Magnesium is a mineral found in abundance in the human body and it assists in more than 300 enzymatic reactions. It is less known than the mineral calcium, which we all take to avoid osteoporosis in later stages of life. In fact, magnesium is a natural calcium antagonist, making it sound as something to avoid for bone health. This is not at all true and in fact, we need both of these minerals in large quantities for optimal health. The secret is that these minerals have to be in balance with each other for the body to perform optimally. The most familiar example of an immediate opposite effect of the two minerals would be the constipation which comes with too much calcium in the diet and the tendency to develop diarrhea with consumption of too much magnesium.
We all know that calcium is stored in hard structures in the body such as bones and teeth as well as in soft body structures such as muscles and organs. Its main functions are to keep bones and teeth healthy, regulate blood clotting, neural functioning and skeletal and heart muscle contractions.
Magnesium too is stored in bone as well as muscles and other soft tissues. Too much calcium in the blood can cause hardening of arteries and there are now warnings that too much calcium supplementation can cause vascular disease leading to heart attacks and stroke. The role of magnesium is to push calcium from the soft tissues of the body to the harder bones and teeth preventing vascular damage while it strengthens the bones and teeth. For this reason, it is also thought to prevent the formation of kidney stones of which calcium is a constituent. Magnesium also modulates the excitatory effect of calcium on the nerves and muscle making it more relaxed. This could be an explanation why magnesium is helpful in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and menstrual cramps.
While we are all well aware of the dangers of too little calcium, a less known fact is that most people on a western diet are magnesium deficient (Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences; 1997). Research is now showing that even with enough calcium in the body, less of it will enter the bones if we do not have adequate levels of magnesium. Instead, calcium will be deposited in the soft tissues causing the problems mentioned in the previous paragraph. Early symptoms of magnesium deficiency include fatigue, mood disorders, eating disorders and muscle twitching. With severe deficiency we might see more serious symptoms such as angina, high blood pressure and an increased likelihood of kidney stones.
Our modern lifestyle with the accompanying processed food industry is the main reason for us not to have a balanced calcium and magnesium intake. Diets high in fat and protein and the consumption of phosphorus rich beverages (cold drinks with gas or soda pop) and alcoholic beverages are also contributing to magnesium depletion. When on birth control or diuretics, magnesium supplementation is also advised. It is wise to take magnesium with calcium in one multi-mineral. It also works best if balanced with phosphorus (pumpkin seeds, fish, cheese), potassium (bananas) and sodium (sea salt) chloride – balanced diet!
Food which is high in calcium and magnesium include avocados, dried seaweeds, green leafy veggies, broccoli, beans, nuts, seeds, lentils and dark chocolate. Some of these foods are already packaged with calcium and other nutrients to aid in the optimal absorption and utilization of all the nutrients.