Magnesium vs. Calcium: Strike a Balance

by Melissa Coats, ND

Are you increasing your calcium intake to strengthen your bones? Be aware: If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium in your body, your muscles may go into spasm, which can be particularly harmful for your heart. Many people don’t get enough magnesium via diet or supplement, while calcium tends to be prescribed more often and taken in high quantities. This can cause more harm than good; instead, strive for the proper balance between these two minerals.

Magnesium participates in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body and is required for the activation of the sodium and potassium pump that pumps sodium out of and potassium into the cells. Magnesium functions to help:

  • Activate muscles and nerves.
  • Create energy in your body by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
  • Digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
  • Serve as a building block for RNA and DNA and cellular replication.

It’s also a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin, which elevates mood and helps us deal with stress, and has been shown to benefit your blood pressure and help prevent sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, and stroke. Insufficient magnesium can also be related to constipation and other issues within the GI.

It’s important to remember that certain medications, including blood pressure medications known as ACE inhibitors, can deplete magnesium. Diuretics can also deplete magnesium and other minerals. If you take a magnesium supplement, pay attention to your ratios of calcium, vitamin K2 and vitamin D, as these nutrients work together synergistically.

What form of magnesium is best? Typically magnesium citrate or glycinate, found at health food stores, are more absorbable and bio-available than other forms. Magnesium citrate can help when you are dealing with constipation; glycinate is often useful if you are in a depleted state and working to balance out your levels.

A peaceful and relaxing way to soothe your muscles and at the same time get some magnesium is to take an Epsom salt bath. A study at the University of Birmingham showed that you can increase your magnesium levels simply by adding 2 cups of Epsom salts to a warm bath and soaking for 10-15 minutes.

Eating foods rich in magnesium can help too. Foods with exceptionally high magnesium content include seaweed, coriander, pumpkin seeds, unsweetened cocoa powder, and almond butter. It’s also beneficial to consume plenty of organic green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Other sources of magnesium:

  • almonds
  • beet greens
  • black-eyed peas
  • brown rice
  • cashews
  • collard greens
  • halibut
  • lentils
  • lima beans
  • mackerel
  • molasses
  • oats
  • soy beans
  • steamed spinach
  • swiss chard

As always, ask your physician before making dietary changes.

Sources and references available by emailing Dr. Melissa Coats is a licensed naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, AZ at Naturopathic Specialists, LLC ( If you have a question for Dr. Coats, email her at

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