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Balance Equation

Why the right combination of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D is key for women's health

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There are many natural remedies for female ailments, but a balance of essential nutrients lays the foundation for good health. In that very basic sense, today’s medical recommendations are creating a harmful imbalance of three key nutrients among women: calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium. “Our current diet harbors a shocking 10:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, a walking time bomb of impaired bone health and heart disease,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, and author of The Magnesium Miracle and other books. “An ideal dietary ratio is 1:1.”

Among women, Dean has seen a sudden onset of heart palpitations after a doctor prescribed high-dose vitamin D, or worsening menopausal symptoms after increasing the dose of calcium supplements. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. An imbalance among these three nutrients can contribute to a variety of other issues, including PMS, heavy monthly bleeding, constipation, lack of energy, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, and headaches. (For a more complete list, visit the Nutritional Magnesium Association at

Compound Problem
Although men can suffer magnesium shortages, women are much more vulnerable because they’re the main target of medical recommendations and marketing campaigns that push calcium. Yogurt, for example, which covers about 40 percent of a day’s calcium needs per cup, is eaten by twice as many women as men. Also, some fortified cereals contain 100 percent of a woman’s daily calcium requirement in one serving. And magnesium? It’s all-but ignored.

To compound the problem, the extremely high doses of vitamin D (5,000-50,000 IU) now being prescribed by many doctors can create an even greater imbalance, says Dean. Vitamin D pulls more calcium from food into the blood, accentuating the overload. At the same time, additional magnesium is used up as vitamin D gets converted from a storage form to an active form.

Achieving Nutrient Harmony
Clearly, these nutrients don’t work alone, so maintaining a proper balance is critical for optimum health. Dean recommends:

Calcium: Aim for a food-plus-supplement total of 700 mg daily-the amount recommended in Europe, which is lower than in the U.S. The calcium in your multivitamin paired with a healthy diet may be sufficient.

Vitamin D: As a general guide, take 1,000-2,000 IU daily. But even better, get a blood test, and then aim to keep your blood levels of D around 40 ng/dl.

Magnesium: 300 mg of a citrate form, two or three times daily (Dean favors a powder form mixed with water). Start with smaller amounts so as not to shock your body. Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin by applying topical magnesium oils or gels (also great for soothing injured or sore areas) and/or soaking in a tub with Epsom salts, magnesium “flakes,” or powdered magnesium. Loose stools or diarrhea indicate that you’ve taken too much of the mineral. Ideally, get a magnesium RBC (red blood cell) test, as regular blood tests are not accurate. Retest every 3-4 months and aim for levels between 6-6.5 mg/dL. Most states allow you to get a test directly from for about $49.

Supporting nutrients: Dean also suggests the following supplements for optimal women’s health: a trace mineral formula (preferably plant-based); a food-based B complex; a food-based multivitamin; and vitamin C (500-1,000 mg, twice daily).

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Key remedies for UTIs & candida
In her new book, Making Sense of Women’s Health, Marita Schauch BSc, ND, of Vancouver Island, B.C., provides all-encompassing nutrition, health, and supplement guidance based on her clinical experience (for everything from cervical dysplasia to menstrual cramps). Here, she shares her remedies of choice for two common women’s health issues-UTIs and vaginal yeast infections. (Visit for more information about Schauch and her new book.) -Nicole Brechka

UTI prevention and treatment:

  • Cranberry extract capsules (500 mg, 1-3 times daily).
  • D-Mannose, a simple sugar that prevents adherence of certain
  • bacterial strains to the urinary tract lining (500 mg, 2-4 times daily).
  • Probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp. (at least 10 billion CFU daily with food).
  • Berberine, a plant alkaloid in many plants, including goldenseal and Oregon grape, with significant antimicrobial activity (500 mg, 2-3 times daily in the form of goldenseal, Oregon grape, or barberry).
  • Vitamin C (1,000 mg, 1-4 times daily).

Vaginal yeast infections/candida:

  • Caprylic acid, a fatty acid found in coconut oil that has demonstrated the ability to inhibit the growth of candida (250-500 mg, 1-4 times daily, increasing gradually).
  • Grapefruit seed extract (use topically as a vaginal wash, or take orally).
  • Immune-boosting vitamins A,C, E, and Selenium plus zinc: (10,000 IU of vitamin A or 25,000-50,000 IU of beta-carotene; 500-1,000 mg of vitamin C; 400 IU of vitamin E, mixed tocopherols; 100-200 mcg of selenium; and 30 mg of zinc).
  • Probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp. (at least 10 billion CFUs daily with food).

American HealthEster-C with D3 Bone & Immune Health Complex is a once-daily tablet with a high dose of D3 and 1,000 mg of non-acidic C.

Natural Vitality Natural Calm, Original, the best-selling magnesium in the natural products world, has 350 mg of magnesium citrate per dose.

ReNew LifeUltimate Flora Vaginal Support features a blend of probiotics (with 50 billion active cultures) known to support vaginal and urinary tract health.

Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. She is the author of numerous books, including Hormone Harmony.