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Time to ditch the 2:1 calcium-magnesium ratio

Why do most bone health supplements contain twice as much calcium as magnesium when recent studies show taking more calcium isn't necessarily better?

If you like this, you may also be interested in these tips for taking supplements.

After a recent talk at Expo West with Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, magnesium expert and medical director of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association, I had the urge to call my mom, my sister, and my women friends to ask them to take a good look at their calcium supplements, and most likely, to consider changes to their regimen.

I’ve been hearing that typical bone health supplements contain too much calcium, especially in relation to cofactors like magnesium and vitamin D that help the body effectively absorb and use calcium. My ears have been especially pricked since 2010, when a review of Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) data suggested that taking calcium supplements may raise heart disease risk in post-menopausal women.

As I was writing up notes today on the points Dean had highlighted about magnesium and calcium, I saw online that she had just done a thorough write-up herself, as you can read in the release below:

"About 43 percent of the U.S. population (almost 70 percent of older women) use dietary supplements containing calcium(1), but without balancing their calcium with magnesium, they may be at risk, says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND. Most people, including the majority of MDs, do not understand key facts about calcium and its sister mineral, magnesium:

  • Typically, less than half of calcium intake is absorbed in the gut(2), the rest either being excreted or potentially forming kidney stones or being transported to soft tissues where it can harden (calcify).
  • Adequate levels of magnesium are essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and vitamin D.

Magnesium converts vitamin D into its active form so that it can aid calcium absorption. Magnesium also stimulates the hormone calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure and draws calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones, lowering the likelihood of osteoporosis, some forms of arthritis, heart attack and kidney stones.

  • There is a growing amount of scientific evidence pointing to high calcium - low magnesium intake leading to calcification, or hardening, of arteries (atherosclerosis—the number one cause of death in the U.S.), osteoporosis and osteoporotic bone fractures(3, 4).
  • Recommendations for calcium intake vary greatly. In the U.S., adults are told to take 1,000 mg per day and women over 50 are told to take up to 1,500 mg. In the United Kingdom, the RDA is 700 mg daily, while the World Health Organization recommends only 400-500 mg.

Often supplementation is taken without consideration for the amount of calcium in the diet both from food sources and water. Many people, especially those consuming dairy products, have high-calcium diets. This can lead to a greater amount of unabsorbed calcium.

"Most people—and most MDs—do not understand the importance of calcium-magnesium balance at a cellular level. The effectiveness and benefits of calcium with respect to bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis are enormously impaired in the absence of adequate levels of magnesium in the body," Dr. Dean states.

"If we consume too much calcium without sufficient magnesium," according to Dean, "not only will we create stress within the body but the excess calcium won't be utilized correctly and may become toxic. Magnesium keeps calcium dissolved in the blood. Too much calcium and too little magnesium can cause some forms of arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis and calcification of the arteries, leading to heart attack and cardiovascular disease(5).

"The commonly agreed-upon ratio of 2:1 calcium to magnesium found in many supplements traces back to French scientist Jean Durlach(6)," explains Dean, "who stipulated the 2:1 ratio as an outermost not-to-be-exceeded level when considering calcium intake from all sources (food, water and supplements). This has been largely misunderstood and is taken as a recommendation of a 2:1 calcium-to-magnesium imbalance.

"The fact that most people do not get their minimum daily requirement of magnesium exacerbates the situation. The high calcium - low magnesium diet of most Americans, when coupled with calcium supplementation, can give a Ca to Mg imbalance of 4: or 5:1, which constitutes a walking time bomb of impaired bone health and heart disease."

Dr. Dean recommends monitoring calcium intake, supplementing with vitamin D, getting the minimum daily requirement of magnesium, "and going for a 1:2 or at the very least a 1:1 calcium-magnesium balance."

A 32-page guide to the benefits of magnesium and how to avoid osteoporosis, strengthen bones naturally and support a healthy heart is available as a free download."

In my role as a health and science editor, I know that beyond its role with calcium, magnesium helps with myriad other body functions, including: heart health, migraines, pain, anxiety, constipation, diabetes and more. I have started taking magnesium at night myself and find it helpful in several ways. Eating magnesium-rich foods can also help: kelp, wheat bran and germ, almonds, cashews, molasses, brewer’s yeast.

Do you take calcium and/or magnesium supplements? What’s your take on the best way to supplement these minerals?

Discuss this Blog Entry 8

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 26, 2012

Hey, way to rip off someone else's article, format it a little and claim it's your own material. Double shame for claiming to be a science editor - if you care about science in the least you'd post the references so readers could investigate your sources for themselves. Boo.

Sandra W- Registered Nurse (not verified)
on Nov 7, 2012

Shame on the anonomous writer that wanted references for the great article posted and accusing the writer of taking credit for the article. Within the text of the article was plenty of references and at no time was it implied that this was the writers work. Credit was given to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, magnesium expert and medical director of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association, along with Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) data. At anytime a person can go to their websites to verify the text. I do not like or appreciate mean, negative comments regarding a person doing their job in trying to help people stay healthy. I don't know Susan Enfield but am very thankful to her for great work in providing articles which helps me do my job as a consultant in the health field.

on Jan 26, 2015

This 'Ditch the 2:1 ratio' suggestion amounts to a ball of confusion. As, it suggests that the 2:1 ratio of such as Calcium to Magnesium is some Guideline for how much of, and which, certain foods, etc., containing Calcium, and those containing Magnesium, one should consume in line with a 2:1 RATIO. That is NOT what the 2:1 RATIO meant, means, nor suggests. It was simply what was discovered to BE the RATIO of Calcium to Magnesium IN any and every natural, UN-denatured, NON-modified, UN-processed, whole food source that contains Calcium, or Magnesium. The fact that Calcium and Magnesium are 2 of the multitude of minerals that work in conjunction with one another in perfect ratios to one another, it is necessary for any whole food that contains Calcium to also contain Magnesium, and in perfect ratio to one another, which is, in fact, the case in nature, being that whole foods that contain Calcium also contain Magnesium, and vica-versa, in their perfect ratios to one another (if, or course, the whole food was not grown in commercial farm-land soil, which has been greatly depleted of Magnesium.) While not all plants; herbs, veggies, fruits, etc., contain ALL of the minerals, each plant contains all of the necessary minerals needed to function properly, perfectly, in conjunction with one another in one's body, as God intended. Thus said, it does not matter whether or not the 2:1 RATIO of Calcium to Magnesium is correct, since it is not necessary to know WHAT the perfect ratio is for Calcium to Magnesium, nor to KNOW what any of the other ratios of the other multitude of minerals are in conjunction with one another, in order to simply know that, in natural, un-processed, un-modified, whole foods the minerals they naturally contain are in perfect ratio in to one another. It is true that abusive farming tactics of commercial farmers, who by failing to let the farm-lands rest for a certain number of years after having planted crops for a certain number of years, have resulted in the soil being depleted to an extent of such as 'Magnesium.' Going against the laws of nature serves to decrease the quality of any natural food; plant. But, AMONG the solutions to such as an 'insufficient' amount of Magnesium in one's body, is to add Natural True Salt to one's meals. Any Natural True Salt from a Natural, true Salt Mine, which is Salt that has not been processed, modified, refined, in any way, (other than what it takes to gather it, and grind it, and package it, etc.,) contains ALL of the VITAL minerals, including all of the VITAL micro-minerals, that one's body needs, in perfect ratios to one another. And, since there IS no mineral in Natural Salt, nor in any other natural food substance, that is NOT vital, each and every mineral therein is VITAL. And, Natural, True, Salt, CONSISTS of EVERY mineral one's body needs for perfect health, regardless that only approximately 84 have been identified. But, identified or not, they are ALL vital, and thus necessary in conjunction with one another in their perfect, proper, ratios to one another, in order to function properly, perfectly, in one's body. There are micro-minerals in True Salt, as well as in various natural whole foods, which all depend upon other minerals therein in order to function properly in one's body, that are known as 'cell-salts,' or 'tissue-salts.' If any of those 'cell-salts;' specific minerals, are off-balanced in one's body, the state of one's health in one way or another will, as a result, be off-balanced. If none of the 'cell-salts' are off-balanced in one's body, then one's body should be in perfect health. And since each and EVERY mineral in a natural whole food substance, depends upon the other minerals therein to function in conjunction with in perfect ratios to one another, in order to function properly in one's body, this is why the worse thing anyone could do in the process of attempting to gain a sufficient amount of a certain mineral in one's body, is to consume things that are NOT natural , that are NOT a natural, unprocessed; unrefined; un-modified, etc., whole food, or whole food substance. For example, ANY vitamin or mineral 'supplement' in such as a pill form, containing one or more minerals, in which 'man-made' food-altering pill the mineral, or minerals, have been ISOLATED, having been removed from their natural whole food source, IN WHICH natural whole food source were ALL of the other minerals, and properties, of that whole food that the one, or more, mineral NEEDS in order to work in conjunction with in perfect ratios to one another, in order to function perfectly, and thus properly, in one's body. Consuming such substances consisting of one or more severely OFF-balanced minerals results in one's body being in a severe off-balanced state, lacking in health. Another severely off-balanced, and thus health dangering substance is Common Table Salt, which contains a mere 2, or 3, minerals, such as Sodium, Chloride, and/or Iodine. Just as ISOLATED minerals in Pill Form do not function properly in one's body, neither does any of the two or three minerals contained in common Table Salt, which serve only to cause a severe, or an increase in the serverity of one's 'Cell-Salts' being OFF-balanced. Not only do 'isolated' minerals; minerals removed from their natural whole food source, NOT serve any good purpose intended by the consumer, but can serve to harm, and kill, the consumer. While there IS no way that anyone can die from eatting any number of certain potassium-containing foods, like bananas, avocados, potatoes, etc., many people have died from such as a 'Potassium' OVER-DOSE due to such substances as 'Potassium Pill supplements.' And while some may say that 'Synthetic;' man-made, vitamins, etc., are even worse than 'isolated' natural vitamins and minerals, HOW SO? Unless there is something WORSE than dying due to either type, whether from over-dose, or the severity of failing health due to the person's body lacking in the proper balance of minerals, then one is no worse than the other. And, while the word 'Vitamin' is actually a word made up to mean 'Vital' Minerals, in the process of things being decided by certain ones behind the manufacturing and selling of ''Vitamin' supplements, the decision to decide FOR US which minerals are VITAL for our bodies, and which are of no, or little, use to our bodies, was among those decisions. Despite the truth of the matter being that there IS NOT even ONE of the multitude of minerals naturally contained in healthy whole food sources that are NOT vital to our bodies, since each and every mineral is of VITAL importance in conjunction with the others naturally occurring therein, in order for any of them to function properly in their perfect ratios to one another in one's body. Among the multitude of unidentified minerals, are micro-minerals that, regardless of how very tiny they are, they are as VITAL, and of as much UTMOST importance in conjunction with the other minerals, as the larger minerals, for the sake of the proper functioning of each of them in one's body. And none of that means that a so called Vitamin, or Mineral, Supplement is SAFE just because it is claimed to contain all of the necessary, and thus VITAL, vitamins, and minerals. As, again, not only does natural whole food sources contain vital minerals that all work in conjunction with one another in perfect RATIOS to one another, INCLUDING the multitude of UN-identified minerals, but as well as contain other vital properties necessary for the proper functioning of those minerals. While the insufficient amounts of such as Magnesium in natural whole foods; plants, grown in mineral depleted soil, are NOT un-safe to consume due to such mineral lack, but one simply needs to consume additional whole food sources grown in non-abused soil, and/or ADD Natural True-Salt to one's meals. But, man-made substances, or man-modified substances, containing one or more, but far from ALL of the VITAL minerals, (which all ARE vital,) are NOT safe for ANY reason, and are such that result in a severe imbalance of vital minerals in one's body. The only thing it's TIME TO DITCH, when it comes to things consumed as food, is anything man-made, refined, processed, modified, manufactured, AS SOME SUBSTITUE for REAL, UN-destroyed, natural FOODS, that promote TRUE HEALTH, and NOT things that do NOT even begin to promote what even RESEMBLES true HEALTHY bodies, and thus HEALTHY people!

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 17, 2012

wheat bran is implicated in anemia

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 17, 2012

You might want to interview Susan Brown PhD on bone health or Dr Gayle Eversole (PhD, RN, ND, clinical herbalist ) and read her work on Mg.

Evarsegreat (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2013

Interesting post ) my blog

on Dec 6, 2013

fitness equipment - ONLYsportsgear is the leading online sports store in UK. We offer an array of branded sports equipment of the finest quality at the most affordable price.

on Jun 13, 2016

Hello Ray,

Is there a specific type of salt you use in your daily regimen to obtain all 84 minerals in proper ratio for the body?


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