or Why I Say Don’t Take Calcium Tablets – But Do Take Magnesium

Of all the vitamins and minerals we consume, and what their purpose is in the body, you could argue that “we need calcium for strong bones” would be one most ingrained.  Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood.  Could it be that taking Magnesium, instead of Calcium is the answer to strong healthy bones?

For decades now someone (dare it say it?…the dairy board) has been telling us that we need calcium for our bones and the only way to get it is from pasteurised dairy products. Or, alternatively, doctors prescribing Caltrate, the number one calcium supplement recommended by doctors and pharmacies.

This all probably seems fair enough.  What could be my beef with these two standard approaches?

So first up, Caltrate is made from calcium carbonate, which is a cheap, inferior form of calcium and not easily absorbed by the body, unless paired with a chelating agent. But even then is still inferior, and not able to effectively penetrate cell membranes.  If the calcium is not being effectively absorbed then it could lead to calcium build up in the body.  This is not good news for anyone, but research has shown it especially bad news for those also taking statin drugs.

Calcium from above the ground, not below the ground”

In fact, calcium is one of those minerals that is best gained from food not supplements. “Calcium from above the ground, not below the ground” is a good motto. In other words, get your calcium from your food that is grown, not supplements made from minerals, mined from below the ground.

As for the dairy aspect.  Lets look at the myth promoted by the dairy industry that consuming pasteurised dairy products such as milk or cheese increases calcium levels. This is not the case because the pasteurisation process only creates calcium carbonate, which as we have already seen, has no way of entering the cells without a chelating agent. So the body has to pull the calcium from the bones and other tissues in order to buffer the calcium carbonate that is now in the blood from being ingested. So think about it. This process can actually cause osteoporosis. Milk definitively does not do a body good if it’s pasteurised.

Good sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables, in particular watercress, kale, dandelion greens, turnip greens, collard, arugula, bok choy, pak choi, cabbage. As well as green vegies in general such as broccoli, okra and green beans.  Also nuts and seeds, especially almonds, brazil nuts and sesame seeds.  Some fish, sardines and salmon, are known as a calcium source but remember you need to eat the bones too. Other dietary sources are white beans, black eyed beans, seaweed, oranges and figs.

“It is dietary intake of magnesium, not necessarily calcium, could be the key to developing healthy bones”

So where does Magnesium come in? According to new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in the USA, it is dietary intake of magnesium, not necessarily calcium, that could be the key to developing healthy bones during childhood.

Firstly we need to realise that just because our bones contain calcium, it doesn’t mean just feed ourselves or our children, or aging parent lots of calcium and that will do the trick. Bones, like all our internal workings, needs a healthy balance of minerals. Magnesium helps our bones absorb the calcium it needs and is also important for building bone strength.

Historically a ratio of calcium to magesium of 1:1 or 1:2 was the norm. It has been estimated that today’s diet is more like 10:1. This figure does not surprise me because I see so many patients in my clinic who are severely magnesium deficient. Unlike calcium, though, because the body’s levels of magnesium are so low and our food sources are now severely depleted of magnesium, a good quality, well balanced supplement is often recommended.

Good news is, that some of the best food sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and cacao. Woohoo! Look back for my post on Superfood Bliss Balls and get yourself a good dose of yummy magnesium.