Too much calcium in the body can cause problems as excess, inorganic calcium will often get deposited (precipitated) into the soft tissues of the body. But similar problems can also occur when levels of magnesium get too low. Sufficient levels of magnesium keep calcium in solution (in the blood). When levels of magnesium drop, calcium begins to come out of solution–it gets deposited in soft tissue in the body (not the bones!). For example:
In the large intestine, calcium can interfere with the waves of muscle contractions (peristalsis) that push food through the bowels. Because calcium is physically binding, it can result in constipation.
In the kidneys, calcium settles out and combines with phosphorous (think carbonated beverages) or oxalic acid and can form calcified kidney stones. Oxalic acid generally increases as foods mature, producing increasingly bitter vegetables. Young, fresh vegetables such as baby spinach are less likely to have oxalic acid. Other foods high in oxalates are almonds, cashews, buckwheat, unhulled sesame seeds, tea, coffee, chocolate, textured soy protein, and beets. Cooking vegetables removes most of the oxalic acid. Calcium oxalate is responsible for 80 percent of human kidney stones and will form crystals when calcium levels in the blood are higher than magnesium levels. Magnesium oxalate is much more soluble than calcium oxalate and so there are never any kidney stones made out of magnesium oxalate.
In the bladder, calcium can deposit in the lining and prevent it from fully relaxing and filling completely with urine. This can lead to urinary frequency and infections especially in older folks.
In the arteries, calcium comes out of the blood and deposits in the lining of the cardiovascular system. This can cause hardening of the arteries (vascular calcification or arteriosclerosis). The arteries are no longer flexible enough to help push the blood around the body and the heart has to do more and more of the work. Blood pressure rises and this can lead to a heart attack. In the carotid arteries it can lead to stroke. In the renal arteries it can lead to kidney failure.
In the brain, it can lead to dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
In the lungs, it get deposited in the smooth muscle lining the bronchial tubes and causes symptoms of asthma.
On the cell membrane, it can impair the permeability and restrict the flow of nutrients across that barrier. The passage of glucose, which is converted to ATP in the cell’s mitochondria, can be more difficult leading to a false diagnosis of diabetes. In addition, calcification of the mitochondria can result in low energy and eventual cell death.
An ideal dietary ratio of magnesium to calcium is 1:1. But with inorganic calcium supplements, fortified processed foods, and pasteurized dairy the levels of calcium usually far exceed that of magnesium. Calcium fortified orange juice is 27:1 and antacids, which people use for heartburn, are 100:1. It is estimated that 43 percent of the U.S. population and 70 percent of older women take calcium supplements in the mistaken belief that it will strengthen bones. Nothing could be further from the truth. For more information on the calcium lie, see my book.
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