Magnesium is a common mineral that is absolutely necessary for health.
Although in traditional medicine magnesium levels are rarely measured, medical research has shown that low levels of magnesium increase the risk of sudden death associated with heart disease, increase the risk of diabetes and its complications (nerve pain and loss of feeling in the feet), and increase the risk or severity of a host of other illnesses.
Magnesium is also important in treating depression and anxiety. We need magnesium and most Americans do not get enough.
Magnesium is essential for life. It is ubiquitous throughout nature being found in every cell and every known organism.
Magnesium is required in over three hundred different biochemical reactions in the cell. It is necessary for energy production as well as stabilizing and replicating DNA in the cell nucleus.
The recommended daily value for magnesium is 400 milligrams. Most Americans do not get half of that amount on a regular basis.
A recent medical study in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at the relationship between blood magnesium levels and the risk of sudden death in those with coronary heart disease. The results were eye opening.
In a pool of over 9,000 people, not only did the risk of sudden death significantly increase (36 percent increased risk) in the magnesium-deficient group, but the rate of atherosclerosis in the arteries of the heart also significantly increased.
Other illnesses associated with low serum magnesium are anxiety and depression, common muscle spasms, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic migraines, osteoporosis and even stroke. Interestingly an old emergency room therapy for migraines was intravenous magnesium and I still use it today with good success.
Medical studies have estimated that two-thirds of adults do not get the daily recommended amount of magnesium and, disturbingly, only 20 percent of children get enough magnesium.
Making magnesium deficiency worse is that some commonly prescribed medications can lower magnesium levels. These include antibiotics, steroids, some asthma and blood pressure medications, nicotine, insulin and phosphates found in many sodas.
Long-term use of a common class of stomach acid medication, proton pump inhibitors, commonly reduce serum magnesium levels and over 20 million prescriptions for proton pump inhibitors are written every year.
Bowel illnesses like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and chronic diarrhea can limit the absorption of magnesium and reduce blood levels.
Ideally we should get all the magnesium we need through food like nuts and seeds, dark leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and avocado, but we don't because these foods are not part of the typical American diet.
For many people, magnesium supplements may be necessary. One side effect of too much magnesium is diarrhea, especially magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide, because they are not readily absorbed. Other types of magnesium like magnesium glycinate cause less diarrhea because they are absorbed better.
I often measure magnesium levels in my patients as part of their usual blood tests and aggressively recommend magnesium supplementation if needed and I take it myself.
• Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.
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