Questions about Calcium, Magnesium and Dairy
I received this query from a health professional who has completed a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) for herself:
".. with regard to calcium and magnesium. When I have low calcium compared to magnesium why am I taking more magnesium than calcium?
Also, my HTMA report says to eat 33% dairy which as I mentioned I don't (and haven't for years) as it gives me acne. Also, I brought The Calcium Lie from you. Also, I teach people that eating dairy is not the solution to getting more calcium. Have attached 2 slides.
So a bit confused!"
Her HTMA Nutritional Elements Chart is reproduced with her permission.
The first thing to take note of is her Metabolic Typing is "Fast 4" which is associated with being in a chronic state of stress and exhaustion that may have become ingrained over many years or a recent period of extreme and unrelenting stress. You can learn more about metabolic typing and how it presents on the HTMA here:
When a person is stressed and exhausted there is typically the mobilisation of magnesium from tissue stores and the consequent loss of this mineral from the body. Hence it may appear high in the hair sample. When figuring out if the high magnesium relative to calcium is due to a loss rather than an excess, it is important to relate signs and symptoms in the patient with either a loss or an excess of one or more minerals. My assessment, all things considered, is that she is losing magnesium and she will benefit from supplementation of this mineral. We will know if we got this right when we repeat the HTMA in 6 months time. If magnesium has dropped relative to calcium then we can assume that she is absorbing the supplementary magnesium with it going into tissue stores, rather than being lost as a stress response. This should, of course, be associated with improvements in magnesium-related symptoms.
Calcium and its relationships is an interesting issue
She is low in just about every mineral including calcium (ideally, all should be within the "Reference Range"). Calcium and magnesium should always be together and within the reference range for good health. Both need to be increased but not without also bringing up other minerals such as sodium, potassium and copper. In cases like hers, I have found that giving a little more emphasis to magnesium supplementation than to calcium will improve measures of health such as her quality of sleep, ability to handle stress, muscle tension, blood pressure, and energy levels.
When looking at any HTMA it is important to understand that we are looking at the mineral makeup of a hair sample and not of organs deep in the body. We have to relate what is in the hair to what is typically found in organs such as the liver and also to signs and symptoms. What may appear to be high in the hair may indicate the same mineral being low in the body, the liver for example. Some minerals that appear high, such as phosphorus and chromium, are usually due to tissue losses, such as happens in reaction to chronic stress and inflammation. These are not excesses, but I won't go into detail about these in this article. Our goal, always, is to gently nudge all of the minerals, including calcium and magnesium, to sit within the reference range. When every mineral is within the reference range and the toxic elements chart is clean, there must be, in theory, perfect health and this is what we see regardless of age.
I estimate that 80% of the people we test with the HTMA would benefit from having less dietary calcium for a while and more of other minerals such as magnesium, sodium, potassium, copper, zinc, manganese, iron, chromium and selenium. It is never a good idea to give just one mineral alone, especially when it appears there is already too much in circulation. Most of a person's calcium should be in her bones and not circulating ending up depositing in soft tissues including the arteries, joints, hair and skin. Even where it is determined the high calcium on the HTMA is due to loss of calcium from her bones, giving more calcium is not necessarily the solution. Increasing her intake of minerals such as magnesium and copper, while increasing dietary fat-soluble vitamins and having more healthy fats and protein may be more important for bone-building than calcium on its own. Calcium, combined with vitamin K, for example, is more readily taken up by the bones instead of depositing like eggshell in the arterial walls.
Is dairy good for us or not?
My children have been raised mostly on a whole-foods diet that included full cream New Zealand milk, pasture-fed, organic and raw whenever we could find it. And A-2 protein, by the way - not the less digestible A-1 protein of most modern cows. A-1 milk is associated with a higher risk of many health issues, including allergies. Milk has been good for us, but I do acknowledge that there is unhealthy dairy out there, probably the majority of what is now on the global market.
While spending time in North America and Europe, I must say we did not like the butter and milk, nor the eggs and meat. It was anaemic stuff, devoid of the yellow fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients we were used to in New Zealand. The animals, I understand, were mostly cage and barn-raised, living on an inflammatory diet of grains and other foods that are nutrient-poor and not normally a substantial portion of, say, the diet of a ruminant. And, who knows what hormones and antibiotics these animals were being fed! I do not think we can compare the eggs and the dairy of animals that are subjected to these unnatural farming practices with the organic and pasture-fed foods our family has ready access to here in New Zeland.
I used to milk cows as a teenager and in my early 20's. The herds were small and the animals treated with care and respect. We got to know just every cow. They had a good time, grazing on the lush grass and silage. They were never mistreated. The healthier and happier they were, the better the milk quality. Farmers knew that. We all did.
If research into the health benefits of milk casts doubt, I am not that surprised because what may be being studied is food that has been produced in a most unhealthy way. Perhaps we be should be studying more the traditional methods of the Hindu and the Masai who have thrived for thousands of years on a diet that includes dairy? This includes understanding the genetics of their animals.
Another point in the milk debate is that we now have milk all year round. Like many foods, for a thousand years or more, milk was a seasonal food. During the summer and autumn, we consumed fresh, raw milk, most of which was fermented (pre-digested), since there was no refrigeration. Then the cows were dried off over winter. During winter we ate cheese. Think of eggs; we had eggs during the warm months then ate chicken during Winter. We ate salads during Summer and pickles and roast vegetables in Winter. Seldom did we ever eat the same food every day, year-round. Today, because of the globalisation of food, we can have grapes and strawberries every day of the year! Is this healthy? I do not think so. Be it dairy or strawberries, our digestion and our immune system were never designed to work this way. Think of giving them a break every now and then, including by eating more seasonally. I think it is best for our health to replicate, to some degree, the traditional ways that foods were cultivated and prepared, including doing our best to eat seasonally.
If a person feels or has been advised they need to strengthen their bones by having more dairy, there are other ways to do this. For a start, is lack of calcium really the issue? It might be that there is a lack of fat-soluble vitamins or lack of protein. There is no point in increasing calcium in the diet if the real problem is a lack of copper or an excess of it. A hair tissue analysis helps to figure this all out.
There are plenty of healthy sources of calcium other than dairy. By the way, hard cheese may be better than guzzling large glasses of milk every day of the year, and how about eating goat and sheep cheeses and not just cow? I am a fan of bone broths, such as the ones my mother, Maisie, used to make, again a winter tradition, not in summer, I recall. Nothing was ever wasted back in those days. Nor should we be wasting food today!