Calcium, Magnesium, and Chocolate Cravings
Women want more health education, particularly about bone health. So, women should know more about calcium, magnesium and chocolate cravings. Maintaining homeostasis is a primary focus within the human body. Many types of electrolytes, like Sodium (Na+ ), Potassium (K+ ) and Calcium (Ca2+ ) are required to be within a certain concentration range within the blood.
In order to maintain these electrolyte levels, there are numerous, complex systems involving nutrients, hormones, vitamins, the kidneys, and the intestines; that all interact to correct any imbalances. If a woman were to develop a state of low calcium (hypocalemia), some critical body parts would start to malfunction like the heart, the nerves, and the muscles.
The primary hormonal messenger that initiates the correction of calcium homeostasis is the Parathyroid Hormone (PTH). This hormone stimulates an increase in the plasma calcium level three different ways: by stimulating bone resorption to release calcium (remember, bones are a calcium "bank" in the body where calcium is stored), by increasing calcium absorption in the intestines, and by reducing the excretion of calcium in the urine.
Where does magnesium enter into this picture? Magnesium suppresses PTH production and helps to prevent too much calcium from being leached from the bones. Magnesium helps to put calcium back into the "bone bank", instead of allowing the calcium to collect in the periphery where it can cause painful calcium deposits. This system may seem more complex than necessary, but evolution created this system based on what nutrients where available within the environment.
The natural availability of calcium and magnesium influenced the mechanism for maintaining the homeostasis of these elements. Before the advent of calcium supplementation, dairy products, and fortified food products, calcium was not very abundant in the natural diet of humans who used to be hunter-gatherers living off of the natural resources. Because of this lack of availability, the body needed a way to store calcium in case a life-threatening state of hypocalcemia developed.
On the other hand, magnesium is very readily available in whole foods; thus, the human body does not store magnesium. The human body needs a steady supply of magnesium in the diet in order to help keep the "bone bank" full of calcium. In a time, centuries ago, human beings were eating primarily dark green leaves which contain both calcium and magnesium. With an abundance of green leaves in the diet, humans evolved to have this delicate balance between calcium and magnesium and that balance was maintained successfully with the available nutrients at that time.
Fast forward to today’s world of French fries and pasta; industrializing the food chain has pushed the limits of natural evolution and disrupted the natural homeostasis within the human body. No longer are humans eating whole foods rich in magnesium. Plus, humans are consuming chemicals, like alcohol and caffeine, which increase the loss of magnesium from the body via the urine. With less magnesium in the human body than ever before, more problems are starting to develop like osteoporosis, arthritis, and muscle pain. And with less magnesium in the diet of millions of women, more women are developing chocolate cravings.
Yes, chocolate cravings may be an indicator of magnesium deficiency because chocolate is very high in magnesium. Remember, the body has many ways to maintain homeostasis. Cravings indicate that the body trying to fulfill a need; in this case, a need for more magnesium.
Fast forward to the future; will we as women, as mothers, and as human beings have learned to respect our natural mechanisms which maintain homeostasis by eating what we were designed to eat? Ladies, I am not talking about eating more chocolate, although it has many health benefits. I am talking about eating more whole foods and less processed, industrialized foods. Will we teach the next generation to learn from our past eating mistakes? We will teach our children to eat more foods containing magnesium like brown rice, buckwheat, dark greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Will we teach our children to eat more foods containing calcium like sardines, kale, turnip greens, Chinese cabbage, and broccoli? Will you start eating better?
If you eat the foods that you are designed to eat, the chocolate cravings will magically disappear and your bones will enjoy strong, life-long health because, once again, the balance between calcium and magnesium will be restored. Nutrition is the way nature intended us to stay healthy.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.