My most viewed video on youtube to date has been on the benefits of Magnesium on our overall health. In this blog, I summarise the most useful points from that video.
1) The majority of chronic illnesses are driven by chronic inflammation. With regards to the heart, atherosclerosis (hardening of our blood vessels) is the process that eventually leads to heart attacks and this is caused by chronic low grade inflammation. The inflammation is caused by lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor nutrition (especially processed foods), lack of exercise, lack of good quality sleep and stress.
2) As the arteries harden over a number of years, it becomes more difficult for blood to get to our vital organs such as our brain, kidneys and heart. As these organs start getting deprived of blood they start malfunctioning.
3) Any agent which can improve the blood supply to our vital organs can offer potential benefits to our health. Magnesium, in that sense, has the following beneficial properties:
a) It can help relax smooth muscle and therefore relaxes our blood vessels allowing blood to get through more easily
b) It is anti-inflammatory
c) It has some anticoagulant properties which again help blood to travel through the hardened blood vessels more easily
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is both a mineral and an electrolyte. It is the 4th most abundant mineral in the body. It is necessary for electrical activity in the heart and the brain and is also a co-factor in more than 300 reactions within the body. The recommended daily allowance is 400-420 mg for men and 310-360mg for women. However, our daily intake is far less than this. We should be taking 400mg daily but the majority of people take between 240- 370 mg at most. It is estimated that 75% of the population in the western world takes in less magnesium than is recommended. It is also important to understand what happens to the magnesium once we have ingested it. 30-40% is absorbed from our gut and also our small bowel. Some of it is excreted through our kidneys but then the kidneys try and re-absorb it especially when we are magnesium deficient. Magnesium is also interesting because only 1-2% is available in the blood. Most of the magnesium is in bone (67%) and within the cells (31%). Hence when we look at measuring magnesium levels in a routine blood test, we are only measuring 1-2% of the total amount of magnesium present within our bodies and this is why the blood test is not a good marker of total body magnesium content.
Why are we Magnesium deficient?
The majority of us are Magnesium deficient. Here are the reasons why:
1) We take in less than we should.
This is because of modern farming methods which serve to deplete the magnesium in soil. Processing depletes magnesium further.
2) We absorb less of it from our stomachs
Reflux disease has become hugely prevalent because of the bad food that we are being fed and a large number of people are now on chronic proton pump inhibitors to reduce acid production. Unfortunately acid is necessary for absorption of magnesium and it is well recognised that chronic proton pump inhibitor use is associated with an increased risk of magnesium deficiency.
Carbonated beverages also reduce the absorption of magnesium and can compound the problem.
3) We use up a lot more magnesium these days
We are using up a lot more magnesium now compared to a hundred years ago. Remember Magnesium plays a role in over 300 reactions within our bodies. Stress, which is ubiquitous these days, results in increased Magnesium break-down. Lack of sleep also results in increased magnesium usage. There is a lot more sugar in our food these days and Magnesium is required to break sugar down and this again causes depletion of magnesium.
4) We excrete a larger than necessary amount of magnesium
Coffee, Tea and pharmacological diuretics all cause us to excrete more magnesium in our urine. In particular diuretics will actually stop the kidneys from re-absorbing magnesium.
You can therefore see why we, as a population have become so deficient in this vital mineral/electrolyte.
What are the effects of magnesium deficiency?
The signs and symptoms are usually subtle and often we put them down to the rigors of modern day living. In particular, tiredness, anxiety, sleep disturbance, depression, restless legs and even heart palpitations can be caused by magnesium deficiency. Hardening of the arteries can cause elevated blood pressure readings. Improving magnesium levels can help with all these symptoms. In addition it can help achieve better control of blood pressure and also diabetes.
How do you confirm whether you are deficient?
This can be difficult because the blood test is virtually useless as it only measures the 1-2% of magnesium in the blood and does not give an accurate assessment of total body magnesium. If the blood test shows that the magnesium levels are normal then you can not be sure because it may be falsely reassuring but if the blood test is indeed very low then it is very likely you are deficient.
A better way to measure Magnesium levels is to measure the content of magnesium in the red cells. This is called Red cell Magnesium Count. Unfortunately few laboratories (in the UK) offer this measurement routinely. Another way to get a more accurate assessment of body magnesium stores is to measure the content of magnesium in the urine. Again this is not a routinely available test in most laboratories. An easier way is simply to increase your magnesium levels and see if you notice a difference.
Why don’t doctors recommend Magnesium?
There are several reasons for this:
1) There are no large scale randomised trials to provide an evidence base for its benefits. This is largely because most large scale trials are very expensive to run and are pharma-sponsored. No pharma company is going to profit from magnesium and therefore there is little incentive is studying its benefits. However a search on Pubmed reveals several small scale studies which indirectly point to magnesium being essential for our good health.
2) It is difficult to measure and the most commonly used method which is a simple blood test is hugely flawed and can often give normal values even in those who are very deficient.
3) Most doctors are brainwashed by the pharmaceutical industry into believing that the only remedy to any problem is a set of pills.
How do I increase my magnesium levels?
There are several ways:
1) Improve intake by avoiding processed foods and eating organically grown magnesium rich foods from local growers. Almonds, Spinach, Cashew nuts, peanuts all contain lots of magnesium. Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin and Magnesium Oil which is available in many health shops can help when applied topically. Similarly the addition of an oral magnesium supplement can greatly boost magnesium levels and reduce symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
2) Increasing the absorption of magnesium through the gut by reducing reliance on proton pump inhibitors. If you have reflux, alternative agents such as H2 receptor blockers do not cause magnesium deficiency and could provide relief from reflux equally well.
3) Reducing the breakdown of magnesium by maintaining a good lifestyle – better sleep patterns, management of stress and regular exercise help. Also reducing sugar intake is very helpful.
4) Reducing excretion of magnesium by avoiding diuretics such as coffee and tea can help
Can Magnesium be harmful?
I would always recommend that you seek your own doctor’s counsel before taking any supplements so that they can advise you after evaluating your medical history. Truthfully at recommended daily allowances, magnesium supplementation is very safe. The only caveat is if you have severe kidney disease in which case i would again recommend taking your doctor’s advice. Some people do develop a runny stomach on certain preparations. Magnesium glycinate in particular is generally well tolerated in those who have issues with diarrhoea with other forms of magnesium.
What preparation and what dose is best?
As there are so many preparations, it is beyond the scope of this review to go through each and every one of them. In general, magnesium oxide is least effective and best avoided. I have used Magnesium taurate 125 mg twice a day with great success in many of my patients. Similarly Magnesium Citrate at 200 mg daily is also very effective as is Magnesium glycinate. Magnesium supplements are very easily available at health food stores and online suppliers such as Amazon.
I hope you found this post useful. Here is a link to a video on this subject. I would love to hear your comments on whether you have used magnesium and whether you have benefited in some way from it.