Calcium to Magnesium: How the Ratio Affects Your Health

Calcium to Magnesium: How the Ratio Affects Your Health
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Juvenon Health Journal volume 10 number 5 – May 2011

By Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D.

Calcium and magnesium balance is important for our health, but how well do we really understand this? Thanks to media coverage, advertising and the vast number of choices in stores, most of us are aware of the need for vitamins and supplements for better health. But our diets may not be providing other essential nutrients in sufficient amounts. These chemical elements, primarily metals (iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium, etc.), support the biochemical reactions of metabolism.

They also perform functions critical to cellular health. Some bind to cellular components to form ionic bonds on molecules, such as proteins, for support and shape. Others act as gatekeepers, regulating the flow of nutrients through the protective membranes to the interior of cells and cellular compartments. And some bind to enzymes in their catalytic domains to form active catalysts.

One of these metallic nutrients, calcium (Ca), is relatively well known. But its relationship to another, magnesium (Mg), and how that may affect certain health conditions, has motivated recent research, as well as this article.

What Magnesium Means To Us

Data from representative populations shows nearly 80% of American adults may not be getting enough magnesium from their diets. But over 300 of our bodies’ biochemical processes require this element. It also appears magnesium helps to regulate inflammatory reactions in our tissues.

In other words, a low level of serum magnesium may result in prolonged inflammation in tissues and associated health concerns. This deficiency has also been linked to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, heart disease, hypertension and some forms of cancer. Now, let’s take a look at the relationship between calcium and magnesium.

Calcium vs. Magnesium

Adult calcium deficiency is not as prevalent in Western society. Thanks to our diet, Americans have significantly greater blood and tissue concentrations of calcium than people in East Asia, for example. The higher level of calcium, relative to magnesium, is important. As divalent cations (ions with a double positive charge), the two nutrients compete for absorption into the blood stream, which is why it is important to be mindful of our magnesium to calcium ratio.

A similar situation occurs in tissues. If there is an excess of the calcium cation, it can effectively prevent the magnesium cation from entering the cell, or acting to elicit biochemical reactions by binding to its cognate molecule.

To put it another way, a higher calcium to magnesium ratio encourages a magnesium deficiency. As previously mentioned, this condition has been linked to significant health concerns.

High Ca:Mg and Men

Several studies, over the past decade, examined the relationship between high calcium levels, alone, and various forms of cancer, but with conflicting results. Recent work, as part of the Nashville Men’s Health Study (NMHS) at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, suggests the calcium to magnesium ratio may be the key. (See this issue’s “Research Update.”)

A group of investigators hypothesized that low blood magnesium levels and/or a high ratio of calcium to magnesium are risk factors for prostate cancer. Biopsies of the 494 participants in the NMHS showed 98 with high-grade cancer, 100 with low-grade cancer, 133 with suspicious lesions (precancerous intraepithelial neoplasia or PIN) and 163 controls without cancer.

Comparing these biopsy results and the levels of calcium and magnesium in blood drawn from all patients, the research team observed that calcium levels alone had virtually no association with prostate cancer. However, the investigators did note the high-grade cancer patients had low serum magnesium levels and comparatively high calcium levels. These findings did not hold true for the low-grade cancer and PIN groups.

The results may help explain why some of the previous studies demonstrated a connection between prostate cancer and calcium intake while others didn’t. It appears the critical factors in stimulating the growth of high-grade tumors are actually low magnesium and, perhaps more importantly, a high ratio of calcium to magnesium in the blood.

Calcium Control

The most important messages from this study seem to be avoiding magnesium deficiency and maintaining a healthy calcium to magnesium ratio. Keeping calcium levels in balance may be advisable for other reasons.

For example, there is evidence that an excess of this element may inhibit the production of vitamin D3, a nutrient believed to help regulate calcium levels. During 70-plus years of research, scientists have drawn correlations between an inadequate supply of Vitamin D3 and a long list of health concerns, including some forms of cancer and diabetes. (See Juvenon Health Journal, Volume 5, Number 4, “Vitamin D — Recent Provocative Discoveries.”)

The solution, supported by the Vanderbilt University study and others, may be to take a supplement containing calcium, magnesium and vitamin D3 together. The recommended daily intake for calcium is 800-1200 mg/day, magnesium 400 mg/day (varying based on age and weight), and D3 600 IU/day (soon to be higher according to experts in the field).

Of course, you should consult your health professional to establish what your body’s needs are in relation to your diet. By reducing deficiencies, especially in magnesium (key to those 300-plus biochemical processes mentioned earlier), we may be able to lower the risk of many health concerns.

Ask Ben

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Dr. Treadwell answers your questions.

Dear Readers
The following question and answer may seem familiar to you, and rightfully so. The exchange between ‘G’ and me also appeared in Volume 10 Number 3 of the Health Journal. I thought it bore repeating, however, as calcium and magnesium are the subjects of this issue’s main article and “Research Update.”
— Ben Treadwell

I’m writing to see if you can address my concerns regarding the Cal-Mag supplement. I’m considering the (Juvenon’s) Century Club, in which it is included, because this seems to be the best value. However, some time ago, it seems I read something about too much calcium taken by men could lead to hardening of the arteries or some other adverse effect. For this reason, I’ve never taken any calcium other than what is included in a multi-vitamin. Your opinion would be helpful. — G

answer: Due to diet, and because the body no longer stores calcium after age 30-35, the U.S. Surgeon General estimates that half of Americans over 50 will be at risk for fractures and low bone mass by 2020. So, supplementing this mineral seems to be advisable, especially as we get older. The benefits — like increasing bone density, regulating heartbeat, even easing occasional sleeplessness — outweigh the potential negative effects. To date, there is no validated evidence linking taking calcium with atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

It is estimated that 61% of the U.S. population do not meet the magnesium RDA. So, again, supplementing seems prudent. Magnesium not only aids in calcium absorption, but has also been credited with actually promoting healthy arteries and helping to maintain normal blood pressure. This mineral seems to play a key role in cellular energy production, too, as well as for about 400 enzyme-catalyzed reactions in metabolism.

I hope I’ve addressed your concerns, G. It’s a good idea to consult with your own health professional, too, before starting to take Juvenon Cal-Mag, or any dietary supplement for that matter.

For more questions and answers, click here.

Dr. Benjamin V. Treadwell is a former Harvard Medical School professor and member of Juvenon’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Research Update

Aware of previous, inconclusive studies, a group of investigators, from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Medical Center in Nashville, TN, set out to clarify the relationship between blood calcium (Ca) levels and prostate cancer risk. “Blood Magnesium, and the Interaction with Calcium, on the Risk of High-Grade Prostate Cancer,” in a recent issue of Plos One, publishes the results of the team’s work to test their hypothesis that inadequate magnesium levels, possibly relative to calcium levels (e.g. a high Ca/Mg ratio), are associated with higher prostate cancer risk.

The team took blood samples and prostatic tissue biopsies from all 494 participants in the Nashville Men’s Health Study. Intended to determine which subjects had prostate cancer and at what stage of aggressiveness, the biopsies showed 98 had high-grade cancer, 100 were low-grade cases, 133 were precancerous (referred to as prostate intraepithelial neoplasia or PIN) and 163 (controls) were cancer-free.

Comparing this data to the serum levels of magnesium and calcium, the researchers noted no relationship between either one and the PIN or low-grade cancer cases. There was, however, a significant correlation between low magnesium levels and high-grade cancer. Furthermore, based on Ca/Mg ratio calculations, the team found a significant association between an elevated ratio and the likelihood of high-grade cancer.

The investigators concluded their analysis might be the first to suggest that the relationship between calcium and prostate cancer depends, at least to some degree, on the counter effects of magnesium, and provides one possible explanation for some inconsistencies in previous studies’ results. They also noted that, according to a National Health and Nutrition survey, nearly 80% of U.S. adults have a magnesium intake below the RDA.

Read abstract here.

This Research Update column highlights articles related to recent scientific inquiry into the process of human aging. It is not intended to promote any specific ingredient, regimen, or use and should not be construed as evidence of the safety, effectiveness, or intended uses of the Juvenon product. The Juvenon label should be consulted for intended uses and appropriate directions for use of the product.