Written By Austin Winegar, AsktheScientists.com
Even though a variety of nutrients support and maintain bone health, calcium usually gets the most attention. Calcium is essential, but the health of your bones don’t depend on it alone. In fact, magnesium and vitamin D help your body absorb calcium better so it can actually use what you’re taking in. The combination of magnesium and calcium also provides benefits to the body beyond bone health—supporting your heart, muscles, healthy energy metabolism, and more.
Let’s take a look at each of these important nutrients.
Most of the calcium in your body is right where you’d expect it to be—your teeth and bones. But this amount doesn’t stay constant. Your calcium supply is continually in flux, with various amounts being deposited and broken down. As you age, more calcium is broken down by your body than is replaced through your diet. This leads to bone loss and potentially—if calcium intake is inadequate or has been inadequate in the past—osteoporosis.
Calcium is needed for more than just strong teeth and bones. The essential mineral supports blood clotting, nerve function, muscle contraction and relaxation, enzyme regulation, and membrane permeability.
If you’re looking for good sources of calcium you can turn to broccoli, legumes, fortified orange juice, dairy products, and fish. Many dairy products are also fortified with vitamin D, which plays an important role in calcium absorption.
Between the ages of 19 and 50, the recommended dietary allowance of calcium is 1000 mg/day. It goes up to 1200 mg/day for pregnant or lactating women and adults over 50. Adverse effects of calcium in normal adults have been observed only with chronic intakes above 2500 mg/day.
When it comes to absorption and utilization, your body uses calcium carbonate and calcium citrate equally well when taken with food and adequate vitamin D. Calcium carbonate contains more calcium (by weight) than calcium citrate.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in more than 300 enzyme systems. These systems control various natural reactions in the body, including: supporting mitochondrial integrity and the production of cellular energy; protein synthesis, DNA, and RNA; and supporting proper glutathione production. Magnesium also plays a critical role in supporting normal nerve transmission, neuromuscular conduction, muscular contraction, and healthy glucose metabolism.
Magnesium’s support for cardiovascular health is based on many of these benefits. Research has also shown that magnesium can help support arterial elasticity. Maintaining the artery’s ability to expand and contract is important to maintain normal blood flow in healthy people.
The magnesium in your body normally exists as a charged particle (or ion) that’s stored in your bones. Inadequate blood magnesium levels are known to negatively affect blood calcium levels, reduce parathyroid hormone (PTH) action, and increase resistance to some of the effects of vitamin D.
Spinach, legumes, nuts, and grains are dietary sources of magnesium. Getting too much magnesium can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, but no adverse effect has been seen for long-term consumption of amounts less than or equal to 700 mg/day.
Vitamin D and magnesium play a similar role in bone health—helping the absorption and use of calcium to support the development and maintenance of bones and teeth. Getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D throughout your life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Bone health is just the beginning of vitamin D’s benefits list. It plays a key role in regulating and differentiating immune system cells, which promotes a healthy, balanced immune system. Vitamin D is important for cardiovascular health because it has been linked to the healthy function of endothelial cells—those lining the interior of your blood vessels. And, it also helps maintain normal functioning of the nervous system.
Even though it’s important, getting the vitamin D you need from food alone is almost impossible. Only a few foods contain a small amount of vitamin D: fatty fish, egg yolks, orange juice, and some cereals. Unfortunately, even consuming large amounts of these foods will do little to improve vitamin D status.
And vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin for a reason. When your bare skin is exposed to direct sunlight, your body uses ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to produce vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). But it’s still not enough for many people, especially those living in more northern or southern latitudes.
Are you getting enough of these three essential nutrients in your diet? If you aren’t, consider taking a supplement with equal amounts of magnesium and calcium along with advanced levels of vitamin D. You’ll do your bones a service, and help the rest of your body at the same time.
About the Author
Since joining USANA in 2011, Austin Winegar has played an integral role in organizing third-party published research, ensuring the safety and efficacy of USANA’s products, and reviewing all U.S. marketing materials for scientific accuracy. His responsibilities also include researching new ingredients for potential new products, writing articles for AsktheScientists.com, and providing science-based information for the True Health Assessment. Austin graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in biology. In the field of science, his areas of interest focus on sports nutrition, weight loss/maintenance, anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry.