When it comes to building healthy bones, magnesium is as important as calcium and vitamin D! Knowing the vast benefits that magnesium confers on our bodies, I've always wanted to report on this remarkable mineral... and now the time has come! I was first introduced to the wonders of magnesium during my obstetrical training where I saw, up close and personal, how effective magnesium sulfate was in preventing seizures and restoring normal blood pressure in pregnant women suffering from toxemia. Years later, I often gave my patients magnesium intravenously (IV) (along with a series of other vitamins) as part of an IV mix known as Meyer's formula.
I found that this mixture frequently relieved muscular pain and also promoted speedy healing from surgery, sprained ankles, and the like. It also appeared to boost immunity. My colleagues and I at Women to Women (a medical clinic founded more than 15 years ago by Dr. Northrup and several of her colleagues, which is devoted to health care for women, by women) sometimes gave it to each other when we were coming down with a cold or were feeling fatigued. It worked every time.
An astounding number of studies have documented the effectiveness of intravenous magnesium in helping prevent cardiac damage and even death following a hear attack - roughly half of all sudden deaths from hear attack are the result of spasm in the arteries, not blockage from clots or arrhythmias! And magnesium allows coronary artery muscles (and all other muscles) to relax. Most of us don't require intravenous magnesium, of course. We can get all the benefits we need just by making sure that we get enough of it in our diets or through supplements. Here's what everyone needs to know about getting optimal benefits from this essential (but often overlooked) mineral.
Why We Need Magnesium
Magnesium is essential for the functioning of hundreds of different enzymes in the body, particularly those that produce, transport, store and utilize energy. Magnesium is important for the following metabolic processes:
- Protein synthesis: DNA and RNA in our cells require magnesium for cell growth and development.
- Sparking the electrical signals that must travel throughout the miles of nerves in our bodies (including the impulses for our brain, heart and other organs).
- Normal blood pressure, vascular tone, transmission of nerve-cell signals, and blood flow.
- Functioning of all nerves and muscles.
- Release and binding of adequate amounts of serotonin in the brain. In short, living with sub-optimal levels of magnesium is like trying to operate a machine with the power off.
The Magnesium/Calcium Connection
Though there's been an enormous amount of media hype about calcium, very few people realize that without its partner, magnesium, calcium doesn't serve the body nearly as well as it should. In fact, too much calcium can actually impede the magnesium's uptake and function, creating further imbalance. When it comes to building healthy bones, magnesium is as important as calcium and vitamin D. Magnesium and calcium are designed to work together.
For example, magnesium controls the entry of calcium into each and every cell - a physiological event that happens every time a nerve cell fires. Without adequate magnesium (which is also a natural calcium-channel blocker), too much calcium gets inside the cell. This can result in muscle cramping, blood-vessel constriction, migraine headaches, and even feelings of anxiety. Magnesium also keeps calcium dissolved in the blood so that it won't produce kidney stones. In fact, taking calcium without magnesium for osteoporosis can actually promote kidney stone formation.
Magnesium Deficiency on the Rise:
In 1997, the National academy of Sciences found that most Americans are deficient in magnesium. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Food processing depletes magnesium, and the vast majority of Americans eat mostly processed foods. When wheat is refined into white flour, 80 percent of the magnesium in the bran is lost; 98 percent is lost when molasses is refined into sugar. Similarly, magnesium is leached out of vegetables that are boiled in water or frozen. Additives such as aspartame and MSG, as well as alcohol, also deplete magnesium stores.
- Indigestion and antacid use: Insufficient stomach acid impedes magnesium absorption. Unfortunately, a refined-food diet is a potent recipe for indigestion. Antacids - the number one over the counter drug in the US - further deplete hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
- Farming practices: Magnesium and other minerals have been depleted from much of the soil that we grow today's produce in.
- Medications: Many drugs - including common diuretics, birth-control pills, insulin, tetracycline and other antibiotics, and cortisone - cause the body to waste magnesium.
Specific Health Issues
Anxiety and Panic Attacks: Magnesium helps keep adrenal stress hormones under control and maintain normal brain function. In her book The Miracle of Magnesium (Balantine Books, 2003), Dr. Carolyn Dean points out that the rate of depression has gone up every decade since World War II. It's quite possible that this is related to magnesium depletion.
Asthma: Magnesium helps relax the muscles of the bronchioles in the lungs.
Constipation: Magnesium helps keep bowels regular by maintaining normal bowel-muscle function. Milk of Magnesium as been used for decades to help.
Diabetes: Magnesium helps insulin transport glucose into the cell. Without this, glucose builds up in tissue causing glycemic stress and damage.
Heart Disease: Magnesium deficiency is common in those with heart disease. The mineral is an effective treatment for heart attacks and cardiac arrhythmias.
Hypertension: Without adequate magnesium, blood vessels constrict and blood pressure increases.
Insomnia: Magnesium helps regulate melatonin, a hormone that's essential for normal sleep cycles.
Nerve Problems: Magnesium helps eliminate peripheral nerve disturbances that can lead to migraines, leg and foot cramps, gastrointestinal cramps, and so one.
Osteoporosis: Without magnesium, calcium may actually contribute to osteoporosis.
This article appeared in Dr. Christiane Northrup's newsletter. The Dr. Christine Northrup Newsletter: P.O. Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
Dr. Carolyn Dean is the author of "The Magnesium Miracle".