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April 22, 2011

CDC Data Shows Dramatic Increase In Usage Of Calcium Supplements – Are The Dangers Of Magnesium Deficiency Sure To Follow?

OlderWomanWorkout Recent data released by the Centers for Disease control show that two-thirds of American women 60 and older now consume calcium supplements – a dramatic increase from the early 1990s when 28% of such women did so.

But though calcium supplements are widely advocated to prevent bone loss and osteoporosis, they have recently been associated with unsuspected health complications including a potential increase in heart attack risk:

Study Finds Calcium Supplements Linked to Greater Risk of Heart Attack – Could a Lack of Magnesium Be the Reason?

While calcium is an important and widely deficient mineral, calcium doesn’t act alone.  High intakes of calcium may interfere with the absorption and metabolism of other nutrients.  Most notably, calcium requires magnesium to be absorbed and utilized optimally, and an elevated calcium-to-magnesium ratio in the diet (or an elevated calcium-to-magnesium ratio fostered by taking calcium supplements) is apt to create a de facto magnesium deficiency - with potentially dangerous consequences like the heart attack risk noted above.

In all likelihood, calcium supplements should always be balanced with nearly equal amounts of bioavailable magnesium – this will not only improve the effectiveness of calcium in supporting bone structure, but is also likely to counter the negative effects of an elevated calcium-to-magnesium ratio.

(Note: Calcium supplements often contain some magnesium - but the dose is often remarkably low, and the form poorly absorbed.)

Calcium and Magnesium – Yin and Yang

Though calcium and magnesium are synergistic in many respects, their actions are also often the opposite of one another.

For example…

Stimulates adrenaline production
Excites Nerves
Promotes muscle contraction
Promotes platelet aggregation (clumping of blood cells)
Promotes blood clotting
Promotes inflammation

Lowers adrenaline production
Calms nerves
Relaxes muscles
Prevents abnormal blood clotting
Reduces Inflammation

In a practical sense, high intakes of calcium relative to magnesium have been associated with:

Elevated cardiovascular risk factors

Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression

Blood-sugar disorders

Neurological disorders

For more information, See:

Stress, Anxiety, Depression, And Magnesium - Part 2 - Magnesium - Nature's Calcium Blocker

Stress, Anxiety, Depression, And Magnesium - Part 3 - The Calcium to Magnesium Ratio

The Calcium-To-Magnesium Ratio And Heart Disease Risk

Researchers familiar with the biological interactions of calcium and magnesium commonly recommend that we consume twice as much calcium as magnesium each day (a 2:1 ratio). But the average intake of calcium in the US is at least 4 or 5 times that of magnesium, and is likely to be further skewed with the use of calcium supplements . It’s been noted in the scientific literature that women aiming to prevent or treat osteoporosis may be at risk for cardiovascular and blood–clotting disorders if this ratio isn’t balanced out with additional magnesium.

Study Link – Increased need for magnesium with the use of combined oestrogen and calcium for osteoporosis treatment.

Quote from the above study:

If the commonly recommended dietary Ca/Mg ratio of 2/1 is exceeded (and it can reach as much as 4/1 in countries with low to marginal Mg intakes), relative or absolute Mg deficiency may result, and this may increase the risk of intravascular coagulation, since blood clotting is enhanced by high Ca/Mg ratios.

Some evidence even suggests that the commonly–recommended 2:1 calcium–to–magnesium ratio may still be a bit higher than optimal. Historically, the relative level of minerals (including and especially calcium and magnesium) in groundwater from different geographical regions has been correlated with the incidence of certain diseases. People living in regions with mineral–rich hard water have repeatedly been shown to suffer less incidence of cardiovascular disease relative to those living in regions with mineral–poor soft water. Initially, it was thought that the presence of calcium was largely responsible, but subsequent research has shown that magnesium (i.e., a lower calcium–to–magnesium ratio) may be an even more important factor.

The following study from Finland found that the risk of heart attack (acute myocardial infarction, or AMI) was decreased by 4.9% for every 1 mg/L increase in the magnesium content of groundwater. But, as evidence of the dangers of excess calcium, for every 1 unit increase in the calcium–to–magnesium ratio of groundwater, heart attack risk increased by 3.1%:

Study Link – Calcium:Magnesium Ratio in Local Groundwater and Incidence of Acute Myocardial Infarction among Males in Rural Finland.

Quote from the above study:

Each 1 mg/L increment in Mg level decreased the AMI risk by 4.9%, whereas a one unit increment in the Ca:Mg ratio increased the risk by 3.1%. Ca and Cr did not show any statistically significant effect on the incidence and spatial variation of AMI. Results of this study with specific Bayesian statistical analysis support earlier findings of a protective role of Mg and low Ca:Mg ratio against coronary heart disease but do not support the earlier hypothesis of a protective role of Ca.

Several decades ago, when Finland had among the highest dietary calcium–to–magnesium ratio in the world (approximately 4:1 – similar to many people in the U.S. today) studies found that their incidence of coronary heart disease was notably higher than that of other cultures whose calcium–to–magnesium ratio was significantly lower. Japan – whose calcium–to–magnesium ratio at the time was barely above 1:1 – had a particularly low incidence of both cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis:

Study Link – Minerals, Coronary Heart Disease and Sudden Coronary Death.

Quote from the above study:

Under certain circumstances high intakes of calcium may increase rather than decrease the death rate from CHD [Coronary Heart Disease]. There is a highly significant positive correlation between death rates from CHD and estimated calcium to magnesium ratios of the average diets in OECD countries… Since the daily intake of calcium is higher in Finland than in most other countries the high death rate from CHD in this country cannot be attributed to a deficiency of calcium.

The graph below, adapted from the above study, seems to provide clear evidence of a direct relationship between heart disease and an excessive calcium–to–magnesium ratio in several countries. In this respect, it seems that a calcium–to–magnesium ratio of slightly above 1:1 (i.e., only slightly more calcium ingested each day relative to magnesium) is ideal.


Even animal research seems to confirm the harmful effects of an elevated calcium–to–magnesium ratio – especially when calcium is elevated in the context of a magnesium deficiency. In a particularly enlightening study, Japanese researchers recently investigated the effects of four different diets on 4 different groups of rats:

Group 1 – Fed the standard laboratory rodent diet

Group 2 – Fed the standard diet with the calcium level doubled

Group 3 – Fed the standard diet, but with the magnesium level lowered

Group 4 – Fed the standard diet, but with the magnesium level lowered and calcium doubled

The researchers found that structural and mitochondrial damage occurred in cells of the heart, liver, and kidney in groups 2 through 4.

In groups 3 and 4, magnesium was lower in serum and was lost from bone.

Levels of lipid peroxides were elevated in the livers of groups 3 and 4, and in the heart in group 4. Severe damage to heart cells was found in group 4.

Study Link – Effects of dietary magnesium deficiency in the rat: with special reference to ultrastructural examination.

Quote from the above study:

Epidemiologically, it has been suggested that dietary magnesium/calcium imbalance is associated with the risk of heart diseases. In the present study, the effects of magnesium deficiency and/or calcium over intake were investigated in rats…Our results thus suggest that dietary magnesium deficiency gives rise to retrogressive changes in some organs including the heart, and concurrent calcium overintake synergistically enhances the myocardial injury due to magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium for Bone Health

Considering that calcium supplements are often taken to support bone health and to prevent the ravages of osteoporosis, it’s interesting to note the research which shows that magnesium may have significant bone-building activity in it’s own right.  Magnesium deficiency causes an increase in the function of bone–destroying cells called osteoclasts, while at the same time inhibiting the proper function of the bone–building osteoblasts – the end result being massive bone loss:

Study Link – Magnesium deficiency–induced osteoporosis in the rat: uncoupling of bone formation and bone resorption.

Study Link – Magnesium deficiency induces bone loss in the rat.

Study Link – Reduction of dietary magnesium by only 50% in the rat disrupts bone and mineral metabolism.

Study Link – Prolonged magnesium deficiency causes osteoporosis in the rat.

In fact, in the United States, and many other industrialized countries, where calcium–rich foods and supplements are relatively common, it may be the case that magnesium deficiency plays an even greater role in bone loss than calcium deficiency. In some studies, magnesium supplementation alone has led to remarkable increases in bone density in post–menopausal women. It’s worth noting that many interventions are deemed successful if they merely inhibit or slow the rate of bone loss in this population. The following study found that 71% of patients treated with magnesium supplements responded with a 1% to 8% increase in bone density, whereas in the untreated control group, bone density decreased significantly:

Study Link – Trabecular bone density in a two year controlled trial of peroral magnesium in osteoporosis.

Quote from the above study:

Twenty–two patients (71 per cent) responded by a 1–8 per cent rise of bone density. The mean bone density of all treated patients increased significantly after 1 year (P < 0.02) and remained unchanged after 2 years (P > 0.05). The mean bone density of the responders increased significantly both after one year (P < 0.001) and after 2 years (P < 0.02), while in untreated controls, the mean bone density decreased significantly (P < 0.001).

In the above study, success was achieved even though magnesium hydroxide was used – a magnesium source with relatively poor absorption, which is commonly used as a laxative. It’s likely that magnesium sources with higher bioavailability would yield even better results.

Magnesium The many unsung benefits of magnesium are what led us at Integrated Supplements to create Albion® Bio-Available Magnesium – what we believe to be the purest and highest-quality magnesium supplement available.  While calcium continues to get the lion’s share of attention from the giant food, supplement, and medical communities, magnesium remains hardly a blip on the radar of public consciousness.  Our goal is to rectify this injustice, and to help give magnesium the attention it so richly deserves.   

Related Articles:

Magnesium Q & A Building The Ideal Magnesium Supplement










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