Lack of magnesium makes your bones weak. However, according to a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, if you increase your magnesium intake from food or supplements, you can prevent bone fractures, which is a common problem among middle-aged and old people. Although calcium and vitamin D are normally touted as being important for strong bones, it is equally important to get enough magnesium and to generally be aware of factors such as diet, medicine consumption, and lifestyle, all of which can deplete levels of this essential mineral.
A bone fracture can happen to anyone. In most cases, they occur in the wrists, hips, ankles, hands, and feet, and the type of fracture varies according to age. Hip fractures are typically seen in old age. In the United States alone, around 20 percent of people who sustain bone fractures die from accompanying complications within a year. The mineral content of bones is a determining factor for the likelihood of a fracture. Osteoporosis that increases your fracture risk can even affect young and middle-aged people who eat an unhealthy diet or don’t exercise properly. Bone-strengthening measures are important throughout life, and it is also vital to get plenty of calcium.
From cradle to grave, worn out bone tissue is replaced by healthy tissue. As long as we build bone at a faster rate than we break it down, we are able to maintain healthy bones. Nonetheless, from the age of around 30 years, our bone deterioration gradually speeds up, and a magnesium deficiency contributes to the process.
Magnesium channels calcium into the bone cells
Approximately half of the body’s magnesium is stored in our bone tissue. The remaining part is found in muscles and other soft tissue. Magnesium is involved in more than 350 enzyme processes. Cell membranes have calcium channels where magnesium functions as a “bouncer” that controls the flow of calcium in and out of the cells. In bone cells, most of the calcium needs to enter the cell, whereas it is important that the calcium concentration in muscle cells (and cells in other types of soft tissue) is very low. This is where magnesium is needed to control that each cell type has the exact right calcium content.
If we have too little magnesium in the body, the transport of calcium in and out of the cells cannot function properly. With too little calcium in our bone cells, we are at increased risk of osteoporosis. With too much calcium in our muscle cells, on the other hand, we may get muscle cramps.
Magnesium deficiencies increase the risk of osteoporosis
It is known among scientists that magnesium is of vital importance to bones. Nonetheless, no studies so far have managed to demonstrate a link to bone fractures.
Therefore, scientists from the University of Bristol in the UK and the University of Eastern Finland followed 2,245 middle-aged men for a 20-year period. The scientists found that men with lower blood levels of magnesium had an increased risk of bone fractures, especially hip fractures.
The more magnesium, the lower the fracture risk
The study showed that the risk of sustaining a bone fracture was 44% lower among those men who had the highest magnesium levels. During the 20 year study period, no fractures were recorded among the 22 male participants with the highest magnesium levels (>2,3 mg/dl). According to Dr. Setor Kunutsor from the University of Bristol, the study shows that it is possible to prevent bone fractures simply by avoiding low magnesium concentrations in the blood.
Magnesium deficiency is common
We primarily get magnesium from whole-grain, nuts, kernels, seeds, cabbage, and other compact vegetables, but most people fail to adhere with the official dietary guidelines. Also, factors such as stress, too much calcium from dairy products or supplements, certain gastrointestinal disorders, insulin resistance, overconsumption of sugar, stimulant abuse, and the use of diuretics may inhibit the uptake of magnesium or deplete the body’s magnesium levels.
The study shows that low magnesium levels are very common, especially among middle-aged and older people who are more prone to bone fractures, in the first place. This new study should therefore instigate the health sector to carry out routine monitoring of blood magnesium levels – especially among older people. However, because osteoporosis takes many years to develop, it is vital that people are aware of the necessity of having sufficient magnesium levels from an early stage.
According to Professor Jari Laukkanen from the University of Eastern Finland, it is possible to prevent bone fractures by increasing people’s magnesium levels with help from supplements. It is important to make sure to use supplements with good bioavailability.
Common causes of magnesium deficiency
Magnesium supplements and quality – a quick test
Some magnesium supplements contain both organic and inorganic magnesium sources, which gives better utilization of the nutrient. However, some magnesium products have better absorption than others. A good way to test this is by dropping a magnesium tablet into a glass of water and watching how fast it dissolves. If it dissolves in less than a minute, it is a good sign that the tablet will dissolve fast in the stomach so the body can absorb the magnesium content.
Balance magnesium with calcium
Because there is an intricate interplay between calcium and magnesium inside the cells, it is vital that you maintain the proper balance between the two minerals. Calcium and magnesium should normally be ingested in a 2:1 ratio (for instance 800-1000 mg of calcium/400-500 mg magnesium)
In the Far East where half the population never consumes dairy products but eats more vegetables, people get the minerals in a 1:1 ratio. There is evidence suggesting that this is better for bone health.
Why do the Japanese have less osteoporosis and fewer bone fractures?
Japanese people who consume their traditional diet consume far less calcium and more magnesium than Europeans and Americans. The Japanese also have fewer cases of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Vitamin D and vitamin K2 from fermented foods may play a role. The Japanese even have the highest life expectancy.
University of Bristol. Magnesium could prevent fractures, say researchers. ScienceDaily 2017
Setor Kwadzo Kunutsor et al Low serum magnesium levels are associated with increased risk of fractures: a long-term prospective cohort study. European Journal of Epidemiology. 2017
Andrea Rosanoff et al. Essential Nutrient Interactions: Does Low or Suboptimal Magnesium Interact with Vitamin D and/or Calcium status. Advances in Nutrition 2016 http://advances.nutrition.org/content/7/1/25.full
Fujita T, Fukase M. Comparison of osteoporosis and calcium intake between Japan and United States. PubMed. 2002
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