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When it comes to staying healthy, certain minerals namely calcium and magnesium can be compared to building blocks that provide a strong foundation for our health. You might have heard that calcium is essential for building strong bones and that’s true, but it does even more! And while magnesium may not get as much attention, it also plays a crucial role in keeping us alive.
Like workers in an industry, these two minerals are crucial in the maintenance of a healthy mind and body. This is the reason why they are among those dubbed as essential minerals. Read on to learn more about the importance of these minerals in our diet. Specifically, we will talk about the science behind them, their health benefits, and the risks that come with excessive and inadequate doses. We will also provide a short guide on how you can properly incorporate calcium and magnesium intakes in order to achieve a healthier lifestyle in the future.
The Science Behind Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium and magnesium are essential nutrients that are part of a group called major minerals. Major minerals consist of minerals that are used and stored in large quantities in the body, and it includes chloride, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. In contrast, a subgroup called trace minerals is also good for our health but is not needed in large amounts.
Calcium is the fifth most abundant element in the body. While it is only available through dietary sources, calcium is proven to be essential in a wide range of biological functions and it plays a key role in skeletal mineralization. Skeletal mineralization or bone calcification is the process by which minerals like calcium are deposited in the bone matrix, contributing to bone hardness and strength.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral and second most abundant intracellular cation present in our body. Its function is mainly on energy metabolism and protein synthesis, and it is present in over 600 more enzymatic reactions.
Health Benefits of Calcium
Did you know that calcium helps address not only osteoporosis but also several types of cancer?
As we get older, our bones go through changes. Women’s bone health can be affected by menopause, leading to weaker bones due to reduced estrogen. This is why older women often develop osteoporosis making the bones weaker and prone to fractures, especially in the hip and spine area. Even older men experience bone weakening, but usually a bit later than women.
Health claims for the use of calcium and vitamin D supplements in preventing bone problems are certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, there should be caution in the intake of these as some studies do not support this claim. Some research shows that more calcium makes bones stronger, while others are not conclusive.
With regards to various forms of cancer, particularly colorectal, evidence suggests that higher calcium intake is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer, and there is a reduction in risk of having this kind of cancer for a certain increase in dosage. Some studies also indicate that there is a lower risk of cancer among participants with the highest calcium intake in their diets.
Health Benefits of Magnesium
Magnesium also has a crucial part in nerve signal transmission, heart activity, communication between nerves and muscles, muscle movement, regulation of blood vessel tension, blood pressure, and the way our body handles glucose and insulin. Due to its numerous functions in the body, magnesium significantly contributes to preventing illnesses and maintaining overall well-being.
One example of the role of magnesium is its contribution to fighting hypertension and diabetes. Hypertension significantly elevates the risk of heart disease and stroke and some studies show that magnesium supplements might provide limited relief for hypertension. Moreover, maintaining sufficient magnesium levels could potentially reduce the risk of diabetes as it helps regulate your body’s glucose levels.
Unlike calcium which is commonly known for its necessity in bone formation, magnesium is also helpful for bone remodeling by participating in the development of osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Magnesium also influences regulators of bone homeostasis such as PTH and active forms of vitamin D.
Effects of Calcium and Magnesium Deficiency
Insufficient levels of calcium and magnesium can prove detrimental to the human body.
Older people can become more susceptible to osteoporosis and fractures when calcium levels are abnormally low. But children can also develop rickets which affects skeletal structure with low calcium levels.
Another condition that can arise is osteomalacia, where bones become soft due to inadequate mineralization. Low levels of vitamin D and magnesium, impaired PTH production, and certain medications can cause hypocalcemia (low blood calcium levels), which may lead to various symptoms affecting different organs.
Magnesium deficiency is uncommon among healthy people due to kidney regulation, but it can occur from low intake, certain health conditions, alcoholism, or specific medications. Early signs of this deficiency include appetite loss, nausea, fatigue, and weakness, progressing to muscle issues, seizures, heart rhythm abnormalities, and spasms. Severe cases can lead to low calcium or potassium levels in the blood due to disrupted mineral balance.
Women who are past their menopause and individuals who are lactose-intolerant are at a higher risk of calcium deficiency. People with gastrointestinal diseases, type 2 diabetes, alcohol dependence, and the elderly are at great risk of magnesium deficiency.
Effects of Excessive Calcium and Magnesium
Lower than usual levels of calcium or magnesium can be bad, but too much of those minerals can also be unsafe for the body.
Hypercalcemia and hypercalciuria, the latter pertaining to excessive calcium levels in urine, are examples of this. These are rare conditions and usually stem if someone has cancer or primary hyperparathyroidism prior. Symptoms like muscle tone issues, renal problems, constipation, nausea, and fatigue can result from these conditions.
Excessive magnesium levels are typically not a concern as the kidneys eliminate excess amounts of this mineral through urine. Although, excessive levels of magnesium can be a cause of nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. This mineral, when taken in the form of laxatives and antacids, can also lead to toxicity. The associated symptoms of magnesium toxicity are hypotension, nausea, muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, and heart attack.
Having the Ample Amount of Calcium and Magnesium in Your Diet
What then is the appropriate dose of calcium and magnesium in the body? The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium is 420 milligrams per day for men and 320 mg/day for women (50 years and older). For calcium, the RDA is 1,000-1,200 mg/day in both men and women age 51 years and older.
To achieve this, we recommend a diet rich in minerals, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and oils, with limitations on added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and alcoholic beverages.
On the one hand, milk, cheese, and yogurt are good sources of calcium. Some vegetables, fortified cereals, and juices also contain calcium. Tofu made with calcium salts, canned sardines, and salmon with edible bones are additional sources of this mineral. On the other hand, whole grains, dark-green leafy vegetables, low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, legumes, nuts, seeds, and certain fortified cereals are great sources of magnesium.
For vegans and those who avoid dairy, fortified foods, and various supplements serve as a source of calcium and magnesium. However, it is better recommended to have dietary sources for healthy eating patterns.
Calcium and magnesium might not be as popular as sugar and protein in general, but they sure are the essential nutrients that keep our bodies alive and healthy. It’s important to note that while the intake of these minerals is necessary for bone and overall health, taking excessive amounts causes potentially damaging effects and may lead to conditions like hypercalcemia, hypercalciuria, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and magnesium toxicity.
So, it’s all about balance. Eating a mix of natural food like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy, while watching your sugar and sodium intake, sets the stage for a healthier well-being. Remember, supplements can be helpful, but they cannot replace the natural benefits real food brings. Lastly, consider consulting a certified nutritionist to learn how to effectively incorporate calcium and magnesium into your diet, especially if you have a medical condition.
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Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). The nutrition source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (n.d.). Dietary supplement fact sheets. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/
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