What makes your bones strong and healthy? Chances are the majority of us would vote for the mighty combination of calcium and Vitamin D. And there is nothing wrong with this except that it is only half the truth. And “half a truth is often a great lie.”
When we focus our attention on benefits of one particular vitamin or a nutrient, we often overlook the fact that nutrients simply don’t work alone. They work in perfect harmony to accomplish overall health – with two or more nutrients influencing and interacting with each other in complex, interactive ways to produce desired results. These synergistic partners unlock each other’s potential in offering a particular health benefit. A classic example would be how our body needs vitamin C to absorb iron.
As it turns out magnesium is an important synergistic partner for calcium as well as for Vitamin D, without which achieving bone health and preventing the risk of osteoporosis would just be impossible. Researchers believe that magnesium intake plays a central but mostly unrecognized factor in maintaining bone mineral density. And we shouldn’t be surprised. Magnesium is an incredibly versatile mineral that creates and/or is a catalyst for more than 300 bio-chemical reactions in the body, so no wonder it is important to make bones healthy and strong. Again, calcium and Vitamin D too are undeniably important for bone health but it appears that without sufficient magnesium, these nutrients are not efficiently utilized.
Magnesium plays a crucial role in bone formation
Nearly 60% of total magnesium in our body is stored in our bones. It is directly involved in the bone formation process, influencing actions of osteoclasts and osteoblasts; two types of cells that work together to form bones, remodel bone structure and maintain bone mass. Did you know our bones are continuously broken down and remodelled to deal with growth, structural stress and the body’s changing nutritional requirements?
Osteoblasts are cells that participate in the synthesis and mineralization of bones. On the other hand, osteoclasts break down the bone tissue in a series of steps where calcium, along with phosphates, are released in the bloodstream to be used in the body where needed.
Magnesium influences hormonal axis that makes bones stronger and prevents osteoporosis
We don’t want excessive build-up of calcium in the blood and soft tissues as it can potentially increase the risk of arthritis and osteoporosis. That’s why our body uses a complex calcium regulating mechanism – achieved through a delicate balance of hormones released by thyroid and parathyroid glands. Magnesium collaboratively works with these glands to regulate this delicate play of hormones while directing calcium from soft tissues back into the bones, an important process in preserving bone structure.
- With high calcium levels in the body, magnesium stimulates thyroid glands to release calcitonin, a hormone that slows down the activity of the osteoclasts, cells in the skeletal system that break down the bone and thus are responsible for releasing calcium from shattered bone matrix into the blood.
- Magnesium also regulates the secretion of parathyroid hormone (PTH), a hormone released by parathyroid glands when the calcium levels are high. PTH draws calcium out of the bones and channels it back to the soft tissues.
Magnesium makes Vitamin D bioavailable
There is a growing awareness of the need for the body to have sufficient Vitamin D; and not just for optimum bone health but also to prevent a range of other serious conditions including osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even autoimmune disorders. We know that Vitamin D helps in the better absorption of calcium but what is little known is that Vitamin D may not be properly utilized in the absence of magnesium. It is again a classic example of how nutrients don’t work alone but rather synergistically with other nutrients and co-factors.
- Magnesium helps the body to convert Vitamin D into its bioactive form - calcitriol.
- Magnesium plays a central role in all the enzymatic reactions required for Vitamin D metabolism.
Vitamin D deficiency is a global concern today and to counter it doctors typically prescribe high doses of Vitamin D supplements. A seemingly correct approach but a little misguided. Firstly, taking Vitamin D supplements without magnesium will not raise your Vitamin D blood levels. No, they just won’t. Secondly, if you take high doses of Vitamin D when you are already low in magnesium, your body is stressed out with the increased metabolic work. (It is important to know that in the time of any internal or external stress, our body relies on its magnesium reservoir as it saviour.)
So, coming back, the increased metabolic stress results in the body drawing magnesium from its muscle storage sites. And probably this is one of the major reasons why our muscles are first to bear the brunt of being magnesium deficient – symptoms manifesting in the form of painful leg cramps especially at night, restless leg syndrome and muscle spasms (aka Charley Horses).
It seems no amount of calcium and Vitamin D will save you against the risk of brittle and fragile bones if your diet doesn’t have sufficient magnesium. As explained by Dr. Carolyn Dean, the noted magnesium expert: "It is vitally important that studies on the efficacy of Vitamin D and calcium in relation to bone health are not done in isolation in the absence of magnesium. The fact that magnesium works synergistically with Vitamin D and calcium by stimulating the specific hormone calcitonin—which helps to preserve bone structure and draws calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones, preventing osteoporosis, some forms of arthritis and kidney stones— cannot be overlooked."
What exactly is missing at the cellular level when we are magnesium deficient? And how is it that calcium, without sufficient magnesium, is not efficiently utilized and may actually become toxic? The answer lies in the interesting partnership between magnesium and calcium.
Magnesium and Calcium Symbiosis: Two sides of the same coin
Calcium and magnesium share a very interesting relationship with both minerals influencing the same body functions but with opposite effects. For example, calcium stimulates muscles to contract while magnesium is a mineral known for its amazing relaxation properties. Calcium excites the nervous system whereas magnesium helps to calm the nerves. Calcium, like magnesium, also stimulates glands to secrete important hormones that play a significant role in maintaining skeletal health.
In a normal healthy cell, magnesium concentration inside the cells is ten thousand times greater than that of calcium. Magnesium acts like a key that unlocks cells and allows calcium and potassium from an extracellular matrix to come and go as needed. So basically magnesium sits as a watchful guard that keeps calcium out when its job is done inside the cells. Magnesium also keeps calcium soluble in the blood. What happens when you have too much calcium but deficient in magnesium? Calcium leaks into the cells even when not needed – creating mayhem in the form of:
- Abnormal calcification (calcium deposition) within arteries, muscles, intestines and kidneys – giving rise to dangerous conditions such as atherosclerosis, painful muscle cramps, osteoporosis, chronic constipation and painful kidney stones.
- Excessive contractions in heart and other muscles and become a major cause for arrhythmia, angina pectoris, migraines, menstrual cramping and foot and leg spasms.
- Excited nervous system that may cause depression, anxiety and even insomnia.
- Affected permeability of cell membranes, making it difficult for large glucose molecules to reach the cellular mitochondria and be converted to ATP, our energy currency of life.
- Decreased ability of magnesium to activate calcitonin, a hormone that plays a crucial role in sending calcium to the bones.
We can’t, however, steal the spotlight from calcium and it is indeed a very important nutrient in its ability to make bones strong and keeping body healthy through diverse biological mechanisms. But our body needs sufficient levels of magnesium to use and absorb calcium efficiently – allowing calcium to perform its functions without causing serious damage to cells and organs.
Are you taking calcium supplements? Talk to your health practitioner about balancing your calcium intake with magnesium. And remember transdermal application of magnesium, such as magnesium oil spray, brings better results in raising the magnesium levels than oral magnesium supplements. It is proven that that magnesium is absorbed much more effectively through the skin.
According to an article published in The Weston A. Price Foundation: “There are many advantages to transdermal magnesium therapy, since the gastrointestinal tract is avoided altogether and there is no laxative effect. Next to intravenous magnesium administration, transdermal therapy provides a greater amount of magnesium to be absorbed than even the best tolerated oral supplements, and can restore intracellular concentrations in a matter of weeks rather than the months required for oral supplementation.”