There’s a wonderfully versatile nutrient that I would like to discuss in this blog post. The nutrient is magnesium, one of the most abundant minerals in the body…
Until recently, the physiologic role of magnesium was essentially ignored. Although magnesium is an extremely important mineral in our bodies, most of it is intracellular and therefore difficult to measure.
Recently, however, new technologies have been developed that are able to measure the intracellular free concentration of magnesium, which is the bio-active fraction of magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency is now considered to be a contributor to many diseases and the role of magnesium is now being actively explored as a treatment option.
Magnesium deficiency has been implicated in a myriad of diseases, including hypertension, ischemic heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias, pre-eclampsia (a toxic condition developing in late pregnancy that is characterized by a sudden rise in blood pressure, excessive weight gain, generalized edema [swelling caused by watery fluid accumulating in tissues], albuminuria [protein in the urine which usually indicates disease], severe headache, and visual disturbances), asthma, and critical illness.
Although magnesium is considered a “lowly mineral” by most doctors and not a drug in itself, it is currently the therapeutic agent of choice for the treatment of pre-eclampsia, along with a particular cardiac arrhythmia (an uneven heartbeat rhythm), known as “torsades de pointes.”
Magnesium appears to be playing an increasingly important role in asthma. In a double-blinded study published a few months ago, 89 children between the ages of 4-16 years old with mild-to-moderate persistent bronchial asthma were randomized in a double-blinded, placebo-controlled fashion. The children were given either 200-290 mg of magnesium daily (depending on their ages), while another group was given sugar pills during the 12-week trial.
At the end of the trial, those children treated with magnesium supplementation showed statistical significant improvement in their asthmatic conditions, and the authors recommended that it be used as an accompanying “drug” in stable asthma. Funny thing how doctors elevate a nutrient to “drug” status when the nutrient works as well as or better than a real drug without the side effects!
In another study, published in the journal Stroke in January of this year, 323 patients with known symptomatic peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the arteries in their legs causing pain and other symptoms known as “claudication”) were prospectively studied.
The serum magnesium was determined and these patients were then followed for an average of 20 months. At the end of the study, those patients with the lowest serum magnesium levels had an over-300% increased adjusted risk of developing stroke, compared to the group with the highest serum magnesium level.
The authors concluded that low serum magnesium levels indicate an increase risk for neurological events in patients with symptomatic peripheral artery disease.
There have been multiple studies over the years using magnesium in patients with coronary artery disease. Although there have been small studies showing benefits, recently, two published and randomized large-scale trials were unable to demonstrate any advantage of intravenous magnesium over placebo.
The benefits of magnesium require long-term oral supplementation over months and years. However, the author of a recent paper indicated that, nevertheless, the theoretical benefits of magnesium supplementation as a cardio-protective agent showed promising results from animal and human studies.
The relatively low cost and ease of handling, requiring no special expertise, along with its excellent tolerability, gives magnesium a place in treating coronary artery patients, especially those at high risk. There is no question that optimal magnesium intake is required for normal blood pressure, heart function and even brain function.
In fact, studies indicate a majority of people who suffer from migraine headaches have low intracellular magnesium levels. The typical American diet is woefully inadequate in magnesium. One of the best sources is nuts, such as walnuts and almonds. This is one of the reasons that people who consume high levels (5 servings per week) of walnuts have up to 80% less stroke risk.
Like any other vitamin, mineral or nutrient that you take, it is essential that you take an adequate amount. The typical once-a-day product may contain only 10 to 30 mg of elemental magnesium, which will provide no benefit whatsoever.
The therapeutic daily dose for magnesium for an adult is anywhere from 200-600 mg elemental from a supplement, plus the amount obtained in your diet. Look for a supplement that provides magnesium by itself (not as a multivitamin) or magnesium combined with vitamin D and calcium (including coral calcium).
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