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‘Dem bones dem bones need cal-ci-um…

Posted in In the 'Sack with Rhoda by Rhoda-Mary

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…and that’s a natural law!’

Got milk? Nope.

For decades, the dairy industry has stressed the importance of milk products for calcium. Sound teeth? Strong bones? Osteoporosis? Milk to the rescue!

But is ‘nature’s first food’ also ‘nature’s perfect food’? For baby animals of the same species, yes! For animals beyond weaning age … and formatted differently? No.

The milk of each species is composed to provide perfect nourishment for growing babies of that species alone. Which is why, perhaps, the thought of adults drinking human breast milk – our perfect first food! – retains a yuck factor, Baby Gaga ice-creams notwithstanding.

But don’t we need dairy for strong bones? Without calcium, wouldn’t we crumble from within?

‘Dem bones’ do need calcium – but not exclusively, in isolation, or to excess. The ‘package’ nutrients come in matters, too: is it rich in complementary vitamins and minerals, or does it contain potentially harmful elements?

Ca, Mg, P, B, Vit D, vit K…

Nutrients work in concert in the body. In an orchestra, if one rogue instrument dominates the performance is ruined. Likewise, an excess (or deficiency) of one nutrient can disrupt the harmonious working of a group of nutrients, with potentially negative consequences.

Magnesium, phosphorus, boron, vitamin D and vitamin K are needed to build and maintain strong bones. Via different pathways, optimum supplies of these minerals and vitamins draw calcium into the bones and teeth and fix it there.

In their absence, however, calcium goes rogue and is deposited in soft tissues, organs and blood vessels instead.

Calcium is a hardening and tensing mineral. A deficiency in bones and teeth leads to osteoporosis and dental problems, while excess calcium in soft tissues, organs and blood vessels can contribute to arthritis, dental calculus, PMS, organ calcification, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and premature ageing.

The whole package

Dairy products contain substantial amounts of calcium and phosphorus but very little – if any (depending on the nutrient) – magnesium, boron, vitamin D or vitamin K.

Phosphorus is abundant in meat and milk. While it is needed to absorb calcium, too much can cause calcium to be leached from the bones! And the more phosphorus you consume, the more calcium you need. So it is arguably better to get calcium from sources less rich in phosphorus.

The dairy ‘package’ also includes saturated fat, cancer-causing hormones and animal proteins, and allergens like lactose. Milk products have been linked to respiratory illnesses, sinus problems, and multiple sclerosis, too. A recent study also showed there was no overall association between milk intake and incidence of hip fracture in women, which suggests that milk is not protective. Interestingly, though, other studies suggest countries with high dairy consumption (e.g. Sweden) have high osteoporosis rates, while African communities with low consumption (e.g. South African black women) have low rates.

So, can we get a better package deal elsewhere with no potential for harm?

Calcium is abundant in many plant foods, especially kelp, sesame seeds, almonds, sprouted foods, chick peas and dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, bok choi and broccoli (to name but a few).

The calcium in dark leafy greens is absorbed roughly twice as effectively as dairy calcium, according to Michael Greger MD. Bonus nutrients in green veggies include magnesium, vitamin K, folate, iron, antioxidants and fibre.

Phytates, which are found in beans, peas, grains, nuts and seeds, have been widely maligned as blocking mineral absorption and softening bones on the basis of a 1949 study on puppies. Recent human studies, however, have demonstrated that phytates actually strengthen bones, most likely by helping to prevent the breakdown of bone. (If you’re still worried about phytates, eating plenty of garlic and onions aids mineral absorption from other foods.)

A diet based on whole plant foods – vegetables, fruits, pulses, grains, nuts and seeds and sea vegetables – offers a wealth of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients, including abundant calcium, without the dangers of dairy.

The only bone nutrient hard to get from plant foods is vitamin D, vital for calcium-phosphorus metabolism. The best source is the sun. Failing that (and let’s face it…), the best food sources are fatty fish (including the skin) and naturally pastured poultry and egg yolks. Mushrooms contain some vitamin D, too, but supplementation might be required. The Hopsack helpers will be only too happy to advise you on high-quality vitamin D and bone health supplements.

A word on protein

A prevailing theory in nutritional science suggests the acid-forming properties of animal foods cause the body to leach alkaline minerals, such as calcium, from our bones to buffer the acidity and keep our blood pH in the perfect 7.35 to 7.45 range. A recent study has called this into question. For more information, see: ‘Alkaline Diets, Animal Protein, and Calcium Loss‘.

A plant-based diet is still a good idea, but for different reasons. See ‘Testing Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage

Further reading

Harvard School of Public Health, ‘Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?’

For food sources of specific nutrients: The world’s healthiest foods


The Beautiful Metal: Magnesium

Posted in In the 'Sack with Rhoda by Rhoda-Mary

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If George Orwell had studied magnesium he might have concluded that all minerals are equal but some minerals are more equal than others.

Thousands of years ago the Chinese named it ‘the beautiful metal’. They understood that magnesium – along with air and water – is key to life on Earth.

During the early days of evolution, the harnessing of sunlight energy led to an explosion of life forms. Capturing light depends, ultimately, on magnesium.

The green pigment chlorophyll allows plants to turn sunlight into chemical energy via photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is built around a core of magnesium.

Following the dictates of the food chain, animals and humans eat the plants, or the animals that have eaten the plants (or both, if the munchies attack) and the flow of life goes on, utterly dependent on the dance between sunlight, air, water and chlorophyll, and the magnesium nestling in chlorophyll’s leafy heart.

Having evolved, as we did, in the presence of magnesium, the element is an integral part of our make-up. It is needed for the smooth working of countless functions in the body. And a deficiency wears many masks.

We literally can’t breathe, move a muscle or think a thought without sufficient magnesium in our cells. In its absence, things wither and die. It is essential for enzyme production; forming new cells; energy production; bone, protein and fatty acid formation; relaxing the nerves, muscles and blood vessels; cardiovascular health; brain health; mental health; oral health; reproductive health; hormone production (e.g. the sleep hormone melatonin and the anti-ageing hormone DHEA); the secretion and action of insulin; and painkilling. (And that’s just for starters!)

Our bodies have never learnt to stockpile magnesium. Why? Because of its consistent availability in our evolutionary environment. In our oceanic forms we were submerged in it and once we padded onto land, we kept our precious levels high by eating our greens, as our Ur-Mamas told us to, and our nuts, seeds, grains, seaweed, meat and fish.

Technically, our needs should be met by munching on magnesium-rich foods. But nowadays? Not a chance!

Intensive farming and food processing methods have depleted our soils and foods of magnesium. But living in a polluted world has increased our need for it because it is integral to the body’s detoxification process. Meanwhile, cooking, alcohol, food additives, heavy metals and other toxins are straining our stores. A vicious circle. If the detox process is incomplete, metabolic and ingested poisons can build up in the body, causing system malfunction [*bleep bleep*] and illness.

According to Dr Carolyn Dean, many conditions are triggered or caused by lack of magnesium. The most common include fatigue, ageing, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cramping (including period pains), restless legs, weakened teeth, insomnia, migraine, anxiety, depression, irritability, and acute and chronic muscle pain. (For a fuller list, click here.)

Help is at hand, though. Dr Dean also argues that replenishing our reserves via magnesium-rich foods, green drinks, or supplements can relieve such conditions. It is vital to eat a wide range of organically-grown foods, including mineral-rich sea veggies, to get the broad range of nutrients we need for good health. But for optimum magnesium levels, supplementation may be necessary.

Unfortunately, oral supplements can be tricky. Common forms, such as magnesium oxide and magnesium sulphate (Epsom Salts) are badly assimilated and best used for inducing a cleansing case of the trots. Magnesium citrate is better absorbed but loosens stools if you take too much. A dicky digestive tract compromises things too. You could be taking lots of magnesium (according to the tin) but absorbing very little, while at the same time making firm friends with your loo. What can you do? Enter the heroine, magnesium chloride.

Magnesium Chloride

Also known as transdermal magnesium or magnesium oil, magnesium chloride is actually a slinky supersaturated brine. The purest natural form comes from the Zechstein Sea, an ancient, unpolluted seabed lying deep beneath the lands of northern Europe. It is a liquid you can take orally (foul!) or massage into your skin (cool!).

Applied via the skin, magnesium chloride sinks in fast and efficiently, bypassing the liver and going straight to the cells. Higher amounts of magnesium can reach the tissues this way with no intestinal angst. It is almost 100% absorbed and you can control the dose by using the spray pump provided.

Day by day, magnesium chloride helps to relieve fatigue, muscle aches, period pains (women who suffer tend to be particularly magnesium deficient), restless legs, migraine and insomnia, and prevent heart disease and cancer. A good sign of magnesium deficiency is an unbridled craving for choccie; sadly, the desire evaporates when enough magnesium is supplied. Could this be the only reason not to supplement? Or to supplement with chocolate, perhaps? Hmmm! A quandary… ;-)

Magnesium plays a key role in the body’s painkilling process. Transdermal magnesium slots into the analgesic cascade, relieving pain first caused by lack of magnesium! It relaxes tense muscles and blood vessels. Take aim and spray where it hurts! But be patient if it doesn’t work immediately for severe pain. I suspect people whose magnesium stores are low may need to fill them before they feel its painkilling action.

Rigid joints and the ageing process bow to magnesium, too. In an era when calcium is thrust upon us, magnesium is its counterpart and counteraction. Calcium tenses and hardens tissues, while magnesium relaxes and loosens them. Magnesium (along with Vitamin D and boron) is needed to build calcium into bone. It is the glue to calcium’s chalk. If Magnesium & Co. are unavailable to tow calcium to the boneyard, it parks illegally in joints and organs instead, making them tight and rigid and interfering with their functioning (e.g. ovaries calcifying leads to PMS). Calcification is another name for ageing.

The Beautiful Metal, on the other hand, is abundant in babies, children and young people. It de-calcifies (and thus de-ages) organs, while re-calcifying and strengthening bones. It is also essential for the production of DHEA, the youth hormone. Anecdotal reports claim that magnesium chloride can reverse grey hair; banish warts, moles and age spots; smooth wrinkles; harden tooth enamel; make skin glow; and rekindle a waning sex life. Women on the edge of menopause have even claimed the return of regular periods. It makes an effective deodorant, too, when sprayed under the arms and rubbed in, but don’t do it if your skin is grazed. Magnesium chloride is an excellent disinfectant but it stings like crazy!

Dosage and how to use it

Of the brand I use, each spray contains 15-18mg of optimally absorbed magnesium. Ten sprays will give you just under 50% of the RDA of 400mg.

Simply spray it all over your body and rub it in. Beware of cuts and sensitive areas. If it irritates your skin, shower it off after 30 minutes. If you feel pain or tightness anywhere, spray it on the affected area and massage it in. Spritz it daily on your scalp to darken grey hair, onto skin blemishes to heal them, and into your mouth to harden teeth.

Try adding 60mls of magnesium chloride to your bath for a relaxing soak – a good way to go if you have sensitive skin. But luxuriating in it too long can lead to muscle cramps, so don’t leave kids unsupervised in a magnesium bath. Foot baths are excellent but build up to 60mls of magnesium oil if your skin is tender, as they are more concentrated than full baths. If you are spraying magnesium onto sensitive skin, dilute it 50:50 with pure water until you get used to it. It can sting, even on unbroken skin. Avoid your eyes and other delicate tissues.

The Hopsack sells Better You magnesium chloride spray (100mls). There are three sprays, in fact: Original Spray (pure magnesium chloride), Goodnight Spray (with calming essential oils) and Sport Spray (with invigorating oils). I have tried more than one brand of magnesium chloride and this one is excellent. One litre bottles of the Original formula will soon be available from the Better You website. If there’s enough demand, they might let us sell it too. So please demand, folks. ;-)

Finally, magnesium absorption can be aided by the presence of Vitamin B6. Viridian makes a good B6 supplement – called High Six Vitamin B6 with B-Complex – which is available to order through The Hopsack. If you need advice, the Lovelies will be only too happy to help you.

If you want to learn more about magnesium, and magnesium chloride in particular, check out the work of Carolyn Dean, Mark Sircus, Walter Last and Norman Shealy.

Important Note:

Always consult with your doctor if you are ill and/or on medication and want to supplement with magnesium, as it can interact with some medications and is contraindicated for people with severe kidney disease, kidney failure, Myasthenia Gravis, bowel obstruction, heart block, and possibly other conditions. Please check first.