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Calcium for bone health is one of the most widely doctor-recommended supplements, but conventional advice to take it typically omits a few important facts. Too much supplemental calcium, as well as too little, can be detrimental to your health. And it doesn’t work alone. Calcium needs a few other important nutrients—magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2—to deliver its rightful benefits.
Calcium and Magnesium
These two minerals need to be balanced because they work together in the human body. For example, calcium excites nerves and makes muscles contract, while magnesium calms nerves and makes muscles relax. Calcium is used in blood clotting, while magnesium helps to prevent dangerous clots.
Too much calcium in relation to magnesium leads to an exaggerated and lingering stress response in nerves, muscles, and hormones. Such an imbalance can also raise levels of chronic inflammation and is linked to heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, cognitive problems, and premature death. And this type of imbalance is rampant.
During the past few decades, studies have suggested that the optimum ratio of calcium to magnesium is under 2:1—at least 250 mg of magnesium with 500 mg of calcium, as an example. But the typical American consumes a ratio of 3:1—too little magnesium in relation to calcium.
Since the late 1970s, the amount of calcium in American diets has increased more than twice as much as magnesium because calcium—but not magnesium—is added to many processed foods. A rise in chronic diseases parallels this trend.
The Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium Trio
Vitamin D is recognized as being essential for the absorption of calcium, as well as overall health. And vitamin D supplements have gained popularity in recent years, especially as we spend more time indoors, so our bodies produce less of the “sunshine vitamin.”
But without adequate magnesium intake, vitamin D cannot become fully active in the human body, and even high doses may not correct a deficiency. In addition, high-dose vitamin D supplements—often taken today—can severely deplete magnesium, creating or worsening an imbalance with calcium.
A balanced combination of these nutrients provides optimum benefits. While calcium alone does not reduce fractures in older people, studies have found that a combination of vitamin D and magnesium has reduced the incidence of fractures, Alzheimer’s disease, and death.
Calcium and Vitamin K2
Studies show that high levels of calcium can promote heart disease through calcification and stiffening of arteries. Vitamin K2 can prevent and possibly reverse these conditions, enabling calcium to be better utilized for bone health and other functions, without the risks.
The richest food source of vitamin K2 is natto, a Japanese fermented soy food, but other foods are not likely to provide adequate amounts. Studies have found that two forms of the vitamin are effective: MK-4 and MK-7. Supplements may contain one or both forms, and the vitamin is sometimes combined with other nutrients in formulas for bone health.
How to Get Enough Calcium—But Not Too Much
Experts recommend 1,000 mg of calcium daily for adults, and 1,200 mg daily for women over 50 and men over 70. These refer to total intake from food and supplements, not supplements alone.
To identify the right amount of supplemental calcium for you, calculate the amount of calcium in your diet. If you fall short, take supplements to ﬁll the gap. For example, if you need 1,000 mg and your diet provides 700 mg, supplement with 300 mg.
To get the full beneﬁts, also take these nutrients that work with calcium:
Magnesium: Most Americans are deﬁcient. To maintain a balance with cal-cium, the daily requirement would be at least half of your optimum calcium intake: 500 mg of magnesium for women up to age 50 and men up to age 70, and 600 mg after that.
Vitamin D: Daily recommended amounts are 600 IU (15 mcg) for adults up to age 70 and 800 IU (20 mcg) thereafter, assuming you get minimal sun exposure. Use supplements to make up any shortfall in your diet or get a vitamin D blood test and take enough to achieve optimum blood levels.
Vitamin K2: There is no set recommendation for daily intake of vitamin K2, and studies have used a range of doses. Research supports 180 mcg daily of the MK-7 form and 1,500 mcg daily for the MK-4 form.
How to Calculate Amounts of Calcium, Magnesium, and Vitamin D in Your Diet
To track the amount of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D in your typical meals, snacks, and beverages, use a website or app such as:
myﬁtnesspal.com: website and app
Although free food-tracking versions of these are available, you may need to use a paid version to track speciﬁc nutrient intake. However, once you get a sense of where you stand, you won’t need to continually track individual nutrients unless you make signiﬁcant changes in your diet.
Visit these Better Nutrition links for more articles about calcium, including:
Can You Take Too Much Calcium? www.betternutrition.com/features-dept/can-you-take-too-much-calcium
Calcium Myths and Facts betternutrition.com/checkout/calcium-myths
Eating for Bone Health betternutrition.com/diet-and-nutrition/7-high-calcium-foods-for-bone-health
Garden of Life Living Calcium Advanced
Nature’s Answer Marine Based Cal-Mag
New Chapter Bone Strength take care Slim Tabs