Did you see this recent headline? “Older Women Who Take Calcium Supplements to Maintain Bone Strength May have an Increased Risk of Heart Attack.” When we all thought calcium supplements were relatively safe, we now find out that high dosages of calcium supplements may adversely influence vascular health.
Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand evaluated 1471 healthypost-menopausal women, average age 74, for a period of 5 years. Of them, 732were given a daily calcium supplement and 739 were given a placebo. Participants received either 1 gram of elemental calcium citrate daily(Citracal) or identical placebo.
They were asked to take two tablets (each containing 200 mg of elemental calcium) before breakfast and three in the evening (total of 1,000mg). Over the next few years, heart attacks were more common in the women taking the calcium supplements. What do most doctors tell post-menopausal women? Take 1,200 mg of calcium daily, with no guidlines on picking an absorbable form or to take it with the necessary co-factors for proper absorption.
My final research paper in school was on Osteoporosis. What I found so interesting is that the role magnesium plays in our ability to utilize calcium and it’s “opposite” role from calcium in the body is rarely discussed. Nutrients do not work in isolation, they work together, and they work in families. Calcium and magnesium are a pair. Calcium is essential for muscle contraction. Magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation.
Magnesium can also be difficult to absorb and is found in foods that are not commonly consumed by our U.S. population. High dose calcium supplementation can even reduce absorption of magnesium.
One of the world’s leading magnesium authorities, Mildred Seelig, believes that the ideal form of calcium and magnesium supplementation is two parts calcium to one part magnesium (2:1). The absorption of calcium is actually superior with this natural balance than it is by simply loading the body with high levels of calcium.
Another roadblock to magnesium absorption is high intake of phosphorus. Sodas loaded with phosphoric acid convert magnesium to magnesium phosphate which cannot be absorbed. A high fat meal can reduced magnesium absorption by 50%. Many fats contain a good deal of phosphorus. Magnesium can also be readily lost from the body. Factors that cause magnesium loss include diuretics like caffeine, alcohol, high sugar intake, stress, and loud noises.
One of the most common signs of magnesium deficiency are tremors, tics, cramps, or spasms of the muscles. Weakness and fatigue are common as is sensitivity to loud noises. Deficiency of this mineral can cause high blood pressure, irritability, and depression. Loss of energy for the proper operation of the digestive tract can lead to constipation. Magnesium deficiency can also cause a loss of appetite and a loss of the sense of smell. The brain will function poorly and it can become difficult to sleep. The magnesium deficient individual may manifest a good deal of emotional volatility and overreaction. Magnesium is so important to the functioning of the heart that deficiency can result in rapid or irregular heartbeat and even heart attacks! This may explain why the women in the above mentioned study who took high dose calcium had higher levels of heart attacks!
Seelig suggests that the magnesium requirement of a man is about 3 milligrams per pound of body weight. That would be 300 milligrams for a 100 pound man. Women require a little less magnesium because they usually have less muscle. Their requirement is about 2.5 milligrams per pound of weight.
Don’t become discouraged if symptoms of magnesium deficiency seem to linger. It can take up to six months to replenish magnesium stores in someone who is seriously depleted. The effort to optimize magnesium intake is worth it. Start on a low amount (your bowels will let you know when you have reached maximum!) The body uses magnesium in over 300 different enzyme systems which are critical for health and which make life possible.
The bottom line……….learn what calcium is most abosorbable and take it with the co-factors that help you absorb it AND eat those leafy greens that are loaded with calcium AND magnesium!
Chris McKee, Certified Nutritionist
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