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Why Is Magnesium So Important in the Health of Our Birds?

Without enough Magnesium bones, beaks, feathers, nerve impulses, muscle coordination, brain neurons and heart health suffer greatly.

We all know that Calcium is important for proper bone growth and regeneration. Calcium is also necessary for beak health. It is also a major contributor to normal muscle tone and coordination, nerve impulses and neurological brain activity. If an overall diet is low in Calcium, or the body does not absorb Calcium the body will pull Calcium from bones. Pulling Calcium from the bones can lead to osteoporosis. What about Magnesium? How does it play in synergy with Calcium? Like Calcium, it is considered one of the most important major minerals.

Machelle Pacion - Avian Nutrition Specialist

The body is made up primarily of four trace elements, oxygen (65%), hydrogen (10%) (oxygen plus hydrogen makeup water, known as H2O, and are known as “water weight”), carbon (18%) and nitrogen (3%). Trace elements comprise of as much as 96% of body mass.

Next, comes Calcium weighing in at 1.5% and then Magnesium at 0.05%. Magnesium is the second-most-abundant mineral in a living creature's body. These two minerals, by far contribute to most of a living creature’s total body weight after oxygen and hydrogen (water), carbon and nitrogen. It is no wonder that Magnesium levels play such an important role in optimum health!

The trace minerals that follow are just as important, but each of all of the minerals works synergistically with and requires other minerals to perform their bodily tasks. The other main minerals that help make up total body mass are: Phosphorous (1%), Potassium (0.25%), Sulfur (0.25%), Sodium (.15%), Chlorine (.15%), Iron (0.006%), Fluorine (0.0037%), Zinc (0.0032%), Copper (0.0001%), Iodine (0.000016%), Selenium (0.000019%), Chromium (0.0000024%), Manganese (0.000017%), Molybdenum (0.000013%), and Cobalt (0.0000021%). 

Synergistic Nutrition

We need to understand that all vitamins and minerals work synergistically with each other. Without the proper balance of nutrients, body systems and functions begin to suffer. Imbalance of nutrients can lead to total failure of entire body systems and functions if the body experiences unbalanced nutrition (malnutrition) over a long period.

Today we are discussing Magnesium. This mineral is finally gaining the attention it deserves. Far too long the Magnesium discussion left out of the overall nutritional conversation may be contributing to real health problems regarding the health of exotic birds. In fact, the majority of minerals have been left out of the nutritional conversation completely. Time is way overdue for all of us who love our feathered friends to understand that minerals are just as important as vitamins. Minerals are the bedrock foundation of optimum digestion and absorption of all nutrients. If it were not for minerals in the diet vitamins would serve little purpose; minerals aid in the digestion, absorption and proper body-use of vitamins, digestive enzymes, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Magnesium carries the Atomic number of “12” and the Atomic weight of 24.305 in the Periodic Elemental Chart. For those of us who are biology and nutritional geeks, if you are interested in reading in-depth information about how to read the Periodic Table click this link.

The Proper Ratio of Calcium to Magnesium

First of all, let’s understand that for decades and more medical science believed and reported that living creatures need a ratio of 1:2, Calcium:Magnesium respectively. Newer research information indicates that a ratio of 1:1 is probably more correct. However, a ratio of 1:1.25 may be acceptable depending on the form of Calcium and whether it is a highly absorbable form. Of course, Magnesium is not any different; it is available in different forms as well, all dictating the absorption. For instance, naturally ionized Calcium specifically in the form of plant-sourced Calcium found in algae is probably the best-absorbed Calcium. Magnesium, on the other hand, can be “oxide,” which is the natural, earth-derived form. Some laboratory-produced magnesium mineral salts seem to be readily absorbed as well. Of the laboratory-produced, I prefer Magnesium glycinate. However, in my research and clinical studies, I have found that Magnesium oxide, the most natural form seems to be the preferred form of the bodily systems of exotic birds. Exotic birds are still, for the most part, “wild and undomesticated” and seem to function better on natural, earth-derived nutrients. Using Magnesium oxide at a ratio of 1 part ionized Calcium to 1.25 parts of Magnesium oxide seems to be the sweet spot for exotic birds in general. Of course upon further studies, I have found that certain species require less while other species require more of either Calcium or Magnesium. Understanding that each sub-species of exotic bird requires its special species levels of nutrients and this is where we delve into “species-specific food combining.” Generally speaking though, a 1:1 ratio of ionized Calcium to natural, earth-derived Magnesium oxide is a safe ratio to use in any exotic bird’s daily diets on a continuing basis.

The Role of Magnesium in the Body

What does Magnesium do for the body? Very basic information all of us need to know when it comes to our exotic birds, nutritional geeks, or not! What does a balanced ratio of Calcium to Magnesium do for our birds’ overall optimum health and vitality?

Understanding that Calcium ensures the health and strength of our birds’ bones, beaks and keratin formation for feathers and skin, plus aids in cardiovascular health, brain function, and muscular actions, we must understand a very important fact. Calcium cannot perform its tasks ensuring the health of these body parts when the metabolic system cannot or does not absorb it. The metabolic system carries all nutrients, in their broken down, free-form to all parts of the body in the specific, required amounts.

Without Magnesium, Calcium is not absorbed properly without the correct level of Magnesium in the system. Where does Calcium go and what does it do when not enough Magnesium is present? Calcium “calcifies” arteries (Hardening of the arteries or otherwise known as Arteriosclerosis - the stiffening or hardening of the artery walls. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of the artery because of plaque build-up. Plaque buildup occurs when too much Calcium without Magnesium is prevalent in the body and/or where a diet high in Omega 6s and refined sugars and starches are present. A diet high in dietary fat only contributes to this disease when all of the other factors mentioned above are in play. Even then the harmful culprit in regards to dietary fat is mainly Omega 6s, and some amount of animal saturated fats if the overall diet is not balanced with other nutrients and specifically Omega 3s. Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis.). However, arteries are not the only organs of the body that can harden due to calcification. The vessels, joints, and other soft tissues in the body can calcify if there is not enough Magnesium present (including the heart muscle itself). Calcium can even build up in brain tissue. All of this calcification can potentially lead to and cause the onset of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, gout, muscle stiffness and lack of coordination of muscles due to nerve impairment, fibromyalgia symptoms, as well as dementia and/or seizures.

When the proper ratio of Magnesium is present in the system the above disorders are greatly lessened; Magnesium contributes to the breaking down of Calcium so the metabolic system can absorb it. Once absorbed the body can efficiently and evenly distribute both Calcium and Magnesium throughout the entire body!

Magnesium not only aids in the absorption of Calcium* by breaking it down for total absorption, but Magnesium also chelates Calcium calcifications from arteries, vessels, joints, and other soft tissues. It also chelates calcifications in the brain (Omega 3 works synergistically in the body, and specifically in the brain to help remove calcifications.)

On a side-note, while Potassium is one of the main minerals affecting heart rhythm, Calcium and Magnesium also contribute to rhythm, nerve pulses, and muscle contraction and relaxation. Therefore Calcium and Magnesium, in the correct ratio are vital to optimum heart health.

Magnesium also aids in the maintenance of other bodily functions. There is a distinct difference in actions on the overall body of Calcium and Magnesium. Calcium is an “excitatory” mineral whereas Magnesium is a “calmative” mineral. While Calcium aids in stimulating nerves, brain neurons, and contracts and causes muscles to cramp, Magnesium performs just the opposite actions, it calms nerves, brain neurons and relaxes muscles. More reason to ensure your bird is receiving the proper ratio of Calcium to Magnesium. Calcium and Magnesium aids in the contraction and relaxation of all muscles including the heart muscle. This information should raise a red flag for all of us! If an improper ratio of Calcium to Magnesium is in the total diet, or if Calcium and Magnesium are not absorbed our birds can suffer muscle twitches and jerks such as wing-flipping and toe-tapping as well as head twitches and jerks. Too much Calcium can cause lack of, as well as unrestful sleep. Too much Calcium can also lend itself to muscle cramps and seizures. (There are many reasons and causes for seizures; too much Calcium and lack of Magnesium is only one cause.)

I occasionally give an added “boost” of Magnesium to our flock’s drinking water in the form of “ionic Magnesium.” Ionic minerals are better-absorbed and aid in giving a quick dose for targeted actions. If I sense that any bird or our entire flock is upset for any reason, I will add a little liquid ionic Magnesium to their drinking water overnight, or during the day. Such an instance may be the unsettled feeling birds are sensitive to when there is a full moon, or when company visits, or if the emotional/mental environment is unsettled. I add as much as 0.50ml to ONE GALLON of drinking water and use that solution for at least 24 hours. Depending on the situation I may serve this solution daily on an ongoing basis for birds who engage in feather destruction, suffer cardiovascular problems and show signs of nerve and/or muscle damage.

Detox By Way of Magnesium

If your bird needs to detox, Epsom Salt is a wonderful additive to misting water to aid in the removal of toxins and heavy metals from the body. Epsom Salts is mostly Magnesium sulfate. Mixed with water and applied topically, this solution is also excellent for calming a bird in the event of a stressful situation. I mix about 1/8th to ¼ teaspoon of Epsom Salts to one quart of filtered water and mist once up to 4 times a day during stressful times. If your bird’s droppings begin to turn a bright, turquoise green, you are using the solution too often, or you need to reduce the amount of Epsom Salts you add to the solution. The largest organ of the body known as “skin” absorbs this solution efficiently. It will contribute to the overall level of magnesium in your bird’s system.

Obtaining The Correct Form of Nutrients

Where do you find the supplements I have suggested? You can purchase Ionic Magnesium here. You can purchase highly absorbable Ionized Calcium derived from an algae source here. You can find Epsom Salts at just any local drug store, traditional food store, organic food store or health food store.

I have written about the importance of magnesium in our birds’ diets. I have written about the proper ratio of Calcium to Magnesium in our birds’ diets. I have written ad-nauseam about the extreme importance of the overall balance of nutrients in our birds’ diets. We may not yet know what the total and complete nutritional profile for each sub-species of exotic bird, we do have a very good idea what “balanced nutrition” is. We should make it our top priority for thriving, optimum health of our feathered friends to make sure their diet is nutritionally balanced overall. We need to feed a daily diet that has been laboratory-tested for nutritional balance. Also, we need to make sure the fresh foods fed are contributing to the overall balance of nutrients; that fresh foods do not cause an imbalance in the overall nutritional profile. It also means that if we feed only a fresh, raw diet that we have our own, personal mixes laboratory-tested to ensure balanced nutrition!

*It should be noted that for decades upon decades we have been told that our birds require a lot of Vitamin D for the proper absorption of Calcium. While this may be theoretically correct, it is not, in my opinion experientially correct. Vitamin D does aid in the absorption of Calcium to some degree; I will not argue that fact. I will contend that “like-to-like” has more of an overall effect and strong foundation aiding the total absorption of counterparts. Magnesium and Calcium, are minerals. They are water-soluble nutrients. Therefore each aid the other when it comes to complete nutritional absorption. Vitamin D, on the other hand, is a fat-soluble nutrient and therefore requires a correct level of dietary fats for absorption before it can aid in the absorption of Calcium. If not enough dietary fat is in the diet Vitamin D goes to the liver where it sits and if it is a synthetic form of Vitamin D potentially lend themselves to the liver and cardiovascular disorders (this applies to any fat-soluble vitamin such as A, D, E, and K).

Happy, healthy foraging!

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