in their production, or else their secretions will speed up the breaking down and resorption of bone tissue.

After about 35 years of age, mineral losses begin in both men and women. Many different supplements have been shown to be essential in maintaining healthy mineral deposits in the bones.

Conversely, consuming too much magnesium typically causes diarrhea as the body attempts to excrete the excess. High magnesium foods include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit, dark chocolate, and more. The current daily value (DV) for magnesium is 400mg.

Buying foods from your local farmers market and foods that are grown organically may have higher levels of magnesium. The soil from conventional farms is depleted of magnesium because they don’t rotate their crops or let the land rest. Also, they typically only put nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium back in the soil, but leave out magnesium.

Food processing essentially separates plant food sources into components, both for ease of use and to reduce spoilage.

In processing grain into white flour, the bran and the germ are removed. In processing seeds and nuts into refined oils, the oils are super-heated and the magnesium content is strained out or removed through the use of chemical additives.

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