You may have heard already how important Magnesium is to your health. It is often cited as an essential mineral for over 400 bodily functions. It is also widely reported that 80% of us don’t get enough in our diets. This was not always the case. The dirt in which our fruits and veggies are grown used to provide enough. But, with GMOs and the increased use of pesticides made from products other than magnesium, the soil can no longer reliably supply it in the food we grow. It is also often removed from drinking water these days. And most people today eat way to much processed food which is, as you can probably guess, void of magnesium. All this has led to something that was unheard of 50 years ago – an epidemic of deficiency in this once commonplace and still vital mineral.
While there are many reasons to love magnesium, I am personally particularly interested in its contribution to bone health. This interest is both selfish, in helping to prevent the dreaded osteoporosis making so many post-menopausal women frail and precipitating hip fractures in old age, and also for my children and (one day, maybe) grandchildren, who I want to grow up from the beginning with strong healthy bones.
INCOMPLETE PREVENTATIVE ADVICE
You would think with all the focus on the necessity of calcium for bone health over the years that osteoporosis would be a thing of the past for Americans. Not true. In the US today, over 40 million people are at risk for osteoporosis. In Europe, osteoporosis is expected to affect more than 30 million people by the year 2050. This is because the public health message widely dispersed to solve the problem, focusing solely on consuming calcium, is incomplete, and therefore, wrong.
To be sure, calcium is a requirement for bone building. Metabolization and the use of calcium, though, actually depends on a number of other nutrients, including several vitamins, of which D has also received air time in the US – without vitamin D your body will only absorb 10-15% 0f the calcium you take in – and minerals. Among minerals, the association of bone health with adequate magnesium levels is especially important.
Magnesium, it turns out, is universally required for several steps in the bone formation process. Importantly, magnesium is required to change vitamin D into its active form. Katy, from Wellness Mama, explains that she had chronically low levels of vitamin D when tested despite attempts to add it into her diet until she began supplementing with magnesium. In the end, she learned she was actually magnesium deficient, and that deficiency was making her efforts at vitamin D supplementation useless. So, all the vitamin D fortified milk a person drinks is worthless if there is not enough magnesium in the body to assist with absorption.
This is how important magnesium is. It is a cornerstone mineral that other vital processes rely on to do their jobs.
68% of adults are not getting the RDA of this mineral.
When there is not enough magnesium or calcium in the body to go around, it will be shifted from the bones to places in the body deemed more important. I’m 100% certain that I do not want my body pulling magnesium or calcium from my bones to support other bodily functions. It doesn’t take an expert to appreciate that this situation, over time, will produce a dire structural problem in the human frame. There is a large body of clinical and experimental data supporting the notion that magnesium supplementation works as a preventative measure against osteoporosis.
TOO MUCH CALCIUM RELATIVE TO MAGNESIUM CAN BE HARMFUL
Additionally, and to complicate things a bit, there needs to be a balance of magnesium to calcium consumed. Otherwise the magnesium gets canceled out and is of no use. (It also appears, btw, that it is possible for magnesium levels to be too high, to detrimental effect – though most people will never suffer from this, as chronic low levels of this mineral seem to be the big problem today.)
Furthermore, too much calcium relative to magnesium can even be harmful to the body.
In 2011, a British Medical Journal meta-analysis sounded the alarm that “Risks outweigh benefits for calcium supplements.”… The study indicates that calcium supplements do more harm than good. They cause more cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks and stroke) than the number of fractures they prevent.
The seven authors of this study went so far as to propose that
a reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis is warranted.
Dr Carolyn Dean, author of the book, Magnesium Miracle, now in its 3rd addition, says it is not true that calcium is bad for bones – quite the opposite in fact. It’s just that magnesium is crucial as well, or the effect we expect from calcium will elude us. Calcium simply cannot do its job without adequate amounts of magnesium. And in fact, too much calcium without magnesium will not only contribute to osteoporosis but may also lead to heart disease, gall stones and kidney stones as the body attempts to rid itself of the excess calcium that has nowhere to go. Dr Dean posits that so many old people have hip fractures because they have too much calcium and not enough magnesium. Calcium excess is also one of the main causes of inflammation in the body.
HOW MUCH MG DO WE NEED?
Even here, there is disagreement. Dr Dean explains that the common 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium often prescribed by doctors, if prescribing magnesium at all, is wrong. “This so-called recommendation traces back to French scientist Jean Durlach who warned that the 2:1 ratio was a ‘never to be exceeded’ level when considering calcium intake from all sources (food, water and supplements). His warning was misunderstood and instead taken as a recommendation of a 2:1 calcium-to-magnesium imbalance instead of something to avoid.
HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE DEFICIENT?
This is tricky. There is no common lab test that can tell us. Blood tests are inaccurate because only a tiny amount of magnesium in the body stays in the blood. There is a test called, RBC, which some specialty labs will do and which is more accurate, though still not perfect. Normally the results of any tests still need to be evaluated in light of other symptoms. An unhealthy digestive system, unhealthy kidneys, old age, alcoholism and the taking of regular medications can compromise magnesium absorption. Seizures, muscle cramps, personality changes & abnormal heart rhythms can all be signs of a magnesium deficiency.
A mineral deficiency is usually seen first in non-vital areas like your teeth, hair, and nails.
You can read more about Dr Dean’s work and expertise on the role of magnesium here.
HOW CAN WE GET MORE MG?
Munching on pumpkin seeds, walnuts & almonds, dark green leafy veggies, black beans, dark chocolate (70% + cacao), figs and avocados will all give you a nice boost of magnesium.
For additional supplementation, there are 2 primary ways to add magnesium to your system. One is by oral supplement, often a liquid, which can be added to beverages. Be warned thought that these may produce undesirable side effects requiring sprints to the toilet, so it is important to start slowly with this approach.
An even better way to up your magnesium intake, and the one recommended by Wellness Mama, may be topical – in spray form. It is absorbed by the skin in exactly the right amount you need (with no urgent trips to the bathroom).
Good old-fashioned epsom salt baths are yet another topical supplementation strategy, and a relaxing one at that.
With what I have learned in delving into this topic, I am inclined to be rather bullish on Mg supplementation. It probably can only help to add a Mg supplement to my daily routine. Since a topical supplementation means that your body will never take in more than necessary, that truly seems the ideal method. Lately, I have begun massaging a magnesium oil spray onto my legs and arms each night before going to sleep (about 4-6 blasts of the spray). It’s relaxing in any case, and I think that it may very well improve the chances that my body may get what it needs to keep my bones sturdy for the years ahead.
Got Mg? I do now.