Magnesium is perhaps one of the most overlooked minerals. This is especially important because, an estimated 80 percent of Americans are deficient in it.
The health consequences of deficiency can be quite significant, and can be aggravated by many, if not most, drug treatments.
Dr. Carol Dean
Carolyn Dean is a medical and naturopathic doctor. At the end of this article we feature a video where Dr. Dean discusses the importance of this mineral. Dr. Dean was the lead author on the seminal paper “Death by Medicine” back in 2003, showing that modern medicine is in fact one of the leading causes of death in the United States. She also authored the book Death by Modern Medicine.
Last year, she was awarded the Arrhythmia Alliance Outstanding Medical Contribution to Cardiac Rhythm Management Services Award 2012. It was given by the Heart Rhythm Society of the UK, which is a major allopathic organization.
Dr. Dean has studied and written about magnesium for about 15 years. In January, 2003, she published the first edition of The Magnesium Miracle, and she’s currently working on the third edition of this book.
“What I want to convey today is the importance of magnesium, how you can get it, how you can know how much you require in your body, and the incredible benefits from using this simple mineral,” she says.
Magnesium—One of Your Most Important Minerals
Magnesium is a crucially important mineral for optimal health, performing a wide array of biological functions, including but not limited to:
- Activating muscles and nerves
- Creating energy in your body by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
- Helping digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
- Serving as a building block for RNA and DNA synthesis
- It’s also a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin
As mentioned, few people get enough magnesium in their diet these days. Meanwhile, calcium tends to be overutilized and taken in high quantities. This can cause more harm than good, as it’s very important to have a proper balance between these two minerals.If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, your muscles will tend to go into spasm, and this has consequences for your heart in particular.
“What happens is, the muscle and nerve function that magnesium is responsible for is diminished. If you don’t have enough magnesium, your muscles go into spasm. Calcium causes muscle to contract. If you had a balance, the muscles would do their thing. They’d relax, contract, and create their activity,” she explains.
Magnesium is perhaps critical for heart health, as excessive amounts of calcium without the counterbalance of magnesium can lead to a heart attack and sudden death. According to Dr. Dean, your heart has the highest amount of magnesium in your body, specifically in your left ventricle. With insufficient amounts of magnesium, your heart simply cannot function properly.
Pay Attention to Your Calcium-Magnesium Ratio
Over the past 30 years, women have been told to take supplemental calcium to avoid osteoporosis. Many foods have also been fortified with extra calcium to prevent calcium deficiency among the general population. Despite such measures, osteoporosis has continued to climb.
“I’ve heard statistics like a 700 percent rise in osteoporosis in a 10-year period, even while taking all this calcium,” Dr. Dean says.
The myth that’s been created about calcium is that we need twice as much calcium as we do magnesium. Most of the supplements reflect this. We’ve got a situation where people are taking 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium and maybe a few hundred milligrams of magnesium.
The 2:1 ratio—that was a mistake; a mistaken translation from French researcher Jean Durlach, who said never ever go beyond two parts calcium to one part magnesium in your food, water, or supplement intake combined.
This was misinterpreted as meaning a 2:1 ratio was an appropriate ratio, which it’s not. A more appropriate ratio of calcium to magnesium is 1:1.
Also Address Your Vitamin K2 and D Ratios
While not addressed specifically in the featured video, I want to remind you that calcium and magnesium also needs to be balanced with vitamin D and K2. Many of Dr. Dean’s blogs address this issue and her concern that high dose vitamin D can overwork magnesium and lead to magnesium deficiency.
These four nutrients perform an intricate dance together, with one supporting the other. Lack of balance between these nutrients is why calcium supplements have become associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, and why some people experience vitamin D toxicity. Part of the explanation for these adverse side effects is that vitamin K2 keeps calcium in its appropriate place. If you’re K2 deficient, added calcium can cause more problems than it solves, by accumulating in the wrong places.
Similarly, if you opt for oral vitamin D, you need to also consume it in your food or take supplemental vitamin K2 and more magnesium. Taking mega doses of vitamin D supplements without sufficient amounts of K2 and magnesium can lead to vitamin D toxicity and magnesium deficiency symptoms, which include inappropriate calcification.
Magnesium and vitamin K2 complement each other, as magnesium helps lower blood pressure, which is an important component of heart disease. So, all in all, anytime you’re taking any of the following: magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3, or vitamin K2, you need to take all the others into consideration as well, since these all work synergistically with one another.
Dietary Sources of Calcium and Magnesium
You can typically get enough calcium from your diet by eating nuts, seeds, deep green leafy vegetables, and dairy products. Homemade bone broth is another excellent source. Simply simmer leftover bones over low heat for an entire day to extract the calcium from the bones. Make sure to add a few tablespoons of vinegar. You can use this broth for soups, stews, or drink it straight. The “skin” that forms on the top is the best part as it also contains other valuable nutrients, such as sulfur, along with healthful fats. Magnesium, on the other hand, tends to be a bit scarcer in our modern food supply.
“Magnesium is farmed out of the soil much more than calcium,” Dr. Dean explains. “A hundred years ago, we would get maybe 500 milligrams of magnesium in an ordinary diet. Now we’re lucky to get 200 milligrams. People do need to supplement with magnesium.”
I agree with Dr. Dean on the supplement issue, as industrial agriculture has massively depleted most soils of beneficial minerals like magnesium. If you find biologically-grown organic foods (grown on soil treated with mineral fertilizers), you may still be able to get a lot of your magnesium from your food. Chlorophyll has a magnesium atom in its center, allowing the plant to utilize the energy from the sun.
Seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard can be excellent sources of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds. Avocados also contain magnesium.
Juicing your vegetables is an excellent option to ensure you’re getting enough of them in your diet.
However, most foods grown today are deficient in magnesium and other minerals. Herbicides, like glyphosate also act as chelators, effectively blocking the uptake and utilization of minerals. As a result, I believe it would be highly unusual for anyone to have access to foods that are rich in magnesium, which is why I believe it is prudent to consider a magnesium supplement. This is my personal strategy even though I have access to highly nutrient dense foods.
Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
Unfortunately, there’s no easily available commercial lab test that will give you a truly accurate reading of the magnesium status in your tissues.
Only one percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood, making a simple sample of magnesium from a serum magnesium blood test highly inaccurate. Some specialty labs do provide an RBC magnesium test which is reasonably accurate.
This leaves you with looking for signs and symptoms of deficiency. Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, headache, nausea, fatigue, and weakness. An ongoing magnesium deficiency can lead to more serious symptoms, including:
Numbness and tingling Muscle contractions and cramps Seizures Personality changes Abnormal heart rhythms Coronary spasms
In her book, The Magnesium Miracle, Dr. Dean lists 100 factors that will help you decide whether or not you might be deficient. You can also follow the instructions in her blog post, “Gauging Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms,”1 which will give you a checklist to go through every few weeks. This will help you gauge how much magnesium you need in order to take away your deficiency symptoms.
Which Form of Magnesium Is Best?
If you opt for a magnesium supplement as recommended by Dr. Dean, be aware that there are several different forms of magnesium. The cheapest sources of magnesium are magnesium oxide supplements, which are poorly absorbed by your body. A mere four percent is absorbed when you take this kind. The remaining 96 percent goes through your intestines, which is why magnesium oxide tends to have a laxative effect, which can be useful if you are challenged with constipation.
Besides taking a supplement, another way to improve your magnesium status is to take regular Epsom salt baths or foot baths. Epsom salt is a magnesium sulfate that can absorb into your body through your skin. Magnesium oil (from magnesium chloride) can also be used for topical application and absorption.The reason for the wide variety of magnesium supplements on the market is because the magnesium must be bound to another substance. There’s no such thing as a 100% magnesium compound supplement (except pico-ionic magnesium). The substance used in any given supplement compound can affect the absorption and bioavailability of the magnesium, and may provide slightly different, or targeted, health benefits:
Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability and is typically considered ideal for those who are trying to correct a deficiency Magnesium oxide is a non-chelated type of magnesium, bound to an organic acid or a fatty acid. Contains 60 percent magnesium and has stool softening properties Magnesium chloride / Magnesium lactate contain only 12 percent magnesium, but has better absorption than others, such as magnesium oxide, which contains five times more magnesium Magnesium sulfate / Magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) are typically used as a laxative. Be aware that it’s easy to overdose on these, so ONLY take as directed Magnesium carbonate, which has antacid properties, contains 45 percent magnesium Magnesium taurate contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, an amino acid. Together, they tend to provide a calming effect on your body and mind Magnesium citrate is magnesium with citric acid, which has laxative properties Magnesium threonate is a newer, emerging type of magnesium supplement that appears promising, primarily due to its superior ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane
Beware: Many Prescription Drugs Deplete Your Magnesium Stores
According to Dr. Dean, two major lifestyle factors that deplete your body of magnesium are stress and prescription drugs. Unfortunately, the conventional medical approach for the former oftentimes leads to the latter, making your situation progressively worse. Dr. Dean explains:
“The scenario that I like to talk about is very basic. You will recognize it immediately in either yourself or your family members. You go to your doctor. You’re under massive stress. Massive stress means you’re losing magnesium. You’re burning magnesium out of your body, because it helps support your adrenal glands. It helps keep you away from anxiety and depression. It helps relax your muscles.
If you’re all tight and stressed, your magnesium is being lost, [which makes] the muscles of your blood vessels tighten. That tightness is going to cause increased blood pressure. Your doctor… will say, ‘Oh, your blood pressure is elevated. We’ll give you a diuretic.’
A diuretic will drop the fluid level in your body to take the pressure off your blood vessels, so your blood pressure will drop. But diuretics also drain off your magnesium… A month later you come back, and the doctor finds your blood pressure’s even more elevated. Yes—because you’ve just lost more magnesium! Your doctor then puts you on a calcium channel blocker. Now, they have that part right. They know that without magnesium, your calcium is going to become elevated and will tighten up your blood vessels, so they try to block calcium. But they don’t know that magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker.
Your doctor may also put you on an angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, another blood pressure drug… So, you go away with three drugs now. After two or three months, you come back and have blood taken to make sure that drugs aren’t hurting your liver…
All of a sudden, your cholesterol is elevated. All of a sudden, your blood sugar is elevated.
What does the doctor say? ‘Oh, we caught your cholesterol. We just caught your blood sugar. We can put you on medications.’ But they didn’t catch them; they caused them.”
Dr. Dean warns that the more you deplete your magnesium, the more out of control your cholesterol will get, because magnesium helps balance the enzyme that creates cholesterol in your body, thereby aiding in normalizing your cholesterol levels.
Interestingly, and importantly, statin drugs destroy the same enzyme that magnesium balances, she says. Magnesium deficiency is also a common symptom in diabetes, so drugs may inadvertently contribute to diabetes simply by depleting your body of magnesium.
Fluoride Very Effectively Drains Your Body of Magnesium
Of particular concern is fluoride, which is used in a variety of different drugs. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics like Cipro are the most well known for their fluoride content and its associated problems. But fluoride is also added to other drugs, including certain cholesterol medications, anti-anxiety drugs, and painkillers for arthritis, for example. Magnesium binds to fluoride to form magnesium fluoride, and that very effectively drains magnesium from your body.
Many drugs also tend to promote chronic inflammation. According to Dr. Dean, calcium is a precursor of inflammatory effects, while magnesium is an effective anti-inflammatory nutrient. This is why it’s so important to maintain the appropriate ratio of magnesium to calcium. Again, too much calcium without sufficient amounts of magnesium may actually contribute to the development of heart disease.
“We’ve got three studies now in the British Medical Journal. It was a research facility out of New Zealand that showed that women who simply take calcium supplements are at a much higher risk for heart disease. Nothing is said about magnesium. People were just sort of left up in the air.
Some doctors are saying, ‘Yeah, don’t take calcium anymore.’ Nobody’s talking about magnesium as being the balance point,” she says.