Magnesium – an essential mineral for health

Magnesium – an essential mineral for health

by Patrick Massey MD PhD MhD

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, increases 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.

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Magnesium is essential for life – all life.  It is ubiquitous throughout nature being found in every cell and in every know organism.  Magnesium is involved 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 but that recommendation is just enough to prevent the effects of severe magnesium deficiency.  It is rarely the amount needed for optimal health and most Americans do not even get half of that amount on a daily basis.

A recent medical study (2106) in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at the relationship between blood magnesium levels and the risk of sudden death in people who have documented coronary heart disease.  The results were eye opening.  In a pool of over nine thousand people not only did the risk of sudden death significantly increase (36% increased risk) in the magnesium deficient group but the rate of atherosclerosis in the arteries of the heart (progression of heart disease) also significantly increased.

The medical literature is replete with studies indicating the many the incidence of illnesses are associated with low serum magnesium…anxiety and depression, common muscle spasms, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic migraines, osteoporosis, dementia and even stroke.  Interestingly an old emergency room therapy for migraines and high blood pressure was intravenous magnesium.  High dose magnesium is still used to prevent the seizures and high blood pressure associated a rare condition during late stage pregnancy called eclampsia.  I still use intravenous magnesium today for severe migraines and with good success.

Medical studies have estimated that two thirds of adults do not get the daily recommended amount of magnesium and, disturbingly, only twenty percent of children get enough magnesium.  Making magnesium deficiency worse is that some commonly prescribed medications can lower magnesium in the body by either by preventing magnesium absorption in the bowels or by increasing excretion of magnesium by the kidneys.  Antibiotics, steroids, some asthma and blood pressure medications, nicotine, insulin and phosphates found in many sodas can reduce absorption and increase excretion of magnesium.  In regards to high blood pressure medications lowering tissue magnesium levels, magnesium is one the minerals used by the body to lower blood pressure.  So a medication used to lower blood pressure may, paradoxically, make the blood pressure more resistant to blood pressure medications.  The same is true for steroid based medications in the treatment of asthma.  Steroids increase excretion of magnesium by the kidneys and a low tissue level of magnesium makes asthma more resistant to asthma medications.  I recall one patient I saw who had been in the intensive care unit with unresponsive asthma for two weeks.  Her magnesium level was very low because of all the steroids she was taking.  After some magnesium intravenously, she was out of the intensive care unit within 24 hours and home after two days.

Long term use of a common class of stomach acid medication, proton pump inhibitors, commonly reduce serum magnesium levels and over twenty million prescriptions for proton pump inhibitors are written every year.  Recent medical studies have shown that proton pump inhibitor use, long term, increases the risk of many illnesses including kidney damage, osteoporosis, infections and even dementia.  Bowel illnesses like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and chronic diarrhea can limit the absorption of magnesium, reduce blood levels and increase the risk of many chronic illnesses.

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. In addition, plants get their magnesium from the soil.  If the soil is depleted of magnesium then the plant will also be depleted of magnesium.  Therefore for many people magnesium supplements are essential. However, caution is warranted because one bothersome side effect of too much magnesium is diarrhea,

especially is the magnesium is in the form of magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide.  They are not readily absorbed.  Other types of magnesium like magnesium glycinate cause less diarrhea because they are absorbed better.

The best blood test for magnesium is to measure its level in the red blood cells, RBC-magnesium.  Serum levels of magnesium are very inaccurate.  I check RBC-magnesium levels in my patients as part of their usual blood tests and aggressively recommend magnesium supplementation to ensure that their levels are near the top of the reference range if needed.  In my experience many chronic illnesses are the result of lifestyle choices, knowingly or unknowingly, and can be easily corrected.

About the author:
Patrick Massey MD PhD MhD is the past director of complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Netwok.  He is the author of Miracles or I Have No More Boils (, a book about the true causes and cures for chronic illness.

Dr. Massey has an active medical practice in Elk Grove Village IL (


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