Long overshadowed by its symbiotic sister calcium, this mineral’s star is finally rising
By Katie Sandberg
“Helps prevent high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis!” What wonder drug is this? The claim may sound like a slick, late-night infomercial, but it’s just a partial listing of the proven benefits of magnesium. If there is a supplement approaching panacea status in the vitamins-and-minerals section of your local health food store, it is magnesium. And if you suffer from some of the physical and psychological ills that tend to plague 21st-century humans in the Los Angeles basin, magnesium can help.
“Magnesium is one of my favorite tools in my arsenal because it is a cheap fix for so many things,” explained Nancy Sacks, a doctor of homeopathy in Westlake Village, Calif. “It’s a miracle; for $10 a month or so, magnesium is a magic bullet that helps with sleep, stress, anxiety, muscle spasms, constipation, low energy, headaches, hormonal changes, sweet cravings and irritability.” It’s also known to help with kidney stones, depression and asthma.
Magnesium is also lifesaving. In The Magnesium Solution for High Blood Pressure, his book detailing the science of how magnesium prevents and relieves high blood pressure, Jay Cohen, MD, a University of Calif. at San Diego professor, recounts how the element rescued him from a serious blood vessel-related disorder that kept him bedridden for years. After more than 40 prescriptions had failed, this specialist in medications and side effects finally thought of magnesium, a mineral not even addressed in his medical training. He says it restored his health and transformed his professional focus.
Decades of studies have shown magnesium to be an essential mineral for all terrestrial life. According to Carolyn Dean, MD and ND, it is a key player at every stage of the Krebs cycle, the process by which almost every cell generates energy. For humans, magnesium regulates more than 325 enzymes that control such functions as cell metabolism, nervous system electrical currents, muscular contraction, heart rate, bone growth and blood flow. Correlations between magnesium supplementation and improved blood sugar, blood pressure, bone health and cardiovascular health are well established in the research.
One poorly understood role of magnesium is that of gatekeeper for the amount of calcium in cells. Official recommendations tend to overvalue calcium and undervalue magnesium, Dean said, contributing to an imbalance of the two minerals in most people. “If there is not enough magnesium, calcium floods cells, causing muscle tension, nerve firing excess and calcium build-up that British researchers showed leads to breast calcification and atherosclerosis.”
With more than a thousand articles on magnesium published in medical journals over many decades bolstering the effectiveness of magnesium, why don’t more doctors prescribe magnesium, or even show awareness of the research? The answer is simple, according to Dr. Dean: Doctors study disease, not wellness, so for many of them, nutrition and supplements fall outside of their field. Although a few medical schools have an entire program in integrative medicine, only 60 percent of standard medical schools teach some form of course in alternative medicine.
Another reason? Dr. Cohen points out that since big pharmaceutical companies channel huge amounts of advertising dollars to educate doctors and patients on new prescription drugs, supplement knowledge often gets lost in our healthcare system. Yet the Hippocratic intent of “do no harm” would seem to favor beginning treatment for diseases potentially remedied by magnesium with magnesium, rather than with powerful drugs that might have harmful side effects.
Soil Depletion vs Nutrients
The number of magnesium-deficient people in Western countries has risen over the last hundred years to an estimated 75 percent. This is primarily because large-scale agriculture has steadily removed magnesium and other micronutrients from the soil through repeated crop harvesting without replenishment, according to the US Department of Agriculture. We have long since depleted the nutrients left behind from glacial melt that sustained our ancestors, and conventional agriculture favors inexpensive nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilizers over complete mineralized fertilizers, which means we are getting a fraction of the nutrients we should from the plants and (indirectly) animals we consume.
Several studies show that farmland has become so depleted that even organic foods produced on formerly conventionally farmed land often do not show higher concentrations of minerals and other micronutrients unless the farmers specifically use mineralized fertilizer such as rock dust and sea minerals (as advocated on www.remineralize.org). Add further mineral loss through food processing, packaging, storage and preparation, and even more minuscule concentrations are delivered to our bodies.
Still, a healthful, whole-food diet rich in leafy greens, whole grains, legumes and nuts should provide about half of your daily magnesium requirements. Magnesium superfoods include rice, wheat, oat bran, Brazil nuts, spinach,seaweed, almonds, cashews and (yes!) dark chocolate. Also pumpkin, squash and sesame seeds.
For those with high blood pressure, studies show making a simple switch to a new kind of table salt, called FortiSalt (see sidebar), can reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. It tastes like regular salt but provides less sodium and includes high levels of potassium and magnesium.
How Much Is Enough
So how much magnesium should you take? The US RDA of magnesium is 400–420 mg for adult men, 310–320 for women, with up to 400 for pregnant women. While most people would benefit from an individual analysis of their needs, Dr. Dean’s rule of thumb is to slowly ramp up magnesium levels from about 100 mg per day until you arrive at a ratio of about 600 mg of magnesium to 1000 mg of calcium per day (including food and supplement sources). If you ingest too much magnesium from non-food sources, you could experience nausea or a slowed heart rate, and magnesium supplements can also interfere with certain medications, so check with a health professional before changing your intake. Too much magnesium from supplements can also cause kidney problems, particularly in those whose kidneys are already impaired.
Researchers recommend trying different types of magnesium to find which one works best for your body. Powdered magnesium citrate provides an easily ingested source; chelated magnesium delivers high quality magnesium; and a newer offering, Angstrom minerals, delivers water-soluble, ionized magnesium at a size that is easily absorbed into cells, resulting in more efficient intake.
- Element symbol: Mg
- Atomic number: 12
- Eighth most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust
- Second most abundant positively charged ion in the body
- Occurs naturally in combination with other elements
- Classified as an alkaline earth metal
- Popular in pyrotechnics, incendiary bombs and early flash photography due to its blinding white flame
- Vital in the human body for muscle, blood vessel and nerve function, as well as bone building. Half of all magnesium in the body is in the bones, and it regulates calcium.
- Named after the Magnesia region of Greece where ore containing the mineral was found
Supplements recommended by Carolyn Dean, Nancy Sacks or Jay Cohen
• Powdered or liquid magnesium citrate—an inexpensive mix of magnesium carbonate and citric acid easily absorbed by the body.
• Chelated magnesium—Magnesium chemically attached, or chelated, to an organic compound such as amino acid; easily absorbed by the body and reduced laxative effect compared to magnesium citrate.
• Angstrom magnesium—electrically charged, molecule-sized particles that can be absorbed directly into cells without digestion.
• Sodium, potassium and magnesium table salt—reduced sodium and increased valuable mineral content compared to typical sodium chloride table salt. Sold commercially as FortiSalt.
Bottom photo courtesy HealthAliciousNess
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