2 Great Things that Go Great Together: Calcium and Magnesium

2 Great Things that Go Great Together: Calcium and Magnesium

You've Got Some Nerves

While Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are the true “two great things that go great together,” calcium and magnesium take first place for those with MS. Many proponents of special diets for MS encourage the consumption of foods high in this mineral dynamic duo (along with other vitamins needed for effective absorption), and for seemingly good reason.

Magnesium and calcium need each other in order to be effectively absorbed and used by the body. While many people may get enough calcium in their diet, it doesn’t hurt to double-check the nutritional guidelines. Postmenopausal women, in particular, should consider calcium supplementation. For this column, I want to focus on the role of magnesium for people with MS.

According to several sources, the typical United States diet may not provide sufficient magnesium. In 2006, the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, publishing on the relationship between magnesium and exercise, found that a significant number of individuals do not consume sufficient magnesium. Similar results were found in another review, which also pointed out the potential effects of magnesium on neuromuscular function — something we can all agree is especially important for those of us with MS. Magnesium is often prescribed for nocturnal leg cramps or general muscle cramps, and some healthcare providers suggest it can be used to ease the muscle spasms of MS.

An article in Medical Hypotheses discusses the reasons for widespread magnesium deficiency and the subsequent health effects and complications. One possible health complication listed is multiple sclerosis. The article explains that when there is a deficiency, not only is the body missing the direct magnesium that it needs (for bones, soft tissue, and nerve function), but it is also struggling to get enough of dozens of minerals, vitamins, and enzymes required for healthy function. Magnesium is, according to the article, “extremely important for the metabolism of Ca, K, P, Zn, Cu, Fe, Na, Pb, Cd, HCl, acetylcholine, and nitric oxide (NO), for many enzymes, for the intracellular homeostasis and for activation of thiamine and therefore, for a very wide gamut of crucial body functions.”

While I do not fully understand intracellular homeostasis, I do get the picture that this is one mineral we do not want to run short of. The article also points out that magnesium levels in the body are reduced by a diet high in salt, phosphoric acid (sodas), and coffee. Profuse sweating or intense, prolonged stress can also contribute to a loss of magnesium.

One National Institutes of Health study found that MS relapse rates decreased through dietary supplementation with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. The authors state that “the results tend to support a theory of MS which states that calcium and magnesium are important in the development, structure and stability of myelin.”

In honor of the recent Easter weekend, let’s consider a “chicken or egg” scenario. Many studies have found people with MS to be more deficient in various vitamins and minerals than the average rooster. If you put in a web search for MS and magnesium, a host of links will appear, dozens of which tout magnesium deficiency as the true “cause” of MS. I’ve been around this chicken coop long enough to know that today’s smoking poultry is tomorrow’s old hen. In other words, I believe there is still work to be done in solving the cause, and manifesting the prevention, of MS. While there is clearly a connection, we do not know whether the MS or the magnesium deficiency came first, nor do we know the how and why of it. The good news is, we know that there are some super yummy and healthy foods high in magnesium. Coincidentally, several of them are also anti-inflammatory foods.

Considering adding a few of these to your daily menu:

  • Avocado
  • Almonds
  • Fig
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Bananas
  • Black beans
  • Tofu
  • Edamame
  • Quinoa

As often as you can, eat whole foods versus processed food. Vitamins and minerals are often lost in processing. Seventy-five percent of phytonutrients are removed in refined flour, and only a few are put back in when flours are “enriched.” Magnesium is not one of them. Magnesium is also removed during the processing of sugar, so try a little molasses instead.

As a person with MS who sweats via exercise or hot flash on a regular basis, and who experiences added stress in her life due to the complications of having a chronic illness, I want to ensure that my body gets the best nutrition possible. In addition to experimenting with recipes involving almond butter, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and molasses, this MS chick enjoys a regular nightcap of calcium-magnesium-citrate effervescent powder. In addition to helping calm my muscle spasms, I now envision the magnesium opening a door and releasing the other vitamins, minerals, and enzymes onto my nervous system to make repairs and set things right.

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

5 comments

  1. FB says:

    Quite a good article – and I entirely agree that the vast majority of people (both with and without MS) do not get enough magnesium. However, it should be noted that calcium and magnesium taken in isolation are not necessarily the best thing for you. It is correct that “Many proponents of special diets for MS encourage the consumption of foods high in this mineral dynamic duo (along with other vitamins needed for effective absorption)…” but there should be a little more emphasis on the “along with other vitamins”, especially if people are taking extra Vit d (which many PwMS do).

    Calcium can contribute to cardiovascular issues, and this can be “exacerbated” by fairly high levels of Vit D supplementation if the essential “other vitamins” (and minerals) are lacking. This is partly why so many PwMS have arguments with their doctors about Vit D supplementation – but generally neither party is aware of the other things that are required as part of Vit D and calcium metabolisation.

    In a grossly over-simplified nutshell – you need the other vitamins and minerals to “assist” Vit D with sending the calcium you consume (whether it be in food or via supplementation) from your blood into bones etc. Magnesium is one of these, Vitamin K2 is another. There are some properly conducted studies (mostly with elderly people because of their very high fracture risks) which have shown that when the other “essentials” (such as Vit K2) are given with Vit D and calcium the actual number of fractures decreased per X number of subjects. Adequate magnesium intake is a part of this Vit D pathway, although not mentioned specifically in the studies I found.

    I highly recommend the information summarised by the Vit D council on this webpage. Note that the MS experts at Barts School of Medicine and Dentistry in the UK endorse the Vit D Council’s recommendations on Vit D supplementation, citing “bone health” as the reason because there are currently no conclusive studies on Vit D and MS, just very strong correlations.
    https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/how-do-other-minerals-and-vitamins-interact-with-vitamin-d/?highlight=selenium

  2. Agnes Weessies says:

    Going back much further than either study was an article written in ancient history, 1970’s. It was found that for calcium to be properly up taken into our systems it need half the amount you take in calcium, to be taken in magnesium. So take 1000 mg of cal and make sure you take 500 mg of magnesium. I wish I could site the specific article but its been a while. Then fast forward to the mid 1990’s and me sitting in a bio chemistry class. Again at the U of UT we were told the same thing. Now I will digress to personal experience. When I was pregnant the first time the Dr knew something was wrong but could not put his finger on exactly what. Second pregnancy by month 4 my heart would some strange butterfly like flutters. It didn’t hurt and knowing well the signs of a the art attack, I just mentioned it my obstetrician. He immediately got me into a cardiologist. After a halter monitor and many other tests, it was found I had had rheumatic fever at some time in my youth. Yet other than a mild mitral valve prolapse he said I was the healthiest person he had seen. He questioned everything I was doing. When it came out that starting 10 years previous I had started taking daily supplements of the above dose of calcium magnesium. I did it Beause a coach for softball told me it helped to flush lactic acids out of your muscles following exercise and you wouldn’t get sore. Now you might go ah ha. I’ve suffered from blood clots. Been in the hospital with DVT. The cause was not the calcium it was the estrogen I was put on for premature ovarian shutdown.

    While the article warning about calcium may make you throw your bottles out it opens up a whole lot of other questions. First and formost is was it supplemented with magnesium? Your body only uptakes about 10% of calcium without magnesium and nearly 90% when combined. Like me was there estrogen in the equation of medicines given? That could be in the form of birth control. Then what were the family history of each woman in the study? Was there heart disease in the families? That is a huge risk. So ask more, and research more.

    Back in the 1950’s forward, all fats were bad and to be avoided. Margerine which was hydrogenated corn oil was seen as supreme for consumption. We found out more about fats, and there were so many types with different affects on the body. I put the article from New Zealand in the category of the 1950’s style of all is bad. More questions than answers. Statistics classes taught me how easy it is to skew a study by only scratching the surface rather than using it as a starting point.

    As for my son who has MS, he has great blood work, has no heart problems and went from not being able to sit up and his organs shutting down before an ER doctor finally did tests to confirm her suspicions it was MS. He fought his was out of being bed ridden to wheelchair then walker and now just cane to help him walk. None of the Doctors thought he would ever get out of a wheelchair. Yes he gets Tysabri, but mom made sure his diet and supplements were there to aide (not supplant) treatment.

  3. Sue says:

    As a person who can related to extreme sweating related to exercise and hot flashes, do you take the magnesium calcium effervescent powder nightly in addition to another magnesium supplement during the day?

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