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Calcium and magnesium are extremely important minerals that are often out of balance in persons with thyroid disease. Imbalances of these minerals can result in very rapid heart rate, low heart rate, and irregular heart rate. Thyroid function itself is most likely controlled by the ratio of these minerals.

Most people with thyroid disease find that they have to supplement calcium and magnesium. Supplementing these minerals in the correct ratio can make a huge improvement in the symptoms. However, supplementing them in the wrong ratio can make symptoms worse. To further complicate the situation, the correct ratio of cal/mag changes as you recover from thyroid disease.

I have struggled a very long time with finding the right cal/mag ratio for myself. Well after recovering from hyperthyroidism, swinging back hypo, and then getting normal again, I had many months of fast, irregular heart rate that was often initiated by strenuous exercise. Because magnesium had been an important factor in reducing my heart rate when I was hyper, I would take a cal/mag supplement in a 1:1 ratio or take 400-800 mgs of magnesium only to correct this problem. Usually I would have this irregular heart rate throughout the night but would be recovered by morning.

I experimented with potassium and found that taking 800-1200 mgs of potassium before my night time basketball often prevented the irregular heart rate and began thinking that I was potassium deficient. One time I grabbed an unlabeled baggie that I thought was potassium and took 6 capsules before playing. I had extreme irregular heart rate that lasted all night. I later discovered that I had mistakenly taken magnesium.

This was very strange to me because magnesium had been my savior for such a long time. Whenever I had high heart rate when I was hyper, magnesium would slow my heart, usually within 20-30 minutes. So I was wondering, "Why doesn't it work now?" I began to think that the manufacturer had made a mistake and there was a problem with the product.

Eventually the answer came in a sudden insight. I was lying awake at night with my heart beating very irregular and fast. Paying close attention to my heart, I realized that my heart was not just irregular and fast, it was beating very weakly. I noted that this was in stark contrast to the time when I was hyper. Then my heart was beating fast and irregular, but very strong.

The insight was that it was the strength of my heart beat and not the speed and irregularity that was the key. I thought back on how calcium is the mineral that is responsible for the heart contracting and magnesium is responsible for the heart relaxing.

During hyperthyroidism, magnesium is low and calcium is high. This imbalance is the result of other mineral imbalances (copper, zinc, iron, etc.), but the effects on the heart rate are direct effects of a calcium/magnesium imbalance. This can be demonstrated by taking a magnesium supplement or a cal/mag supplement with much higher magnesium than the usual 2:1 cal/mag ratio when your heart rate is high. This intake of more magnesium will slow the heart rate temporarily. However, as we have seen, the body can't maintain normal magnesium levels in the blood if copper is low. So until copper is replenished, extra magnesium is needed on a constant basis to control the rapid heart rate.

The key to understanding the effects of calcium and magnesium on the heart is this: Calcium is needed for muscles to contract and magnesium is needed for muscles to relax. The heart muscles are like all muscles. Calcium causes heart contraction; magnesium causes heart relaxation.

If magnesium is low, as during hyperthyroidism, and calcium is adequate, the heart contracts normally but the relaxation phase is shortened and incomplete. If the normal heart contracts for .5 seconds and relaxes for .5 seconds, we have a 1.0 second cycle which translates into a 60 beats per minute heart rate. If magnesium is low and the relaxation phase is shortened to .25 seconds, then the complete cycle is .75 seconds, which translates to a 80 beats per minute heart rate (60 seconds divided by .75 seconds). As you can see, as magnesium gets more depleted, the relaxation phase shortens and the heart rate increases.

When I was experiencing the irregular heart rate, what was happening was that it was calcium that was low and not magnesium. When calcium is low, the contraction phase is shortened while the relaxation phase remains normal. If the contraction phase shortens to .25 seconds and the relaxation phase stays at .5 seconds, the heart rate also increases to 80 beats per minute. If you just looked at the increase in rate, you might, as I did, think that magnesium was deficient.

The key to the insight that it was calcium that was deficient was the observation that the heart rate was weak. A weak heart rate means that calcium is deficient and the contraction phase is weak and short. This results in an increase in heart rate and also an irregular heart rate because some contractions are missed entirely. Contrast this to a magnesium deficiency where the heart rate is irregular because some of the relaxations are missed.

Once I reached this insight, it all became so simple. I was amazed that I had continued to make the same mistake over and over again. The key mental block for me was that I thought that magnesium always slowed and regulated the heart rate. Once I thought through the whole process of how calcium and magnesium affect the heart, I realized that a calcium deficiency can also lead to a fast and irregular heart rate.

With this new insight, I switched my cal/mag ratio to 2:1. I had been mixing a 1:1 ratio supplement with a 2:1 supplement which resulted in a ratio of about 3:2. However with the addition of extra magnesium or extra 1:1 cal/mag after basketball, I probably had about a 1:1 overall ratio.

Once I switched to a 2:1 ratio, the heart irregularity completely disappeared and hasn't occurred in months. I found that the cal/mag ratio is the key. However along the way to this discovery I ran across some other interesting information.

As I was struggling through this irregular heart rate problem, I found that two things often helped the situation: potassium and vitamin B-5.  Potassium often helped and I think the reason for this is that potassium and magnesium are antagonistic minerals. Since I was essentially suffering from too much magnesium (or too little calcium), the potassium helped because it reduced the metabolic effect of the magnesium (or assisted the metabolism of calcium). I think this is important, particularly for persons with hypothyroidism, because they need a higher calcium to magnesium ratio. A potassium deficiency could prevent the cells from getting enough calcium which is an activator in the cellular response to thyroid hormone.

The other discovery was that vitamin B-5 is important in preventing irregular heart rate. If B-5 gets deficient, it seems to have an effect on the calcium/magnesium metabolism so that calcium doesn't work as well. A B-5 deficiency has similar effects to a calcium deficiency. I don't know why this happens, but I now realize that it's important when supplementing B complex vitamins to always make sure that you are taking as much B-5 as any of the other B vitamins. For example, if you are supplementing with high amounts of niacin (for headaches or other reasons), be aware that you will need to increase B-5 to the same amount or a little greater to prevent a disturbance of the cal/mag ratio which could result in irregular heart rate.

One other discovery in all this was that by not taking enough calcium and taking too much magnesium, another of my teeth died. I developed an extreme tooth ache which led to another root canal. For dental and bone health, don't maintain a high magnesium/calcium ratio past the point where you need it.

Remember that balancing calcium and magnesium won't correct thyroid problems. You'll need to correct the other minerals like copper, zinc, iron, selenium, chromium, manganese, etc. to achieve this. Calcium and magnesium get out of balance because of these other nutritional problems. However, getting your calcium/magnesium balance corrected is essential for normalizing heart rate, preventing dental decay and osteoporosis, and preventing muscle cramps (too little magnesium).

In summary, to balance calcium and magnesium keep these points in mind: a normal person need a cal/mag ratio of about 2:1; a hyper needs more magnesium and a hypo needs more calcium, but these ratios need to be constantly adjusted as you approach normality; irregular heart rate can be a sign of either too little calcium or too little magnesium; the key to knowing whether you need calcium or magnesium is the strength of the heart beat, not the speed or the irregularity--if it's too strong, take more magnesium and if it's too weak, take more calcium.