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Calcium & Magnesium in Heart Health

iStock-1130357174Calcium and magnesium are essential macrominerals, also referred to as electrolytes. Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the body, with around 99 percent concentrated in the bones and teeth. The other one percent (typically around 10 milligrams/deciliter) is found in the blood. Calcium specifically regulates the body’s acid-alkaline balance, heartbeat, nerve transmission, muscle contraction, cell permeability, and cell division. Similarly, more than half of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bones, while the rest is distributed to various tissues. Magnesium is a cofactor in over 350 enzymatic processes, and plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism, DNA synthesis, and cell nerve signaling, among many other functions.

Magnesium and calcium work synergistically, especially concerning cardiovascular health. This means that they enhance the actions of one another, improving cellular function, heart efficiency, and blood flow. Both calcium and magnesium deficiencies can play a role in the development of heart conditions, and ensuring adequate intake of minerals may mitigate the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and improve heart health. Various studies have indicated that cities with hard water – water containing a high concentration of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals – are correlated to lower incidences of heart disease. This suggests that adequate intake of minerals is critical for proper cardiovascular function.

Calcium, Magnesium & Heart Function

The heartbeat is controlled by both calcium and magnesium. Calcium regulates nerve transmission at the heart’s AV node, which electrically connects the heart's valves to generate heartbeats. The mineral enters the heart muscle cells, stimulating muscle contraction to produce a beat. Meanwhile, magnesium repels calcium to reverse the contraction allowing the heart to relax after a beat. Calcium is stimulatory while magnesium could be considered the mineral of relaxation. A balance of both is required to maintain steady beats, and a deficiency in either mineral can disrupt this intricate process. For example, insufficient magnesium causes unopposed calcium to contract the heart, leading to spasms. This can result in irregular heartbeats and rhythms, which are implicated in cardiac arrest and other cardiovascular problems.

Magnesium & Hypertension 

Magnesium also plays a role in the regulation of blood pressure. Research has shown that magnesium signals the production of nitric oxide, a vasodilator, which allows blood vessels to expand and relax, decreasing blood pressure. Magnesium also assists in healthy metabolism by facilitating glucose from carbohydrates into cells. This allows cells to use energy efficiently and keeps insulin at healthy levels. Impaired glucose usage can result in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, both of which are important risk factors for heart disease. The mineral improves lipid profiles and has been demonstrated to decrease LDL cholesterol levels and blood triglycerides, which can contribute to plaque buildup in blood vessels. Magnesium also has been demonstrated to raise HDL cholesterol levels. (Higher HDL is associated with better cardiovascular outcomes.) Consequently, there is an inverse relationship between circulating magnesium and CVD.

Calcium & Atherosclerosis 

Calcification involves the buildup of calcium, cellular waste products, and fatty substances within soft tissues in the body. In blood vessels, calcification is referred to as atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries. This can result in chest pain, heart attack, and other cardiovascular issues. Calcium is often blamed for atherosclerosis; however, calcification commonly occurs in a calcium deficiency. When the body is lacking in bioavailable calcium to regulate nerve and muscle function, it increases the production of parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH releases calcium from bones and teeth into the bloodstream to maintain calcium homeostasis. As calcium moves through blood vessels, it can deposit into soft tissues, if not bioavailable, and can lead to health complications. There is a correlation between excess PTH and heart disease. The parathyroid glands stop releasing PTH once blood calcium levels return to normal, suggesting that getting an adequate amount of dietary calcium can prevent calcification of tissues.

Calcium & Magnesium Sources

Maintaining sufficient magnesium and calcium also allows the body to balance potassium and sodium, both of which influence blood volume and heart function. Incidentally, both potassium and sodium have been shown to regulate the calcification of arteries, preventing atherosclerosis. The most bioavailable form of calcium is found in dairy products, although milk consumption in the US is decreasing. Other sources of calcium include leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and small amounts in oranges. Sources of magnesium include dark chocolate, leafy greens, and avocados. Potassium can be found in fruit, potatoes, and milk. In some cases, supplementation could be beneficial to improve cardiovascular function.

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