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 (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 20 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 heart
attack-roughly half of all sudden deaths from heart attack are the result of
spasm in the arteries, not blockage from clots or arrhythmias!1 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 essential for the following
- 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
suboptimal levels of magnesium is like trying to operate a machine with the
power turned 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
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.3
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 U.S.-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.
Many drugs-including common diuretics, birth-control pills, insulin,
tetracycline and other antibiotics, and cortisone-cause the body to waste
Selected Foods Rich in Magnesium
(In mg per 100 grams [3-1/2
Wheat bran 490
Wheat germ 336
Collard greens 57
Cooked beans 37
In general, organically
grown whole grains and vegetables are rich in magnesium, as are good quality sea
salt and sea vegetables (such as kelp, dulce, or sea lettuce).
M. J., 1992. Magnesium deficiency and sudden death. American Heart Journal
124:2:544-549; also Turlapaty, P. D., and Altura, B. M. Magnesium
deficiency produces spasms in coronary arteries: relationship to etiology of
sudden death ischemic heart disease. Science 208(4440):198-200; also
Altura, B. M., 1979. Sudden death ischemic heart disease and dietary magnesium
intake: Is the target site coronary vascular smooth muscle? Medical
B. S., et al. 1984. Magnesium, the mimic/antagonist of calcium. New England
J. Medicine 310:188-193.
of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intake
for Calcium, Phosphorous, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Flouride. National Academy
Press, Washington, D.C.. 1997.
About the Author:
Christiane Northrup, M.D.,
a board-certified ob-gyn physician, is today's leading expert on women's health
issues. Her new Menopause and Beyond: New Wisdom for Women special airs
in March 2007 on PBS. She just published The Wisdom of Menopause Journal.
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