The most important fact about health and nutrition is that the topic isn’t simple.
There is no single approach to promote optimal health, and what works well for one person might not work at all for another person.
One reason for this is the differences between people.
But, another reason is the way that compounds interact within the body.
In this case, we’re going to look at three specific compounds, calcium, vitamin D and magnesium.
All of these compounds are considered important for health, but there is the potential for interaction between them.
A recent study (Rosanoff, Dai & Shapses, 2016) looked at this topic, focusing on the interactions between vitamin D and magnesium, as well as between magnesium and calcium.
The authors were particularly interested in how magnesium interacts with vitamin D and calcium in cases where magnesium intake was insufficient.
The Study Itself
This study was different than most other studies that I feature, because it was based entirely on secondary data and it was a theoretical paper.
This means that the authors weren’t looking at the way that a population responded to calcium, vitamin D and magnesium, or to any combination of those compounds.
Instead, the authors were looking at the literature surrounding the topic area and at any information on the biological mechanisms of the compounds.
Because of this, my discussion of the article is going to focus on key pieces of information that the authors presented and the overall messages of the paper.
The authors noted that inadequate magnesium intake can contribute to a range of chronic diseases, including increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.
Additionally, magnesium has been linked to decreased cognition and depression.
Low magnesium levels are common among people who rely heavily on processed foods and have diets high in sugars, fats and refined grains. That makes low levels of magnesium a significant cause for concern.
One estimate that the authors highlighted suggested that around 50% of the adult American population was not receiving enough magnesium.
The authors also discussed how it can be challenging to measure the levels of magnesium in the blood. That issue has implications for research as it makes it more difficult to know how magnesium levels change.
Magnesium and Calcium
In many cases, people with low levels of magnesium (hypomagnesemia) also have low levels of calcium (hypocalcemia).
Additionally, the intake of calcium is known to affect magnesium retention, and the reverse is also true.
In the United States, both calcium and magnesium intakes have been increasing, but calcium intake has been increasing more, especially as some people supplement calcium.
This results in an increased calcium to magnesium ratio, which may not be good for health.
Historical advice suggested that having a 2.0 ratio of calcium to magnesium was ideal, although the authors noted that this ratio was not scientifically supported.
However, the authors did show that having a 2.6-2.8 (or greater) ratio of calcium to magnesium was detrimental for health and suggested that even having a 2.0 ratio could have some negative outcomes.
This pattern has a number of implications.
For one thing, the calcium to magnesium ratio is often not considered in research of calcium supplementation.
As such, the outcomes of such research may not provide complete information about the effectiveness of calcium supplementation.
The pattern also suggests that much of the population is having too much calcium and not enough magnesium.
More research is needed to fully know what levels of the two vitamins should be taken for optimal health, but the information presented in this case is enough to show that there is a concerning relationship.
Vitamin D and Magnesium
Vitamin D has become a popular and heavily discussed vitamin, especially as a significant proportion of the population is actually deficient in vitamin D.
The authors noted that there is a strong relationship between vitamin D and magnesium, as vitamin D is a cofactor in the synthesis and activation of vitamin D.
This means that a deficiency in magnesium can contribute to a deficiency in vitamin D.
This interaction also means that people can be deficient in vitamin D even if they get sufficient sunlight.
Nevertheless, the authors did comment that much more research needs to be done on this topic, including a large-scale experimental study.
Implications of the Study
This particular study was largely theoretical and its main implication was that the relationships between calcium, vitamin D and magnesium are areas that need to be researched much more.
Nevertheless, the study did show that a high ratio of calcium to magnesium could have some negative health implications.
It also showed that low levels of magnesium could theoretically contribute to vitamin D deficiency.
Additionally, the study did highlight the importance of getting sufficient magnesium, especially for people that have high calcium intakes.
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Do you get enough magnesium in your diet? What about calcium and vitamin D?