Calcium: The Coolest Mineral in Town
Not only is calcium essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth, but it's also got some seriously cool TCM properties. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, calcium is thought to be a "cooling" mineral that can help counteract the warming effects of other foods and herbs. Plus, TCM believes that calcium plays a role in nourishing the blood and calming the mind. Don’t forget to take your chill pills, everyone!
When it comes to food sources, there are plenty of options for getting your daily dose of calcium. Despite the hype around dairy products and calcium, many people cannot or do not tolerate dairy products, and some research suggests dairy products may contribute to inflammation and a more acidic pH. Bone broth is an excellent source of bioavailable calcium from animal sources - perfect for cultures where dairy products aren't commonly consumed. But make sure you are choosing clean animal sources to deliver vital nutrients without tagalong contaminants.
Look to the leafy greens for calcium, including kale, spinach, and collard greens. As far as whole grains and seeds go, best calcium sources include oatmeal, amaranth, and sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste). Oh, and don’t forget blackstrap molasses, delivering 135 mg calcium per teaspoon! Lastly, fortified foods like tofu, and orange juice offer additional options. Now, let me introduce you to magnesium.
Magnesium is a mineral powerhouse that works hard to keep our bodies running smoothly. In fact, it's involved in over 300 different biochemical reactions, including producing and utilizing energy, regulating blood sugar levels and blood pressure, supporting nerve and muscle function, and keeping our hearts beating in a healthy rhythm.
Magnesium has been dubbed "nature's calcium channel blocker" because of its ability to reduce soft tissue calcium and calcified plaque. This, in turn, can improve blood flow and blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, arteries, and the smooth muscle of the heart. By adding magnesium-rich foods to your diet, you could be doing your heart and circulatory system a big favor.
Magnesium can be found in a variety of delicious foods, including nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds, as well as legumes such as black beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas. Leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa are also great sources of magnesium.
Traditional Chinese Medicine views magnesium as a warming mineral that can promote circulation and relaxation in the muscles. Considering its involvement in activating enzymes, you can bet magnesium is warming! It's also believed to have a calming effect on the mind, making it a great choice for reducing stress and anxiety. In fact, Chinese dietary therapy uses magnesium-rich foods therapeutically to help with a range of issues, including migraines, muscle cramps and spasms, irritability, mood swings, sleep disorders, and even constipation.
Growing on Empty
It's no secret that minerals like calcium and magnesium are essential to our health, but despite their importance, many people are not getting enough of them in their diet. Why is that? Well, there are several factors at play.
Soil depletion is a big one. Studies have shown that the use of nitrogen-based, synthetic fertilizers since the 1940s has resulted in a dramatic reduction in calcium content of crops like leafy greens and snap beans. And, to make matters worse, vitamin C - which helps with calcium absorption - is also much lower in crops that use nitrogen fertilizers.
But it's not just calcium that's affected by soil depletion. Magnesium deficiency is also widespread, and this is due in large part to our diets. Animal products are not significant sources of magnesium, and in the United States, more than two-thirds of the population has a chronically magnesium-deficient diet, which can be directly linked to an overall deficient intake of vegetables and plants.
Foods grown in magnesium-depleted soils yield fewer nutrients per serving, and more magnesium content is lost post-harvest through refrigeration, transport, and storage of conventionally grown produce. Processing foods also continues to decrease the magnesium content, especially when milling grains or roasting seeds. Even cooking leafy greens can leach out some of the magnesium.
But why is magnesium so important? Well, our bodies require it to metabolize and detoxify processed foods with high sugar content, including soda and alcoholic beverages. In fact, research shows that the body requires at least 28 magnesium molecules to metabolize a single glucose molecule! Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be enough magnesium available to keep up with the body's demand.
So, what can we do? Fortunately, supplementation can help individuals maintain healthy levels of these essential minerals. But it's important to remember that not all supplements are created equal, and it's always best to get our nutrients from whole, nutrient-dense foods whenever possible.
Calcium and Magnesium, a yin and yang relationship
Calcium and magnesium have a dynamic partnership that benefits our bodies in multiple ways. They are dependent on each other for absorption and excretion and work together to maintain healthy bones and teeth, as well as nerve and muscle function. When it comes to calcium, it’s all about strength and structure. Calcium is essential for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, but it also plays a role in blood clotting, muscle function, and nerve signaling.
On the other hand, magnesium is a calming mineral that helps relax muscles and nerves, promoting healthy blood pressure, and regulating heart rhythm. It helps transport calcium in and out of cells, ensuring that the right amount of calcium is present where it's needed, and not accumulating in the wrong places. Magnesium also supports the immune system and promotes healthy digestion.
The yin and yang relationship between these minerals is essential to our overall health and well-being. Calcium represents the active, energizing yang element, while magnesium represents the calming, balancing yin element. When these minerals are in balance, we feel grounded and centered, with a healthy balance of energy and calm.
It's important to note that too much of one mineral can negatively impact the other. For example, excessive calcium intake can lead to magnesium deficiency, as the body prioritizes calcium absorption over magnesium. Conversely, too much magnesium can lead to decreased calcium absorption. This is why it's important to maintain a balanced diet that includes both calcium and magnesium-rich foods or to take a supplement that contains a balanced ratio of these minerals.
Balance Calcium and Magnesium Intake for Optimal Health
Have you ever been on a seesaw? Finding the right balance for an equal opportunity to be fully utilized. In order for the body to carry out important functions, calcium and magnesium must be in constant balance. Previous recommendations suggested a 2:1 calcium-to-magnesium ratio, but recent research suggests that a 1:1 ratio is more beneficial. Unfortunately, many people are deficient in magnesium due to the overemphasis on calcium fortification and supplementation.
If magnesium intake is insufficient, excess calcium can accumulate in soft tissues, leading to serious health consequences. For example, in Alzheimer's disease, beta-amyloid plaques form in the brain, damaging nerve cells and hindering blood flow due to calcium deposits. Additionally, high levels of calcium in the blood can lead to calcification of the arteries, a precursor to atherosclerosis. Magnesium plays a crucial role in supporting calcium absorption and preventing these negative effects by removing excess calcium from soft tissue and returning it to the bones.
The Absorption Anomaly
You may have heard the saying, “You are what you eat”. However, it is not actually true. Ayurveda, another traditional medicine system rooted in energetics say, “You are what you absorb.” This is especially challenging when it comes to absorbing rocks, uh, I mean, minerals.
Despite the importance of calcium and magnesium, obtaining adequate amounts can be difficult through diet alone due to soil depletion and various absorption factors such as age, diet, medications, and health conditions. Even with sufficient consumption, these minerals may not be absorbed effectively.
To enhance calcium absorption, several strategies can be employed. Daily intake of vitamin D from natural or fortified foods and supplements can help. Consuming foods high in calcium and magnesium, such as seaweed and leafy greens, as well as those that are chlorophyll-rich can also improve absorption. Moderate exercise and presoaking grains and legumes can also help neutralize phytic acid, which binds to minerals and hinders absorption. Limiting oxalic acid-containing foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beet greens, and cranberries is also advisable. Choosing high-quality calcium magnesium supplements with a 1:1 ratio of the two minerals is also recommended.
Calcium and Magnesium – a Dynamic Dietary Duo
In summary calcium and magnesium are two minerals that are essential for various biological functions in the body. While they have distinct roles, they also work synergistically to support overall health. Due to soil depletion and other factors, it can be challenging to obtain sufficient amounts of these minerals through diet alone. By following the tips mentioned in this article, such as eating more plant-based foods, exercising regularly, and choosing the right form of supplements, you can improve your intake and absorption of these vital minerals.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the relationship between calcium and magnesium can be seen as a yin and yang balance. Calcium is the active, constructive yang element, while magnesium is the calming, smooth-flowing element. This balance is crucial for regulating the cell's electrical impulses and maintaining overall health. By understanding their roles and how they work together, we can ensure that we are getting the right balance, or yin and yang, of these essential minerals for optimal health. Remember, making small changes to your diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on your overall health and wellbeing.
Jenny Perez is an herbal educator, researcher, and writer who has been immersed in the field of nutrition and botanical medicine for more than 20 years. Jenny has created curriculum, content, and educational materials for Premier Research Labs, the American Botanical Council, and Bastyr University’s Botanical Medicine Department where she was Adjunct Faculty, Herb Garden Manager, and Director of the Holistic Landscape Design certificate program.