Magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in our body, and over half of it is stored in the skeleton, where it works with other minerals to strengthen bone.
Magnesium is mostly lost in modern food processing, so it’s common for people to take in too little — and even in people with supposedly “normal” serum magnesium levels, there can be cause for concern, as levels may simply reflect low intake that has been offset by removal of this key mineral from bone (Ismail et al., 2010).
And as I mentioned in an earlier post, higher levels of magnesium in the body are associated with a reduced fracture rate — so making sure we get enough in the diet really warrants more attention, especially for those at risk of osteoporotic fractures.
Beyond that, magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymes systems and is extremely important not only to our skeletal system, but also to every other system within the body, including the muscles, cardiovascular system, blood glucose regulation and the nervous system. A few things you might not know:
- Research has found that increased dietary magnesium intake confers protection not only against fractures, but also type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (Bo et al., 2008). Taking large amounts of calcium in the face of magnesium deficiency can cause calcium to precipitate out, contributing to kidney stones and hardening of the arteries.
- A recent 20-year study has found that serum magnesium levels often are below normal in depressed adults. Depression that resists treatment by other means has been found to response to magnesium supplementation (Rajizadeh et al., 2017) — which makes sense, given that many commonly used antidepressants raise serum magnesium as a side effect (Eby & Eby, 2010).
- Except for children under the age of 5, all individuals studied, regardless of age, gender, or race, failed to consume even the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium — 320 mg/day for women, 420 mg/day for men — and even that, in my opinion, is below the optimal.
My magnesium challenge for you
Can we get enough magnesium in our diets without using supplements? I’m a big believer in getting the nutrients we need through food, but I’m not sure the average person can do it — because looking at a chart of foods’ magnesium content (below), it’s pretty clear to me that the task of getting upward of 400—800 mg/day to restore bone stores and maintain adequate serum levels is a Herculean one. (This is an important reason why Better Bones Builder contains a daily dose 600 mg of magnesium in alkalzing form.)
How are you at making the most out of magnesium-rich foods? I’d love to hear input from readers on recipes that offer up a full day’s supply — at least 400 mg — of this vital nutrient!
Bo S, Pisu E. Role of dietary magnesium in cardiovascular disease prevention, insulin sensitivity and diabetes. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2008 Feb;19(1):50–56.
Eby GA, Eby KL. Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: A review and hypothesis. Med Hypotheses 2010;74(4):649–660.
Ismail Y, Ismail AA, Ismail AAA. The underestimated problem of using serum magnesium measurements to exclude magnesium deficiency in adults; a health warning is needed for “normal” results. Clin Chem Lab Med 2010;48:323–327.
Moshfegh A, Goldman J, Ahuja J, Rhodes D, LaComb R. 2009. What We Eat in America, NHANES 2005-2006: Usual Nutrient Intakes from Food and Water Compared to 1997 Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D, Calcium, Phosphorus, and Magnesium . U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
Pennington, J et al., Mineral content of foods and total diets: The Selected minerals in Foods Survey, 1982 to 1984 J Am Diet Assoc 1986;86:876-91.
Rajizadeh A, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Yassini-Ardakani M, Dehghani A. Effect of magnesium supplementation on depression status in depressed patients with magnesium deficiency: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition 2017;35:56–60.
Women with osteopenia may be able to reduce their bone breakdown by consuming a daily amount of 9 or more servings of vegetables and fruits. But not just any vegetables and fruits, as reported by a recent New Zealand study that highlighted which bone superfoods can make the biggest difference.
Here’s what these researchers found when they tested the effects of known bone super foods on women’s ability to build bone.
How the study tested bone superfoods
The study group of 142 postmenopausal women (mean age 60 years) was divided into three groups: a control group, which had no change to their existing diets, and two intervention groups of 50 women each, both of which were instructed to increase their consumption of vegetables and fruits to 9 or more servings (1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw) each day and to add some aromatic culinary herbs to each meal. Participants in one group chose from foods that emphasized specific vegetables/herbs/fruit known to reduce bone breakdown (aka bone superfoods). The other group was left to choose their 9 servings per day, but could not consume any of the bone superfoods.
Most of the women in the intervention groups (52%) had osteopenia; the rest mainly had normal bone density, although a few had osteoporosis.
No surprise: More plant foods lead to better bone health
The study found that:
- Both intervention groups consuming the 9 servings of vegetables experienced significantly reduced loss of calcium and a rise in urinary pH compared to the control group.
- Women in the group that ate the bone superfoods were the only ones to reach the daily internationally recommended level of 4700 mg of the key bone nutrient, potassium.
- A significant reduction in bone breakdown was seen in women with osteopenia whose 9 or more servings of vegetables and fruits included the bone superfoods. This is a very positive marker, as excessive bone breakdown leads to further osteopenia and even osteoporosis.
Are you eating these superfoods?
Here are the foods that are so effective at building bone. Some of them may surprise you!
- Green, leafy vegetables like kale, bok choy or red cabbage
- Citrus fruits
- Green beans
Here at the Center for Better Bones, we’ve long championed our Alkaline for Life Diet® — high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses and spices — as the ideal bone-enhancing eating program. Our helpful graphic shows you what a bone-superfood Alkaline Diet looks like. How close is your current diet to this ideal?
Gunn CA, Weber JL, McGill A-T, Kruger MC. Increased intake of selected vegetables, herbs and fruit may reduce bone turnover in post-menopausal women. Nutrients 2015; 7(4): 2499–2517.
When I talk to some of my clients about exercise, I know a lot of them aren’t enthusiastic, thinking I’m going to tell them they need to spend hours lifting heavy weights and sweating in a gym. After all, everyone knows it’s weight-bearing exercise — and lots of it — that builds bone and lowers the risk of fractures, right?
Surprise! Not necessarily. Two new studies show that even small amounts of low-impact exercise have a positive effect on fracture risk.
Twenty minutes of walking does the trick
The first study (Stattin et al., 2017) followed over 65,000 Swedish men and women for 17 years and found that participants who walked or bicycled daily for even short periods of time had a lower fracture rate compared with those who did not. Regardless of sex or age, even relatively sedentary people could lower their fracture risk by exercising just a little bit every day. As long as they got at least an hour of exercise per week, these otherwise inactive people had a 13% lower rate of hip fractures and a 6% lower rate of any fracture compared to people who did none at all.
It’s worth emphasizing that the findings held true whether you looked at any fracture (including common, relatively mild fractures like vertebral or wrist fractures) or the more serious and life-changing hip fractures that everyone fears.
Of course, the more exercise they got, the better the results: those with 20 minutes of walking or cycling every day, which translates to about 2 hours per week — had a 23% lower rate of hip fracture and a 13% lower rate of any fracture. That’s a pretty good return for not a lot of effort — just imagine what you get when you do even more!
Light loads do more than you think
The second study (Hamaguchi et al., 2017) had a small group of 7 postmenopausal women undergo six weeks of training wearing a weighted vest with 380-760 g (roughly from 1.75 pounds) of added weight. With just two workout sessions per week, the participants saw improvements in pelvis BMD (1.6%) and knee extensor strength (15.5%) — which is helpful in maintaining balance and preventing falls. Workouts consisted of squats, front lunges, side lunges, calf raises and toe raises (eight sets of three repetitions with a 15-second rest between each set).
A little bit goes a long way
I know that it can be hard to start exercising if you’re not accustomed to it, and especially if you’re recovering from a muscle strain or a fracture, the get-up-and-go impulse just isn’t there. But you don’t have to do a lot to get benefit from it! Both of these studies show that a little goes a long way.
Hamaguchi K, Kurihara T, Fujimoto M, et al. The effects of low-repetition and light-load power training on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women with sarcopenia: a pilot study. BMC Geriatrics 2017;17:102. doi:10.1186/s12877-017-0490-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5414134/
Stattin K., Michaëlsson K., Larsson S.C., Wolk A., & Byberg L. Leisure-Time Physical Activity and Risk of Fracture: A Cohort Study of 66,940 Men and Women. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 2017;32(8):1599-1606. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.3161.