Magnesium And Vitamin D
Why Do They Belong Together?
In a review published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, it was concluded that vitamin D cannot be activated without sufficient magnesium levels, meaning vitamin D remains stored and inactive for as many as 50 percent of Americans.
“People are taking vitamin D supplements but don’t realize how it gets metabolized,” Mohammed Razzaque, PhD, and the study’s co-author says. “Without magnesium, it’s not really useful or safe.”
Magnesium plays an important role in managing vitamin D activity/function and helps to maintain calcium balance. Magnesium’s presence is necessary for the function of enzymes that activate vitamin D in the liver and kidneys, as well as the enzymes responsible for carrying it in the blood.
In a study published in 2013, researchers found that people who consumed relatively high amounts of magnesium were less likely to have low vitamin D levels, compared to those who were magnesium deficient.
Without sufficient magnesium in the body, vitamin D supplementation will not alleviate its own deficiency. And without enough vitamin D, the proteins responsible for moving calcium out of the blood and into our bones, Osteocalcin (OC) and Matrix-GLA-Protein (MGP), cannot be made. This can lead to calcium deposition in the arteries (cardiovascular disease) and other soft tissues, the exact opposite of what our body needs - calcium everywhere except the bones.
The Current Protocol
There’s an interesting link between vitamin D, magnesium, and calcium that is not yet fully understood. With so many people deficient in vitamin D, the logical response would be to increase vitamin D levels. But, it's not that simple.
If you take the analogy of your car’s engine oil light coming on once per week, your immediate response would be to refill the oil tank. But what if everytime you check it, the oil is still low? Perhaps the problem can’t be solved by simply topping it up. Only by identifying the cause is it possible to fix the real problem, and taking your car to a mechanic would be a good start.
When it comes to vitamin D, finding the root cause is not the standard approach.
Typically a patient with a vitamin D deficiency (and they would be in the majority), will be put on a vitamin D supplement by their physician. If the physician finds that the patient’s levels are still low at their next check-up, the dosage is upped.
This doctor-patient deja vu continues, on and on.
There is extensive research on vitamin D, and healthcare practitioners are well aware of the risks of low vitamin D levels. The problem is that the response is almost always the same; your vitamin D levels are still low? Let’s increase the dosage! Let’s put more oil in the tank, and ignore the oil leaking out all over your driveway.
In the case of a vitamin D leak, magnesium deficiency is one important factor to consider, but it’s not the only one.
Understanding Vitamin D
The term “vitamin D” refers to a group of fat-soluble compounds that serve as pre-hormones to the active form of vitamin D, called calcitriol. While vitamin D is referred to as a vitamin, it is actually a hormone.
Vitamin D3 is found in fish, egg yolks, and cheese, and made in our skin when we get out in the sun. Vitamin D2 is found in mushrooms while its synthetic form is commonly used as an additive to fortify dairy products.
The active form of vitamin D, calcitriol is essential for regulating the blood concentrations of calcium and other minerals, among a host of other functions. Calcitriol increases calcium absorption from food; when we need more calcium our kidneys activate calcitriol from D3 or D2.
The Science is Unclear
There’s a lot of debate about the correct vitamin D levels that we need. Some studies suggest that the lower one’s vitamin D level, the higher the risk of all-cause mortality. Other studies suggest that risk of mortality rises when vitamin D levels are higher.
It’s a safe assumption that both too much and not enough vitamin D can be harmful. But this depends on the status of other important fat-soluble vitamins, a discussion we will get to in a moment.
One thing we do know is that vitamin D and calcium exist in a delicate balance. Stabilizing the concentration of calcium in the blood is a balancing act between two different hormones - parathyroid hormone (PTH) and calcitonin. PTH is released when calcium levels in the blood are too low while calcitonin is released when calcium is too high. PTH ‘turns on’ vitamin D which consequently increases calcium absorption in the gut.
If we don’t have enough calcium, then increasing vitamin D levels will be helpful in getting our bodies to absorb more. However, if there’s too much calcium, vitamin D production will decline.
What if vitamin D levels are low because calcium levels are too high?
If calcium levels are chronically elevated the PTH pathway remains dormant. This leaves little reason to activate vitamin D.
In that case, increasing vitamin D levels with supplements could be harmful, increasing already high calcium levels. While supplementing vitamin D, the body would naturally be suppressing its activation to try to minimize increases in calcium levels.
But why would calcium levels be too high?
There could be any number of causes. One possibility could be a magnesium deficiency. As we know, magnesium and calcium work in a delicate balance - magnesium helps get calcium into the bones - and if we have too much calcium relative to magnesium, we’re likely to end up with weak bones and calcified soft tissue. Muscle pain, arthritis, kidney stones, and dementia are all reflective of a calcium/magnesium imbalance.
Another possibility is an imbalance in the other essential fat-soluble vitamins - A and K2. These vitamins are crucial for ensuring that vitamin D is used effectively.
Vitamin A helps vitamin D maintain healthy bones by stimulating the production and release of Osteocalcin (OC). Osteocalcin is the second most common protein in bone after collagen and is responsible for moving calcium into our bones.
Once OC is released, it must be activated. Vitamin K2 activates OC, enabling it to build new bone with calcium. Without K2, calcium cannot mineralize into new bone. A more in-depth review of vitamin K2 and its importance in bone and vascular health was covered extensively here.
What should we do?
When supplementing with vitamin D, we need to be aware that if the calcium levels in our body are already too high, we may be doing more harm than good.
In order to safely supplement with vitamin D, we need to ensure that we have adequate levels of magnesium, vitamin A, and vitamin K2. By raising our magnesium levels in relation to calcium, we’re helping alleviate a very common imbalance while providing the necessary tools to activate vitamin D. Vitamins A and K2 are equally important; for without them we risk bringing about symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, something that can’t happen if all members of the fat-soluble vitamin team are present.
No matter what, vitamin D should only be supplemented in conjunction with magnesium, vitamin A, and vitamin K2. Only by taking these together can we be certain that calcium will be used effectively to improve health.
It’s for this reason that we always suggest that Vitamin D-K2 Balance and Magnesium Balance be used together. They are perfectly safe to be used individually, but together the full action of removing calcium from soft tissue and placing it into bone can be realized. In addition, Mitochondria Balance addresses other common nutritional deficiencies and ensures that our cells powerhouses (the mitochondria) are working properly to energize our bodies and brains.