Copyright 2009-2022 by Joseph Ben Hil-Meyer Research, Inc.
By Bruce Berkowsky, N.M.D., M.H., NCTMB
Please Note: This article represents the third part of a series of third articles concerning magnesium and calcium, and the potential benefits of their supplementation. The first and second parts of my discussion focused on magnesium. If you have not already read those two articles, I suggest that you do.
Millions of people take calcium and magnesium supplementally, but often incorrectly. Aggressive marketing by some pharmaceutical firms promoting their brands of supplemental calcium as being crucial to osteoporosis prevention has contributed to the common perception that it is far more important to take supplemental calcium than magnesium. This is a potentially risky misconception.
Magnesium is actually required for proper calcium utilization in the body. It is nature’s calcium channel blocker that helps regulate the intracellular flow of calcium ions. Magnesium is as essential as calcium for normal bone metabolism. One study found that magnesium was a pivotal factor in helping to prevent hip fractures in older women.
In most ways, the operations of calcium and magnesium in the body are intricately connected. Magnesium and calcium are synergists in the production of the energy compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP, produced in the mitochondria or “powerhouse” of the cell, is not energy itself, but rather, the carrier of energy that it releases as required to fuel chemical reactions within the cells. On the other hand, calcium and magnesium also act as antagonists in various metabolic processes, including the synthesis of nucleic acids (i.e., DNA and RNA) and protein (in this reference, calcium acts as an inhibitor, and magnesium, an initiator).
Chronic low blood levels of calcium and/or potassium may be related to an underlying magnesium deficiency. Hence, magnesium supplementation often renders calcium or potassium supplementation more effective.
Magnesium plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones, and magnesium supplementation can contribute to increased bone density and help prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Magnesium is actually required for proper calcium utilization in the body. It is nature’s calcium channel blocker that helps to regulate the intracellular flow of calcium ions.
Magnesium is as essential as calcium for normal bone metabolism. One study found that magnesium was a pivotal factor in helping to prevent hip fractures in older women. Frank magnesium deficiency is commonly noted in individuals with osteoporosis. In fact, some laboratory studies suggest that whereas experimental calcium-deficiency induces osteomalacia: a disease of adults characterized by softening of the bones due to demineralization, magnesium-deficiency induces osteoporosis.
Magnesium not only helps the body to metabolize calcium, it converts dietary vitamin D to calcitriol (the active dihydroxy metabolite of vitamin D), helps to maintain the integrity of skeletal bone-crystal formation, and it is required for the binding of both calcium and fluorine to bone and tooth enamel. Lacking magnesium, both calcium and fluorine cannot be properly utilized by bones and teeth, thus, they are excreted from the body.
Dietary Intake of Calcium and Magnesium
In the U.S., the average intake of magnesium has fallen over 50% in the last century. U.S. government surveys found that the typical American diet provides less than half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium. Some authorities estimate that 80% of the population is magnesium-deficient. The refining of grains may result in the loss of more than 75% of original magnesium-content.
Additionally, the rise in popularity of processed foods (processing strips much of the mineral content from foods) and the depletion of magnesium-rich soil by chemical fertilizers are also major contributors in the decline of bio-available magnesium in the modern diet.
This dietary shortfall is exacerbated by the tendency to load up on supplemental calcium while ignoring magnesium as a bulwark against osteoporosis. Importantly in this reference, a build-up of calcium in the body causes magnesium to be flushed out of the cells.
While magnesium deficiency has grown to epidemic proportions, excessive calcium intake, especially lacking the balancing presence of adequate magnesium, often contributes to an overload of calcium and its subsequent deposition in the tissues.
Many people eat dairy foods (in the form of milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, etc.) with abandon, encouraged by misleading dairy industry advertising which implies that these foods are “health foods.” Not only are they not “health foods,” they are not even good sources of quality, absorbable calcium.
Milk’s available calcium is cut in half through the process of pasteurization. The calcium in low-fat milk is largely unabsorbable because the milk’s fat-content is required for the assimilation of the calcium. Both cow’s milk and mother’s milk are rich in an enzyme that separates calcium and phosphorus, an action required to make the calcium bio-available. The high heat of pasteurization destroys this particular enzyme.
Yogurt is also heavily promoted as a good calcium source. Aside from the fact that a great many people have dairy food sensitivities that make these foods congesting and a causative factor in a wide variety of catarrhal disorders, yogurt can only serve as a source of absorbable calcium if it is prepared from unpasteurized milk and is unsweetened. The uptake of calcium from the small intestine into the blood is inhibited by the presence of sugar.
Women in the United States have both one of the highest levels of calcium consumption in the world and one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. On the other hand, the women of Asia and India consume a fraction of the calcium that American women do yet have a very low level of incidence of osteoporosis. The Bantu women of Africa live on a low-calcium, dairy-free diet with their entire calcium intake derived from vegetarian sources. These women on average give birth to as many as ten babies during the course of their reproductive years with each baby breast-fed for ten months. Although both pregnancy and breast-feeding draw down the mother’s calcium reserves, osteoporosis is unknown among Bantu so long as they continue to pursue their traditional diet.
All of this does not diminish calcium’s importance as an essential nutrient. Supplemental calcium is certainly worthy of consideration, especially in any protocol that addresses osteoporosis. However, absent clarity regarding the issue of well-absorbed versus poorly absorbed forms of calcium, the dangers of magnesium deficiency and the synergistic, yet competitive, relationship between magnesium and calcium, supplementation with the latter alone (especially with low quality calcium supplements) can prove problematic.
Calcium’s Functions In the Body
Calcium is the most abundant mineral (and 5th most abundant substance) in the body. With about 99% occurring in the bones, it constitutes about 1.5% – 2% of total body weight. Calcium’s role in bone and tooth development and maintenance are well known. In addition to lending structural integrity to skeletal tissue, calcium is crucial for proper nerve transmission, primarily through its role in the release of neurotransmitters. If serum calcium levels fall below a certain threshold, the nerves become hypersensitive.
- Lacking sufficient calcium ions, the muscle fibers remain motionless and do not glide and mesh together. Thus, the muscle cannot contract, or, once contracted, it will not relax, causing the muscle to cramp.
- In regard to heart muscle function: calcium stimulates contraction; magnesium supports relaxation while sodium and potassium help to generate and regulate rhythmic electrical impulses.
- Heartbeat is controlled by an electrical center called the AV node: a mass of specialized tissue located in the upper right chamber of the heart, and calcium is involved in the transmission of impulses in this center.
- Calcium is required for the activation of ATP: a major energy-carrying substance in the body which serves as an energy source for muscle-contraction.
- Calcium plays a vital role in the regulation of the cellular milieu. Small amounts of calcium occur in both the intracellular (i.e., inside the cell) fluids as well as the extracellular fluids which bathe the cells.
- Calcium helps to regulate ion (atom or group of atoms with an electrical charge) and nutrient-transport into and out of the cell.
- Calcium has a calming effect upon the nerves due to its regulation of the movement of sodium and potassium across nerve-cell membranes. When calcium ions are increased in the fluids around the nerve cell, they decrease the number of sodium ions present, thus, lowering electrical reactivity.
- Brain cells use their cell membranes as mediums for the production of energy and the electrical currents needed in the nerve transmission that facilitates brain cell communication.
- Calcium is necessary for the cell division required for growth and repair. Also, it is an integral component of the extracellular cement called “ground substance” which binds the cells.
- Calcium, being a component of platelets (the clotting cells in the blood) plays an important role in blood-clotting.
- Calcium is also a key digestive factor. It activates starch-splitting enzymes found in saliva, pancreatic secretions and fat-digesting enzymes.
- Calcium is an important blood-buffer, helping in the maintenance of optimal pH. Also, it is essential for normal action of the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, and so, it is a key player in all stress responses.
- Although calcium channel-blocking drugs are used to reduce high blood pressure and the risk of coronary arterial spasm, normal calcium nutrition is not the culprit; rather, it is abnormal calcium metabolism. In fact, high-quality calcium supplementation has been shown to lower blood pressure by positively influencing certain electrolyte and central nervous system mechanisms.
- Studies have shown that reduced levels of calcium during the teenage years (the time of proliferation of mammary gland cells) can increase the risk of breast cancer. Calcium may also play a role in protecting against colon cancer.
Calcium-Deficiency Symptoms: nervousness and other nervous disorders; apprehension; insomnia; fatigue; feeling of let-down at 3 p.m.; weakness when ascending stairs or walking uphill; impaired growth; intolerance of tight clothing or hats; tetany; hypothyroidism; swollen glands; cardiac arrhythmia; heart palpitations; slow pulse rates; tooth decay; bronchial spasms; digestive disorders; spastic colon; irritable bowel syndrome; desire for sweets; menstrual difficulties; profuse menses; uterine spasms; excessive irritability of nerves and muscles; muscle cramps (especially leg cramps at night); bone defects (including osteoporosis, rickets and osteomalacia); joint pains; arthritis; proneness to sprains and strains; numbness and tingling of the extremities; profuse perspiration; dryness and chapped skin in winter, especially of the soles of the feet; sensitivity to cold and dampness.
Notable Food Sources of Calcium: sesame seeds; sea vegetables (e.g., kelp, kombu); leafy greens (including collard greens, kale, turnip greens, mustard greens cabbage); nuts: almonds, filberts, Brazil and pistachio; sunflower seeds; soybeans; oats; chickpeas; mung beans; red beans; parsley; water cress; beet greens; broccoli; radish; dandelion greens; cabbage; soybeans; watercress; citrus fruits; salmon; sardines; nutritional yeast; unsulphured blackstrap molasses.
Important Nutritional Co-factors
Adequate healthful dietary fats such as unrefined coconut oil, olive oil, fish oil and hemp oil; adequate protein; sufficient hydrochloric acid; vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D; magnesium; phosphorus; sodium; boron.
Key Points Regarding Calcium Supplementation
While there definitely are some important guidelines to be aware of when supplementing with calcium, it should not be inferred that calcium supplementation is inadvisable. In fact, despite the contemporary trend toward magnesium shortfall and calcium overload, supplementation with a high quality calcium supplement, such as the two that I have formulated Premium LifeCal and Premium Calcium Plus (which have been used for two decades by many thousands of people), is generally important. Most studies show that low calcium intake is associated with bone loss and higher fracture rates.
The key words in this context are “high quality.” Calcium exists in nature only compunds (i.e., in combination with other chemicals). The most commonly used calcium compounds in supplements include calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium lactate and calcium phosphate often derived from oyster shell, bone meal or dolomite. Some of these compounds such as calcium citrate are better absorbed than others. However, supplements prepared from these sources may contain lead or other toxic metals.
Also, of the compounds noted above only calcium citrate is soluble in water. All inorganic forms of calcium such as calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate must be broken down with stomach acid before your body can absorb them into the blood. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of adult stomachs either no longer produce sufficient hydrochloric acid or any at all. With aging, the stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid declines (low stomach acid secretion is extremely common among older people), some people are inherently prone to hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid). Hypochlorhydria may caused by a stomach disorder such as allergic gastritis secondary to food intolerance or a product of poor eating habits, nutritional depletion and chronic stress.
When low quality calcium supplements such as calcium carbonate are not properly absorbed into the blood, the calcium can accumulate in the intestines and cause bowel irritability, bloating and constipation. The obstacle to calcium absorption posed by hypochlorhydria is completely avoided by using a high quality amino acid chelated calcium supplement such as Premium LifeCal or Premium Calcium Plus.
As emphasized at the outset of this article, it is absolutely crucial that magnesium supplementation be considered either before, or concurrent with, beginning calcium supplementation. Magnesium deficiency is central factor in many cases of cardiac arrest (heart attack).
The University of Auckland in New Zealand published a study that found a link between calcium supplementation in women and increased risk of heart attack. It seems reasonable that this increased risk may have been observed because the participants in the study were given supplemental calcium without supplemental magnesium.
By and large, high quality calcium supplementation is worthy of consideration. I personally have been using Premium Calcium Plus on a daily basis for 20 years and my body deeply appreciates both the strengthening and calming effects I experience. However, I also use Premium LifeMag every day and the two products balance each other and in tandem provide synergistic benefit.
The dynamics of supplementation vary from one person to another, yet as a rule of thumb given the propensity toward magnesium shortfall in modern diet, it may be wise to begin magnesium supplementation first. After one establishes his or her optimal level of magnesium supplementation then calcium supplementation can be introduced. Those already using calcium supplements may wish to consider adding a magnesium supplement such as Premium LifeMag or Premium Mag Plus to their supplemental regimen.
When I first began practice more than 30 years ago the common recommendation regarding calcium and magnesium supplementation was 2 parts calcium to 1 part magnesium. That general guideline is obsolete. I find that a 1:1 ratio or even 1.5 parts magnesium : 1 part calcium is often a more useful guideline. There will be those people who need a lot more magnesium than calcium or vice versa, or who can’t use calcium at all or magnesium at all. Also, the body’s needs are not static.
There will be periods when the body is calling for more calcium than magnesium (or vice versa) followed by periods where this dynamic is reversed. In fact, ongoing fluctuation of optimal nutrient supplementation levels is the norm. This is why many people depend upon methods such as muscle testing or pendulum testing to monitor these fluctuations and more accurately determine, on a daily basis, personal supplementation parameters.
Given the reality of each person’s biochemical individuality it is impossible to establish a general rule regarding calcium and magnesium dosage. Nevertheless, it can be said that it is essential to factor in the importance of maintaining optimal calcium : magnesium balance whenever using calcium supplements.
Vitamin D is also a critical issue to factor in when using supplemental calcium. The most noted biological functions of vitamin D is its aiding in the absorption and utilization of calcium and the maintainance of normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D promotes bone mineralization and when it is deficient, bones can become thin, brittle, soft, or misshapen. Rickets in children and osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults are associated with Vitamin D deficiency.
Maintenance of serum calcium levels within a narrow range is vital not only for bone growth and maintenance of bone density but also for normal functioning of the nervous system. When the parathyroid glands Located on either side of the thyroid gland) sense a drop below a certain threshold in serum calcium levels, they secrete parathyroid hormone (PTH). In turn, an elevation in PTH increases the activity of Vitamin D. Heightened Vitamin D activity serves to normalize low serum calcium levels by increasing the intestinal absorption of dietary calcium and the reabsorption of calcium filtered by the kidneys and by mobilizing calcium from bone when dietary calcium reserves are too low to maintain normal serum calcium levels.
Importantly, magnesium not only helps the body to metabolize calcium, it converts dietary vitamin D to calcitriol (the active dihydroxy metabolite of vitamin D), helps to maintain the integrity of skeletal bone-crystal formation, and it is required for the binding of both calcium and fluorine to bone and tooth enamel. Lacking magnesium, both calcium and fluorine cannot be properly utilized by bones and teeth, thus, they are excreted from the body.
Clinical evidence demonstrates that magnesium deficiency, common among women with primary postmenopausal osteoporosis, contributes to poor responsiveness by the body to vitamin D. This inhibits vitamin D’s role in intestinal calcium absorption.
In a future issue of Nature’s Therapies I will present a complete discussion of Vitamin D. In addition to its role in calcium utilization research has now conclusively established that the vitamin plays a crucial role in insulin secretion, blood pressure regulation, cellular differentiation and immunity. Vitamin D’s final metabolic product targets more than 200 different genes and its deficiency is now thought to play a role in a wide range of diseases including at least 17 types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, depression, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and autism.
Clearly, neglecting to supplement with Vitamin D when supplementing with calcium is an error. While for many years the RDA Vitamin D has been 400 i.u. per day, many experts now recommend supplementation with between 2000 i.u. and 7000 i.u. daily. Of course, one should consult with a knowledgable health professional to help determine his or her best level of daily Vitamin D intake.
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Written by Dr. Bruce Berkowsky, N.M.D., M.H., NCTMB
Dr. Berkowsky, a registered naturopath, master herbalist and classical homeopath–is President of Joseph Ben Hil-Meyer Research, Inc. He is the founder/teacher of both Spiritual PhytoEssencing and the Natural Health Science System which he designed following many years of research and clinical practice, and includes herbology, nutrition, homeopathy, aromatherapy, exercise, traditional nature-cure as well as East/West healing arts/bodywork. Dr. Berkowsky teaches in-depth seminars/teleseminars/workshops to health-care professionals and spiritually aware individuals.
Disclaimer: This publication is intended as an educational tool, and not as a prescription. Seek the advice of your health-care provider before discontinuing any medication and/or trying any new remedy or technique.