Based on information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), magnesium is practically a wonder drug. Yet few people know about it, and few doctors recommend it. It helps maintain muscles and nerves, regulates blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and prevents heart attacks.
I first learned about magnesium (chemical symbol Mg) when my legs started becoming stiff and jumpy. It was a multiple sclerosis symptom, but what to do about it? The prescribed medicines stopped the spasms, but had the side effect of completely knocking me out. My muscles wouldn’t function at all.
Then someone at a support group suggested I take magnesium. In two days, the spasms and jumpy legs stopped. I’ve taken it ever since. I didn’t realize it had all these other benefits until a comment from Patricia on this blog entry alerted me.
Patricia told us about a book called The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Carolyn Dean, an MD and naturopath. According to Dr. Dean, nearly 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and it is often the primary factor in heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and most muscular problems.
The NIH says, “Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body… [It] is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.” And according to our own Amy Campbell, “Results from three very large studies indicate that people who consume a diet rich in magnesium have a lower risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.”
People with diabetes are more likely than those without to be low in magnesium. According to an article on About.com, “Elevated blood glucose levels increase the loss of magnesium in the urine, which in turn lowers blood levels of magnesium.” So getting enough magnesium is especially important in diabetes.
In spite of these benefits, medical authorities rarely recommend magnesium. That’s why I call it the forgotten mineral. For instance, people on diuretics (“water pills”) are usually given potassium supplements to replace the potassium lost through urination. But magnesium is lost the same way and rarely supplemented.
According to the piece on About.com, “Healthy adults who eat a varied diet do not generally need to take a magnesium supplement.”
Dr. Dean strongly disagrees. She says that the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 350 to 400 milligrams per day, but for best health, we may need roughly double this amount. She says the Standard American Diet (SAD) provides very little magnesium. Soils depleted by factory farming may grow foods low in magnesium. Refined grains and processed foods have usually been stripped of most of their magnesium.
Dean isn’t the only one recommending this mineral. Drs. Andrea Rosanoff, PhD, and Mildred Seelig, MD, authors of The Magnesium Factor, state, “Mg has effects that parallel those of statins.”
In the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, they wrote, “Both statins and normal Mg levels prevent clotting, reduce inflammation and prevent [arterial] plaques. But statins raise liver enzymes, can cause [muscle damage] and have many other side effects, while Mg supplements tend to protect [muscles] and have temporary diarrhea or mild GI distress as the only side effect.”
The doctors point to studies showing that nations with low-magnesium/high-calcium diets — the US, Finland, and the Netherlands, in particular — have a lethal heart disease rate much higher than in nations with high-magnesium/low-calcium diets, such as Japan. Yet our medical system encourages statins and ignores magnesium.
How to Get Magnesium
One of the best sources of magnesium is seaweed, but there are many other sources as well. According to NIH, green vegetables such as spinach are great sources, because chlorophyll (which gives the vegetables their color) contains magnesium. Beans, peas, nuts — especially almonds and cashews — and seeds are also good. Whole grains, like brown rice, corn, and whole-grain or sprouted wheat bread are good. Wheat bran in any form is high in magnesium. So are avocado, cabbage, cucumber, and many other foods, according to the Web site Whole Food Catalog. This wonderful site can be searched by food or by nutrient and includes tons of foods I’ve never even heard of.
As for the seaweed, some people replace table salt with powdered kelp, which they say tastes better than salt and is loaded with magnesium and iodine.
Most Americans should at least consider magnesium supplements, which come in many available and cheap forms. Dr. Dean says that magnesium oxide is not a good choice, because it is poorly absorbed. She recommends magnesium citrate and magnesium taurate. She also applies magnesium oil on her skin after a shower.
According to Dr. Dean, the first side effect of overdoing the magnesium would be loose stools. In fact, magnesium is used as a laxative, so if you have constipation, that could be a sign of low magnesium levels and another reason to eat more greens and nuts and consider taking supplements. Magnesium could improve your blood sugar levels, protect your heart, strengthen your bones and muscles, and literally save your life.
Want to learn more about diabetes and magnesium? Read “Magnesium: Give This Mineral Some Respect,” by certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian Amy Campbell.