Bad news, all that calcium might be doing more harm than good to your body. What exactly is the problem? Well, when it comes to supplements, there’s much more to consider than just what to take. Of course, you have to be careful about when, how, and why. But what you may not realize is that you also have to look at the “what else?”
One of the best examples involves calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body.Calcium is crucial for the healthy functioning of so many organs, including bones and even the brain! Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise why calcium supplementation is so prevalent. In 2011, in fact, a study showed that more than half of adult Americans — and up to 64% in certain age and sex groups — took calcium supplements.
And to this day, the U.S. is still a leader in calcium fortification. So, whether you’re a health nut or a junk-foodie, you’re definitely getting your fair share. Everything from milk and cereal to frozen pizzas and canned beans is fortified with calcium.
Unfortunately, recent research has raised doubts about the efficacy of calcium supplementation. About 55% of Americans over 50 years old suffer from either osteoporosis or low bone mass, and this figure is more than double compared with figures from certain European countries like Germany and France. What gives?
According to science, an imbalance in the intake of certain important minerals might be the culprit. While some compounds (like certain vitamins) shouldn’t be taken together since their effects would cancel each other out, other compounds (like certain minerals) act in synergy — meaning they need to work together for the body to receive any benefits.
As for calcium, most of its health benefits actually come from its interaction with magnesium. And while your body doesn’t rely on magnesium to absorb calcium, one without the other can become toxic and cause hypercalcemia — an excessive concentration of calcium in the blood. This can lead to weaker bones, kidney stones, high blood pressure, and a low heart rate.
Without sufficient magnesium levels, calcium is deposited into blood vessels, soft tissues, cartilage, and kidneys. And while your body can easily excrete excess magnesium, excess calcium remains in your system and is reused again and again. So, to prevent hypercalcemia, it’s critically important to balance calcium with the right amount of magnesium.
Most supplements have a calcium-magnesium ratio of 2:1 — a ratio that was originally suggested as a limit not to be exceeded. So, if you take such supplements and consume a standard high-calcium, low-magnesium American diet, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Just one or two glasses of fortified milk can throw you off balance.
While supplementing with calcium is generally a good idea for people over 25 years old, making sure that calcium is balanced with magnesium is even more important. A ratio of 1:1 is a good place to start, especially if your diet includes magnesium-rich products like seafood, beans, nuts, and seeds.
And when picking up your next batch of magnesium supplements, make sure you read the label carefully. There are many different types available on the market, each with its own uses and benefits. Generally, magnesium citrate, magnesium malate, and magnesium chloride are good options. But of course, do your research — and when in doubt, always consult a medical specialist, especially if you have any pre-existing conditions.
Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should never rely upon this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.