By Dr. Mercola
Magnesium is a crucially important mineral for optimal health, performing a wide array of biological functions, including playing an important role in bone health. In fact, of the 25 grams of magnesium found in an average adult, up to 60 percent of it is found in your bones.1
Multiple studies have shown that higher magnesium intake is associated with a higher bone mineral density in both men and women,2 and recent research from Norway has even found an association between magnesium in drinking water and risk of hip fractures.
Magnesium May Lower Your Risk of Hip Fractures
Norway, like the US, has a high rate of hip fractures, but the researchers noted that its incidence varies by region, with those living in urban areas more likely to have hip fractures than those in rural locales. They suggested this could be due to naturally varying levels of minerals like magnesium in the drinking water, although this didn’t turn out to be the case.
What they did find, however, was that while concentrations of magnesium (and calcium) in drinking water were generally low, there was an inverse association between concentration of magnesium and risk of hip fracture in both men and women.3 The researchers concluded:
“Magnesium in drinking water may have a protective role against hip fractures.”
The finding is significant considering how debilitating a hip fracture can be, especially among the elderly. A broken hip carries a great risk of complications and usually requires prolonged specialized care for recovery. It’s estimated that 25 percent of elderly people suffering a hip fracture die as a direct result.4
Magnesium Is Involved in Bone Formation and Health
It’s estimated that 80 percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium, which could have a dramatic influence on bone health. Magnesium influences activities of both osteoblasts (cells responsible for bone formation) and osteoclasts (the cells that break down your bone).
Magnesium is thought to play a role in preventing and fighting osteoporosis. According to the National Office of Dietary Supplements:5
“Magnesium also affects the concentrations of both parathyroid hormone and the active form of vitamin D, which are major regulators of bone homeostasis…
Research has found that women with osteoporosis have lower serum magnesium levels than women with osteopenia and those who do not have osteoporosis or osteopenia. These and other findings indicate that magnesium deficiency might be a risk factor for osteoporosis.”
In fact, one study found that postmenopausal women with osteoporosis were able to suppress bone turnover (which suggests bone loss decreased) just by taking 290 mg/day of magnesium for 30 days.6
Your Calcium-Magnesium Ratio: Are You Taking Too Much Calcium?
Over the past 30 years, women have been told to take supplemental calcium to avoid osteoporosis. Many foods have also been fortified with extra calcium to prevent calcium deficiency among the general population.
Despite such measures, osteoporosis has continued to climb, and this could be, in part, because of an imbalanced calcium-magnesium ratio. According to Carolyn Dean, a medical and naturopathic doctor:
“I’ve heard statistics like a 700 percent rise in osteoporosis in a 10-year period, even while taking all this calcium. The myth that’s been created about calcium is that we need twice as much calcium as we do magnesium. Most of the supplements reflect this. We’ve got a situation where people are taking 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium and maybe a few hundred milligrams of magnesium.
The 2:1 ratio—that was a mistake; a mistaken translation from French researcher Jean Durlach, who said never ever go beyond two parts calcium to one part magnesium in your food, water, or supplement intake combined.”
This was misinterpreted as meaning a 2:1 ratio was an appropriate ratio, which it’s not. A more appropriate ratio of calcium to magnesium is 1:1. This may not only pose a risk to your bones but also to your heart. If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, your muscles will tend to go into spasm.
So excessive amounts of calcium without the counterbalance of magnesium can lead to a heart attack and sudden death. Quite simply, with insufficient amounts of magnesium, your heart simply cannot function properly.
For Optimal Bone and Heart Health, You’ve Got to Balance Magnesium with Vitamins K2 and D
When balancing calcium and magnesium also keep in mind that these must be balanced with vitamins K2 and D. These four nutrients perform an intricate dance together, with one supporting the other. Lack of balance between these nutrients is why calcium supplements have become associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, and why some people experience vitamin D toxicity.
Part of the explanation for these adverse side effects is that vitamin K2 keeps calcium in its appropriate place. If you’re K2 deficient, added calcium can cause more problems than it solves, by accumulating in the wrong places, like soft tissue.
Similarly, if you opt for oral vitamin D, you need to also consume it in your food or take supplemental vitamin K2 and more magnesium. Taking mega doses of vitamin D supplements without sufficient amounts of K2 and magnesium can lead to vitamin D toxicity and magnesium deficiency symptoms, which include inappropriate calcification that may damage your heart.
Magnesium and vitamin K2 complement each other, as magnesium helps lower blood pressure, which is an important component of heart disease. So, all in all, anytime you’re taking any of the following: magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3, or vitamin K2, you need to take all the others into consideration as well, since these all work synergistically with one another.
What Else Is Magnesium Good For?
It would be misleading to simply classify magnesium as a mineral for your bones or your heart. Researchers have now detected 3,751 magnesium-binding sites on human proteins, indicating that its role in human health and disease may have been vastly underestimated.7
Magnesium is also found in more than 300 different enzymes in your body and plays a role in your body’s detoxification processes, making it important for helping to prevent damage from environmental chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxins. Even glutathione, your body’s most powerful antioxidant that has even been called “the master antioxidant,” requires magnesium for its synthesis. Recent research also showed that higher intakes of dietary magnesium were associated with a lower risk of colorectal tumors.8 To date more than 100 health benefits of magnesium have been identified so far, including therapeutic benefits for:9
Watching Out for Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
There’s no lab test that will give you a truly accurate reading of the magnesium status in your tissues. Only one percent of the magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood, making a simple sample of magnesium from a blood test highly inaccurate.
Some specialty labs do provide an RBC magnesium test, which is reasonably accurate, and other tests that your doctor can use to evaluate your magnesium status include a 24-hour urine test or a sublingual epithelial test. Still, these can only give you an estimation of your levels, and doctors typically need to evaluate them in conjunction with the symptoms you exhibit.
If you suspect you’re not getting enough magnesium, you should keep a watchful eye out for symptoms of deficiency. If you eat a poor diet, including one that’s mostly processed foods, this could apply to you. Further, if any of these conditions below apply to you, you may want to take extra precautions to make sure you’re getting a sufficient amount of magnesium in your diet, or, if needed, from a magnesium supplement, in order to avoid magnesium deficiency.
In her book, The Magnesium Miracle, Dr. Dean lists 100 factors that will help you decide whether or not you might be deficient. Early signs of magnesium deficiency to watch out for include loss of appetite, headache, nausea, fatigue, and weakness. An ongoing magnesium deficiency can lead to more serious symptoms, including:
What Are the Best Dietary Sources of Magnesium?
Many people are low in magnesium. In order to ensure you’re getting enough, you first need to be sure you’re eating a varied, whole-food diet like the one described in my nutrition plan. Green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard are excellent sources of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts, and seeds, like almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. Avocados are also a good source. Juicing your vegetables is an excellent option to ensure you’re getting enough of them in your diet.
One important point to mention, though, is that the levels of magnesium in your food are dependent on the levels of magnesium in the soil where they’re grown. Organic foods may have more magnesium, as most fertilizer used on conventional farms relies heavily on nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium instead of magnesium. Another one of the major benefits of getting your nutrients from a varied whole-food diet is that you’re far less likely to end up with too much of one nutrient at the expense of others. Foods in general contain all the cofactors and needed co-nutrients in the proper amounts for optimal health, which takes out the guesswork. When you’re using supplements, you need to become a bit savvier about how nutrients influence and synergistically affect each other.
In case you’re interested, another way to improve your magnesium status is to take regular Epsom salt baths or foot baths. Epsom salt is a magnesium sulfate that can be absorbed into your body directly through your skin. Magnesium oil (from magnesium chloride) can also be used for topical application and absorption.
The 8 Forms of Magnesium Supplements: What Type Is Best?
If you opt for a magnesium supplement, be aware that there are several different forms of magnesium. The reason for the wide variety of magnesium supplements on the market is because the magnesium must be bound to another substance. There’s no such thing as a 100% magnesium compound supplement (except pico-ionic magnesium). The substance used in any given supplement compound can affect the absorption and bioavailability of the magnesium, and may provide slightly different, or targeted, health benefits. Following is a general guide to help you sort through the eight different formulas you’re likely to come across: