Magnesium helps prevent fractures

When it comes to bone health, the true measure is fracture risk.  You may be loading up on calcium, but if you still get fractures, something might be missing.  Bones are not just inert slabs of calcium.  They’re living tissue, and bone strength depends on many nutrients, including protein, vitamin D, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium.  The connection between magnesium and bone health is in the news again, thanks to a new study on fracture occurrence in older people.

In the study, more than 3700 people aged 60+ years were followed for 8 years.  At the beginning of the study, everyone was assessed for magnesium intake, based on diet and supplement intake records.  During the 8 year period, fractures were documented.  Then at the end of 8 years, the relationship between magnesium intake and fracture occurrence was analyzed.  People in the top 20% for intake had significantly less risk for fractures.  The effect was especially strong for women.

Interestingly, the people in the top 20% intake group were not consuming wild amounts of magnesium.  The highest intakes were just above the RDA, which is 320 mg/day for women and 420 mg/day for men.  It’s relatively easy to consume that much from food, assuming your diet is plant-based, with less processed whole foods.  The women in the study who at least met the RDA had significantly lower fracture risks compared to women who consumed less.  Unfortunately it’s easy to have a poor magnesium intake if you eat mostly processed foods.  The subjects with the highest fracture risk were only consuming about half the RDA.

What foods are high in magnesium?

  • nuts and seeds (and nut butters)
  • legumes
  • tofu/soy
  • whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, brown rice
  • vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, squash, peas

Poor sources include foods made with white flour, meats, dairy, sugars, fats and meats.  So the highest magnesium diet is going to be plant-based, as long as plenty of legumes, nuts and whole grain foods are included.

Supplements can boost intake.  While multiple vitamin/mineral formulas may contain some magnesium, it’s usually a trivial amount.  Most magnesium supplements provide around 250 mg, and one a day is plenty.  There are several forms of magnesium found in supplements.  Magnesium oxide is common, and less expensive,, although slightly less well absorbed.  Magnesium citrate is better absorbed.  You can also find liquid supplements.  Some so-called bone health supplement include both magnesium and calcium.  However, they compete for absorption in the digestive system, so better to take magnesium separately from calcium, and also better to take it with food, not on an empty stomach.

I’ve written about bone health nutrients before, and this new study adds to the evidence that calcium alone is not the answer to fracture prevention for older people.

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