Carrying on from Part 1 on ‘how to keep your heart healthy’ we will go through the whole process of how cardiovascular disease can happen to a seemingly healthy person.
Stress is the start
We know that stress is the biggest depleter of magnesium. All kinds of stress, be it physical, mental, heat, cold, bereavement, divorce, disease, toothache, workouts, marathons, kids, work, money. You name it, we get stressed from it. It cannot be avoided and we have to live with it. We go from day to day, not realising the kind of stress we are under. We don’t even know we’re stressed because it’s part of everyday life.
Our bodies on the other hand, have to deal with it and if we have a plentiful supply of magnesium, our bodies will be better able to cope with all the stresses life throws at us.
What happens without enough magnesium?
Magnesium has many jobs within our bodies. As it’s necessary for all our cells, if it’s missing or low, we will start to suffer the consequences.¹ Apart from ATP, our energy currency, which was covered in Part 1, magnesium has another vital job and that is to regulate calcium. If these two electrolytes are not in balance and its nearly always high calcium to low magnesium, then a wide range of health problems will ensue, most importantly cardiovascular disease.²
Magnesium’s ‘gatekeeper’ role
Magnesium controls how calcium is used in our cells. Its a sort of cell gatekeeper making sure that calcium goes into the cell when needed and ushered out of the cell when not. Magnesium ion concentrations inside cells are around 10,000 times that of calcium ions. If, for any reason, magnesium levels in cells fall, calcium ions will flood the cells causing cell excitation and hyperactivity.
This reaction is occasionally wanted during the fight-flight response where extra power for strong contraction of muscles is required. The fight-flight response would not happen without calcium flooding into the cells. Stress causes this same reaction which is one reason why we can deplete our reserves of magnesium so easily. The more stress, the more fuel needed and the more magnesium necessary to enable production of that fuel.
Under normal conditions though, you do not want excess muscle contractions. It will cause severe muscle pain through cramping up and this can adversely affect the heart. To relax, muscles need magnesium. If calcium levels increase too much within a cell, the cell changes physically. Calcium will start to calcify, undermining the cell. As more cells are affected, this calcification starts to hamper the proper function of the cardiovascular system.³
Calcium channel blocker
This blocking of calcium from the cells is often done with drugs, with ‘calcium channel blockers’ commonly used for patients with high blood pressure. You may ask why doctors don’t use magnesium, the natural calcium channel blocker. It’s a question I ponder over many times. Magnesium has been proven to reduce blood pressure. The thing is with magnesium, blood pressure will be reduced until it’s at the optimum level and then it will stabilize. Unlike drugs which have to be carefully controlled to make sure the drug doesn’t over perform and reduce blood pressure beyond the optimum.
Magnesium keeps calcium dissolved in the blood
As well as it’s gatekeeper role, magnesium also controls calcium by activating hormones that govern calcium levels and calcium locations within the body. Without enough magnesium, calcium is out of control and able to migrate to parts of the body where it shouldn’t be. Magnesium keeps calcium dissolved in the blood. Without it, calcium will thicken the blood, migrate and/or calcify. Think of kidney stones, arthritis, osteoporosis and calcification in the brain, in breast tissue and in arteries, exacerbating the accumulation of plaque buildup and then calcifying that plaque.
This is the missing link
So here we are with too much calcium swilling around the body with a deficiency of magnesium unable to control it. Already the calcium is creating havoc by calcifying in various places not least within the cardiovascular system. This in turn, starts to deteriorate the cells and they start to die. The resulting loss of energy levels because ATP in the dying cells cease production, slowly undermines the energy output to the heart. At the same time, endothelium cells which line and keep the arteries smooth, are breaking down because of cell death from calcification. The damage induces the immune response which in turn produces more plaque to be hardened by the rogue calcium and so the cascade continues.
As this process spirals out of control, the cells of the heart will continue to calcify and die until the heart can’t function any more. It has been starved of energy until it ceases to pump. It has, in effect, run out of fuel. The depletion of magnesium has caused all this devastation. Just one simple essential mineral, needed to produce energy through Mg-ATP and at the same time control calcium. It’s a double whammy. Magnesium deficiency undermines the integrity of the cardiovascular system from the cellular level up.
The devastating process in a nutshell
So here we have it in a nutshell – Stress depletes magnesium, Mg-ATP declines, heart and arteries lose energy, calcium takes over cells, cells calcify and die, inflammation sets in, energy loss and magnesium depletion causes more cell death and inflammation and the vicious circle continues until the heart can’t carry on any more. The body cannot heal itself because it hasn’t got the energy or the control to do so.
Think of this process going on within the brain or the central nervous system. The kidneys, breast tissue, the bladder, the myelin sheaths, the carotid arteries. Anywhere there are cells, there can be cell death due to excess calcium and depleted magnesium. This is why so many diseases and conditions are centred around a magnesium deficiency. If you keep your body replete in magnesium at all times, if you make sure your calcium intake ratio is optimally 1:1 but never more than 2:1 calcium to magnesium. These simple rules will ensure you will avoid cardiovascular and the other multitude of diseases which are caused by magnesium deficiency.
It’s up to you. Supplementation of magnesium is cheap and effective. No need to supplement with calcium, you will be taking enough through your diet of dairy produce. If you’re lactose intolerant and not drinking milk or eating dairy produce, you may need to supplement with calcium but even that I doubt because of the many foods that contain or are fortified with calcium.
Foods fortified with calcium
In the UK the Bread and Flour Regulations of 1998 and amended in 2008, deemed that calcium carbonate which is chalk, has to be in all bread and flour made from wheat. This is the law! The Regulations require that, subject to certain exceptions, four specific nutrients in specified quantities must be added to all wheat flour, whether or not mixed with other flour. They are:
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1),
- Nicotinic acid or nicotinamide
- Calcium carbonate
Apart from bread, other foods fortified with chalk are breakfast cereals, breakfast bars, soy milk, almond milk, orange juice, a plethera of baked goods, cakes and biscuits etc.. The list is endless. It’s interesting to note that before the 1998 law came out, calcium carbonate in bread was called an ‘adulterant’. Now it’s called ‘fortification’!
You can see that it is highly unlikely that you will be deficient in calcium even if you are lactose intolerant. I drink milk in my tea. Being a tea addict, I consume approximately a pint of milk per day. Just this milk alone, gives me more than my RDA of 500mg of calcium which is the World Heath Organisation recommendation (WHO).
Keeping these two important nutrient metals in balance, is all you need to start living a healthier life. The first thing you will notice when you start eating magnesium rich foods and/or taking a magnesium supplement, is the extra energy you will have. Go for it. Keep your heart healthy and at the same time keep your whole body in good condition.
I’d love to read your comments on this serious subject. Any input would be greatly appreciated and I always reply.
- Liao F1, Folsom AR, Brancati FL. Is low magnesium concentration a risk factor for coronary heart disease? The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Am Heart J. 1998 Sep;136(3):480-90.
- Rosanoff A, Rising Ca:Mg intake ratio from food in USA Adults: a concern? Magnes Res. 2010 Dec;23(4):S181-93. doi: 10.1684/mrh.2010.0221. Epub 2011 Jan 14
- Serum magnesium is inversely associated with coronary artery calcification in the Genetics of Atherosclerotic Disease (GEA) study Rosalinda Posadas-Sánchez, et al Nutrition Journal201615:22 DOI: 10.1186/s12937-016-0143-3© Posadas-Sánchez et al. 2016