We are all used to hearing how important calcium is to the health of our bones and the prevention of osteoporosis.  However, it’s well known in Medicine that osteoporosis starts with the loss of the protein matrix in bone and that the calcium loss is secondary. Therefore, osteoporosis is really more like sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting ) than it is like osteomalacia (softening of bone due to unavailable calcium).

But what is less well known is the fact that magnesium is just as important as calcium to bone health. Magnesium supports calcium absorption. Magnesium converts Vitamin D into its active form which facilitates calcium absorption. Magnesium also stimulates release of the hormone known as calcitonin which drives calcium into bones. Magnesium acts a co-factor in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the human body, including those that are involved in new bone formation.

So what happens if you just take calcium and not magnesium? First, it is certain to be much less beneficial to your bones. You are definitely shortchanging yourself. However, it’s likely that you will also do some harm, especially if you take a lot of calcium. That’s because calcium that is unbalanced by magnesium is much more likely to get deposited in the wrong places in your body, such as your arteries, your skin, and even the valves of your heart.

Today, leading nutritional doctors, including our own Dr. Ward Dean, are recommending that magnesium be taken in amounts equal to calcium. For instance, if you were taking 500 mgs of calcium a day, you would also take 500 mgs of magnesium. And for the record, it’s unlikely that any person, male or female, has any good reason to take more than 500 mgs of calcium a day.  Remember, you are also getting calcium from your food.  A good diet is going to provide at least 500 mgs of calcium, so if you were taking 500 mgs in supplement form, that’s 1000 mgs total, and I dare say that that’s enough calcium for anybody.

The Extend Core multi from VRP which I take, and which was designed by Dr. Ward Dean, provides 150 mgs of calcium and 150 mgs of magnesium in each daily dose.

And speaking of food, green vegetables are one of the best sources of calcium- better than milk. By that I mean that green vegetables have a better calcium-to-phosphorus ratio than milk. But guess what? Green vegetables are also a very rich source of magnesium. You can actually see the magnesium in green vegetables. Magnesium is at the center of every molecule of chlorophyll which accounts for the green color. So when you see green, you are actually looking at white: the mineral magnesium. Why does it look green? It’s because of the prism effect which traps that the wavelengths of sunlight that show as green. But, the magnesium itself is white.

The only caveat here is that you should emphasize the low-oxalate green vegetables. Some green vegetables, particularly the spinach family, which includes spinach, beet greens, and swiss chard, are high in oxalic acid which binds calcium rendering it less available or unavailable. Kale, collards, and romaine lettuce are relatively low in oxalic acid and are therefore better choices. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat spinach at all; just don’t make the whole salad out of spinach.

Other unrefined plant foods are also high in magnesium, including nuts (particularly almonds and brazil nuts), oil seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, sesame), whole grains and legumes (which includes peas, lentils, and all kinds of beans).  Animal foods are notoriously low in magnesium, and even cow's milk is relatively deficient in it.  So, the bottom line is that magnesium is another good reason to eat a plant-based diet.