Taking high doses of Vitamin D? Don't skip magnesium (SQ-143)
Vitamin D is an important player when it comes to your bone health. Emerging research is also uncovering its role in a lot of other aspects, such as heart health, immunity, and mental well-being. Studies reveal that long standing vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of depression, heart disease, upper respiratory infections, asthma, dry eyes, autoimmune conditions and even cancer.
Spending time in the sun and taking vitamin D supplements are two important steps towards maintaining healthy vitamin D levels. But did you know your body relies on magnesium to efficiently use all this vitamin D? Or that taking too much of vitamin D can backfire and cause side effects, if your magnesium levels are below normal?
In this blog, let’s explore the synergistic relationship between magnesium and vitamin D and also how magnesium works in a number of ways to keep you healthy.
Vitamin D and Magnesium: What’s the link?
A healthy and well-functioning body requires adequate nutrition. But nutrients don't work in isolation and often rely on each other for proper absorption, metabolism, and bioavailability. Sometimes, nutrients can even compete and the presence of one may interfere with the uptake or absorption of the other. This complex interaction between many nutrients governs your overall health.
The relationship between vitamin D and magnesium is one such classic case of how nutrients depend on each other to work properly. And while vitamin D continues to make a lot of headlines, and rightly so, it is the magnesium that helps the body unlock its potential. Let’s see how this relationship works.
Magnesium converts inactive vitamin D into its biologically active form (calcitriol). It works as a co-factor for all the enzymes involved in the metabolism of vitamin D3 in the liver and kidneys. So, vitamin D would only be able to offer its incredible health benefits if there is enough magnesium in your body to process it.
In fact, taking large quantities of vitamin D can lead to magnesium deficiency.  This happens because your body now needs more magnesium to utilize this large amount of vitamin D. When your magnesium is already low, your body starts pulling magnesium from bones, teeth, and muscles. This can lead to symptoms like muscle pain and weakness, achy joints, twitching and migraines. These are typical signs of magnesium deficiency.
“Vitamin D is required for healthy bones and immunity, but your body can’t make use of or absorb vitamin D, from supplements, foods or sunlight, without magnesium.”
Magnesium in bone health
Magnesium activates over 300 enzymes involved in various chemical reactions that are critical for survival, growth, and maintenance. It is involved in synthesis of energy, proteins, DNA, and glutathione. Magnesium also repairs DNA, helps in healthy muscle contractions, calms nerves, and stimulates the secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters that control stress, anxiety, mood, sleep, and pain.
The mineral is good for your nerves, bones, and muscles too. Nearly 60% of the total magnesium found in our body is present in the bones and teeth, while 30 % is stored in the muscles. In bones, this magnesium helps in bone development and mineralization. Research has found that low magnesium levels may lead to lower bone mineral density in both men and women and might be a risk factor for osteoporosis. On the other hand, magnesium supplements have been found to improve bone mineral density and reduce the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women and in the elderly.  
How does magnesium help your bones? Magnesium works in a number of direct and indirect ways to preserve your bone structure and integrity. It regulates calcium levels, helps in bone synthesis by increasing the activity of osteoblasts and enzymes involved in the bone building process, converts inactive vitamin D to its active form, and keeps nerves and muscles healthy, which means there would be less chance of falling due to muscle weakness or neurological issues.
In addition, magnesium stimulates the thyroid gland to secrete calcitonin, a hormone responsible for regulating calcium levels in the blood. Calcitonin pulls the extra calcium from the blood and soft tissues like arteries and send it back to the bones, where it belongs. This is an important process in maintaining normal bone mineral density, as the loss of calcium from the bones can make your bones weak and prone to fractures. Calcitonin also limits the functions of osteoclasts, cells that are responsible for breaking down the bone tissue.
“Besides calcium and vitamin D3, magnesium too plays a central role in maintaining healthy and strong bones. It helps in bone formation, improves bone mineral density and prevents the risk of osteoporosis, especially in post-menopausal women. Some studies suggest it may also lower the risk of fractures in the elderly.”
What causes magnesium deficiency?
Magnesium is found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, chocolate, fruits and green leafy vegetables. But there is a big chance you may not be consuming the amounts of whole foods that you need to maintain healthy magnesium levels and to prevent deficiency.
In addition, our soil and water are seriously depleted in minerals, leading to a lack of magnesium as well as other minerals in our food supply chain. While this fact shouldn’t undermine the benefits of eating a healthy diet, you might need some additional support to make best use of magnesium in reducing inflammation and stress, and maintaining your heart health, blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
There are number of factors that deplete magnesium including – chronic diseases, recurring infections, stress, excess alcohol intake, and heavy physical exercise. We also discussed how taking high quantities of vitamin D can also induce magnesium shortage in the body.
“Magnesium is easily found in natural foods such as nuts, whole grains, seeds and green leafy vegetables. But chronic stress, infections, alcohol, high quantities of vitamin D3 supplements and strenuous physical activity deplete magnesium from the body, increasing the risk of deficiency.”
How do you know you have magnesium deficiency?
Diagnosing magnesium deficiency can be tricky. More than 90% of the body's total magnesium is stored in muscles, bones and teeth and some in soft tissues. Only one percent of the total magnesium is present in the blood.
So, when you are consuming less magnesium, your body is likely to pull the mineral from the bones and your soft tissues to maintain healthy levels in the circulation. This also means your bones and muscles are likely to bear the brunt of low magnesium, increasing the risk of fracture and osteoporosis. This is why symptoms like painful muscle cramps, bone pain and muscle weakness are often the first signs of magnesium deficiency.
Signs of magnesium deficiency
With more and more studies coming in, it is becoming quite apparent that magnesium deficiency could be one of the important (and sadly overlooked) reasons for chronic health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Your body depends on this versatile mineral for a number of functions. It is closely involved in energy synthesis, maintaining calcium levels, balancing the effects of excess calcium (that can cause over-excitation in your muscles and nerves), controlling the levels of stress hormones and influencing the production of several hormones connected with your emotional health and nervous system health. It also reduces inflammation, helps in maintaining normal heartbeat, regulates blood pressure and maintains healthy blood sugar levels.
Obviously, low levels could mean serious health complications that can involve your muscles, nervous system, bones, muscles and joints. Low magnesium levels over a long period of time can even make you susceptible to chronic diseases.
Common signs of magnesium deficiency include:
- Muscle pain and leg cramps
- Fatigue and weakness
- Feeling of stress and anxiety
- Headaches and migraine
- Poor bone health
- Ringing in ears (tinnitus)
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Numbness in face, feet and hands
“Magnesium deficiency can present with a number of symptoms such as muscle pain, achy joints, twitching, tinnitus, constipation and heightened stress and anxiety.”
Vitamin K2: Another important nutrient for bones and heart
If you are taking high doses of Vitamin D3, you should not think about skipping magnesium. But there is another important nutrient that cannot be ignored if you are looking to maximize the health benefits of vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium and phosphorus, minerals required for healthy bones and muscles. Calcium is an important mineral not only for bones but also for healthy muscle contraction, nerve transmission and processes like blood clotting and hormone secretion. So, when you are taking calcium supplements you want this calcium to be used and stored in places where it is required and not where it can cause damage.
It is also important to mention another key role of magnesium here. While calcium helps in healthy contractions and firing of nerves, magnesium relaxes the muscles, calms down the nerves and helps in preventing unnecessary blood clotting.
In a healthy body, both these minerals work together as a team. However, the amount of magnesium is significantly higher than calcium in any healthy cell. And there is a reason for this. Calcium and potassium enter the cell do their job and leave under the watchful eye of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency leads to unchecked entry of calcium causing a host of complications such as constant contraction in the muscles, abnormal firing of nerves and calcium build-up in soft tissues such as arteries, kidneys and intestines.
Taking calcium supplements does not increase your risk of calcification or kidney stones or heart disease on its own. It is the disharmony among various vitamins and minerals that pose the risk for these conditions.
While we understand the dynamics between calcium and Vitamin D and the way magnesium plays a key role in regulating calcium and vitamin D levels, where does vitamin K2 fit in this equation?
Vitamin K2 activates proteins that are actively involved in calcium metabolism. So, vitamin D3 helps to absorb calcium from food and supplements, it is vitamin K2 that moves this calcium to places where it is required and away from unwanted zones, such as blood vessels, muscles and kidneys. Less than normal levels of K2 could mean calcium build-up in these places, where it can cause damage.
Let’s find out how vitamin K2 helps the body use and transport calcium effectively.  Vitamin K2 activates osteocalcin, a protein that allows calcium to assimilate into bones and teeth. This protein is secreted by osteoblasts, special cells involved in bone building and development. In a nutshell, osteocalcin does bind calcium to the bones but it needs vitamin K2 to do its job.
Vitamin K2 controls how your body is going to use calcium and that is why it's also important for your heart health. It not only activates a protein that binds calcium into bones and teeth. Vitamin K2 also activates Matrix Gla-protein (MGP), another protein that prevents calcium accumulation in soft tissues such as arteries and muscles. There are a number of studies that shows that vitamin K2 supplements may reduce the risk of calcification and arteries in post-menopausal women.   Vitamin K2 also regulates sex hormones and insulin levels.
“You need calcium for healthy bones. Vitamin D3 helps the body absorb calcium from the intestines. Magnesium is important for vitamin D to work properly in the body and also regulates calcium levels. Vitamin K2 sends this calcium to bones and keeps it away from collecting in the arteries, muscles, kidneys and other soft tissues.”
Could you be deficient in vitamin K2?
Vitamin K2 is mainly found in fermented foods (such as natto and sauerkraut), cheese, eggs and goose liver. Eating foods rich in K2 is a good way of preventing deficiency. But blood thinning drugs, low fat diet, overuse of antibiotics, cholesterol lowering drugs and health condition such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and abdominal surgeries can cause serious vitamin K2 deficiency, requiring supplementation.
You can take charge of your health by being mindful of what you eat. Avoiding processed food and refined sugar and including whole foods such as nuts, seeds, grains and fruits and vegetables can help you achieve a healthy nutritional status.
If you are struggling with stress, anxiety or a chronic health condition, it is best to reinforce your body with additional support in the form of high-quality supplements. You can take liposomal vitamin D3+K2 along with magnesium for healthy bones, heart and immunity.
- Reddy et al. Magnesium Supplementation in Vitamin D Deficiency. Am J Ther. 2019.
- Rondanelli et al. An update on magnesium and bone health. Biometals 2021.
- Kunutsor et al. Low serum magnesium levels are associated with increased risk of fractures: a long-term prospective cohort study. European Journal of Epidemiology. 2017
- Gerry Kurt Schwalfenberg. Vitamins K1 and K2: The Emerging Group of Vitamins Required for Human Health. J Nutr Metab. 2017
- Beulens et al. High dietary menaquinone intake is associated with reduced coronary calcification. Atherosclerosis. 2009
- Knapen et al. Menaquinone-7 supplementation improves arterial stiffness in healthy postmenopausal women. A double-blind randomised clinical trial. Thromb Haemost. 2015