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Stress: the Ying and Yang roles of Magnesium and Calcium

The Basic Roles of Magnesium and Calcium

Calcium and magnesium are both essential nutrients that are highly abundant in the body. The calcium ion (Ca2+) is remarkably similar to that of magnesium (Mg2+) and yet they act very differently. They work together but antagonistically to help maintain normal function in the body.


Calcium works to excite nerves, to stimulate a reaction, thus allowing the body to communicate, contract muscles etc. Magnesium however is vital for inhibitory control, blocking certain channels to prevent unwanted reactions, allowing muscles to relax and generally helping to control the nervous system.


Both nutrients are also vital for a huge range of interrelated functions which contribute to skeletal structure, energy metabolism, brain function and so forth.

Understanding the Stress Response

Exposure to stress triggers a chain of reactions. These are survival responses, mostly designed to equip us for ‘fight or flight’. Modern life exposes us to continual stress factors and the fight or flight response is often useless in these scenarios. For a dog, the inability to rationalise about stressful situations or to respond effectively can itself be a cause of stress.  


Stress comes in many forms, from isolation, to a change in environment, a fright, pressure to work and concentrate, exercise, cold, noise, pain etc. Dogs, like us, vary in how well they cope with various types of stress, and how they react. Some dogs are innately more sensitive to stress making it very difficult to acclimatise them to new situations.


In response to stress, the body releases hormones and uses the nerves to increase heart, metabolic and breathing rates, redistribute blood flow away from the gut and bladder to the muscles, increase blood pressure, increase blood glucose and delay fatigue. There is a complex array of transmitter substances involved in this process, but the two that you are most likely to recognise are adrenaline and cortisol.


Under normal conditions, the majority of calcium is kept outside of the cell, whereas magnesium is mostly found inside the cell. Stress responses vitally involve the influx of calcium into the cells, thus dramatically altering the cell magnesium to calcium ratio. Calcium acts to encourage nerve excitation, adrenaline secretion and adrenaline response. The stress response subsides when the resting magnesium to calcium ratio is restored.


While calcium has been on the radar for generations due to its obvious associations with skeletal health, the importance of magnesium is a much more recent area of research.  It is essential to ensure adequate dietary intake of both nutrients.

Magnesium Symbol Calcium Symbol scared dog