Why Magnesium is Important & How It Works

A Look Under the Microscope

 

Nutritional magnesium is deeply involved in energy production, oxygen uptake, central nervous system function, electrolyte balance, glucose metabolism and muscle activity, including that all important muscle—the heart. To closely examine magnesium’s importance to the heart muscle, we have to pull out our microscopes—yes, it gets right down to the cellular and even the molecular level.

Magnesium plays an essential role in many of the functions of energy production itself. It is an integral part of the energy (ATP) and protein (enzymes - as co-factor and as a structural component of the muscle protein, myosin) molecules—without which the energy to contract and relax the heart does not occur properly. Magnesium is also an essential element in the construction of the cell membrane and vitally important to the electrolyte balance of cells. In that the heart is composed of cells, magnesium plays a role in the integral strength of the heart muscle itself. When magnesium levels begin to get too low the body tries very hard to adapt, but these basic functions of energy production and cell structure can be affected, and when they are, symptoms of heart or cardiovascular disease can begin to manifest.

Magnesium is important to so many aspects of the cell both in structure and function—at the cellular level, the microcellular level and the protein structure level—that lack of magnesium will be first felt there.

Without enough magnesium, the cell is no longer able to keep up the proper number of high-energy molecules (ATP) to healthfully function. But it doesn’t stop there. Once magnesium falls down below a certain level, just about everything starts to go. The sodium balance starts to go and the electrolyte balance starts to go. The cell is not able to have a fully and optimally functional membrane system. Calcium and sodium start to rush into areas where they normally would not be and the cell begins to lose its ability to properly alternate of "wave" between active and inactive states.  Spending too much time in an "over-active" biochemistry, and if no "balance" is possible unless there is an influx of essential magnesium in proper balance with other electrolytes, the cell just starts to get weaker and weaker because it doesn’t have the energy to do all the things it needs to do.

 

Why We Are Deficient in Magnesium

People on a mainly processed food diet can easily be low in their daily magnesium intake.

People consuming a mainly processed food diet can easily be low in their daily magnesium intake.  USDA has found that over 50% of adults in the U.S.A. are getting less than their daily requirement of magnesium from food.  Many processed foods contain enriched flour rather than whole wheat flour, and this refined wheat flour has most of the wheat's natural magnesium removed.  It is "enriched" with iron and 4 B-vitamins, but not enriched with magnesium.  See "Magnesium in Refined vs Whole Foods section of Food & Other Sources of Nutritional Magnesium on this webpage (from Home page) .

 

Importance of Magnesium Levels

Now, pulling back out of our microscope, how are these occurrences felt and how can they affect the individual? If a person is not getting adequate magnesium for their individual needs, they can go into what we call a marginal state. A certain trauma or stress to that organism can take the magnesium status from a marginal into a depleted state, which can show up as hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and, if it happens suddenly, a heart attack.  Such a trauma can be brought about by strenuous exercise—something heart patients are encouraged to do. We only encourage people to exercise if they have an adequate magnesium level. Exercise is really, really good. It appears from recent research that exercise makes magnesium more available, moving it from areas that don’t currently need it as much to areas that do need it. And one of those is, of course, the heart. But if magnesium levels in the body are marginal, exercise can cause problems.

(In some people, type 2 diabetes can result from deficit magnesium status, also asthma or other lung conditions as well as hyper-anxiety, kidney stones and a host of other symptoms.  For a complete list of possible magnesium deficit symptoms, see RESEARCH on home page.) 

 

Effects of Low Magnesium Levels

If you are deficient in Magnesium, your cells begin to malfunction in predictable ways.

 

  • Blood tends to clot even if there is no wound, cut or hemorrhaging. When this clotting occurs within blood vessels, it creates the risk of heart attack or stroke.

  • The secretion of adrenaline increases abnormally.

  • Cells begin to overrespond to the stimulation of adrenaline stimulation.

  • Cholesterol production and metabolism become abnormal.

  • All muscle cells, including those in the heart and blood vessels, tend to contract and become unable to relax.

  • There is increased production of free radicals and susceptibility to oxidative stress.

  • Arteries stiffen and develop a buildup of plaque as a result of too much bad cholesterol and too much calcium.

  • Glucose is not properly processed as a result of insulin resistance, which can lead to type II diabetes and a whole spectrum of other disorders, all leading to heart disease.

 

When cells, tissues, organs, organ systems and bodies have adequate magnesium, these dire consequences do not occur and the heart and blood vessels can be healthy at every level.

 

  • At the molecular level, a healthy magnesium concentration is a natural antioxidant protecting molecules from free-radical damage.

  • At the enzyme level there is enough magnesium for all energy reactions and enzymes that need magnesium to enable them to function well.

  • At the cellular level, a normal electrolyte balance is maintained. Calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium concentrations shift and adjust as needed. There is no abnormal calcification, hyperexcitability or tendency to overreact to adrenaline.

  • At the tissue level, blood flows freely, without an abnormal tendency to clot, and heart and blood-vessel muscle tissue can relax and contract in proper response to healthy nerve and hormonal signals. When danger comes, the fight-or-flight reaction works and then subsides as necessary.

  • At the organ level, proper magnesium levels allow the heart to pump out blood efficiently, prevent high blood pressure and a hardening of the arteries or arteriosclerosis.

  • At the organ-system level, the heart pumps continuously, without palpitations or arrhythmia, efficiently sending blood into flexible arteries that open and close in direct response to the body's immediate needs, delivering necessary oxygen and nutrients to all of the body's cells, especially those of the heart.

 

Why Don’t Doctors Know?

If magnesium is so important to heart health, you may wonder why you’ve never heard it from your medical doctor. There are numerous reasons, but one of the most fundamental lies with our educational system. Preventative nutrition is simply not taken up seriously in medical education. Researching magnesium deficiency and its true effects has been a long road of discovery resulting in the eventual publication of the book “The Magnesium Factor”. Doctors are also a bit hobbled by what may very well be a faulty test for magnesium deficiency. We cite Professor Ron Elin, who in 2000 wrote a paper detailing the fact that the “standard” level of "normal" magnesium for lab tests may have been obtained by unknowingly including in testing people who had, what he calls, Latent Magnesium Deficit.  Hence, a person may obtain a blood test that shows a “normal” level of magnesium which in fact is a deficit. For that reason, we recommend that anyone getting a blood test for magnesium level not be satisfied with the results until they are at least in the top half to top third of what is considered the “normal” range.

Unfortunately, a blood test doesn't measure it. Less than 1 percent of the body's magnesium is in the blood. Magnesium stores are mostly in muscle and other cells. Although there are sophisticated medical tests - the easiest is by symptoms. If someone has any muscle cramping, twitches, muscle tightness, etc., for example, chances are they are magnesium deficient.  Oral magnesium is so safe, it is a good idea to try supplements and/or to increase one's dietary magnesium with high magnesium foods.  See "Common Foods Very Hihg, High, medium and Low in Magnesium on this webpage (in "Food & Other Sources of Nutritional Magnesium" from Home page).

When faced with our stressful lifestyles, coupled with a society presenting a chronically low magnesium/high calcium diet, what is our best defense?” For many of us, magnesium supplements can help to preserve or restore a healthy magnesium-calcium balance, so important to our health in these stressful times.

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) is the amount of an essential nutrient that will meet the daily requirement for almost all (97.5%) HEALTHY individuals in a given gender and age-range group.

The magnesium and calcium RDA for in this age range () is:

According to the USDA’s 2001-2 survey, there’s a % chance you are getting less than your daily magnesium requirement from the foods you eat.

Press "Continue" to take a short questionaire that will estimate your risk of magnesium deficiency.

I drink milk with enriched vitamin D?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I take vitamin D suplements?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I spend an hour or more in the sunlight?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I drink bottled deionized water?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I drink sodas with phosphoric acid?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

All colas and Dr. Pepper type drinks, with or without caffeine, with or without sugar, have phosphoric acid in them.
Here’s how much:
Size of Drink Phosphorus
X-small - 12 oz 39 to 44 mg
Small - 16 oz 52 to 59 mg
Med - 22 oz 71 to 81 mg
Large - 32 oz 104 to 118 mg
X-large - 44 oz 143 to 162 mg
All other sodas have no phosphorus.

I eat candy?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I eat pastries, cakes, pies or desserts?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I have sugar in my coffee?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I eat white bread (including bagels, croissante, muffins, french bread, croutons, crackers, etc.)?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I eat pasta, spagehetti or noodles (including Chinese noodles)?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

My diet is high in saturated fat?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I take a calcium supplement with no added magnesium?

 Never  Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

 

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I use cocaine?

 Never  Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

 

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I feel stressed?

 Never  Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

 

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I drink alcohol?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Daily  Often

(less then once a month)

(less then twice a week)

(2 to 4 times per week)

(4 to 7 times per week)

(more than once a day)

I eat whole grain foods three times each day?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Almost Daily  Every Day

(or never)

(less then once a week)

(1 to 2 times per week)

(3 to 6 times per week)

 

I eat 7 to 9 servings of fruits/vegetables?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Almost Daily  Every Day

(or never)

(less then once a week)

(1 to 2 times per week)

(3 to 6 times per week)

 

I eat nuts or legumes?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Almost Daily  Every Day

(or never)

(less then once a week)

(1 to 2 times per week)

(3 to 6 times per week)

 

I eat very dark chocolate?

 Very seldom  Seldom  Weekly  Almost Daily  Every Day

(or never)

(less then once a week)

(1 to 2 times per week)

(3 to 6 times per week)

 

I have high blood pressure (treated or not)?

     True  False    

I have high cholesterol (high LDL cholesterol and/or low HDL cholesterol)?

     True  False    

I have type 2 diabetes or high fasting glucose?

     True  False    

I take thiazide diuretics?

     True  False    

I use digitalis?

     True  False    

My family has a history of heart disease?

     True  False    

You have a low risk of a magnesium deficit.

Congratulations! You are doing a good job. Keep up the good life style; you should not be having any Mg deficit symptoms.

If you do, you may be in the process of building up your magnesium status after an illness, an extended time of poorer habits or a particularly stressful period. If none of these fit your situation, any symptoms you are experiencing on the magnesium deficit list are probably due to another cause, and you might want to consult with a health care specialist.

You have a mild risk of a magnesium deficit.

You are doing well in your Life Style. You can most probably move into safe magnesium status by including more foods high in magnesium in your daily life. Look over the Mg deficit symptoms to see if any apply to you before you decide whether to add Mg supplements to your daily routine for awhile. If you do, get tips by reading Treatment on this webpage.

You have a moderate risk of a magnesium deficit.

Your life style is generally healthy, but you could improve your magnesium intake to be really safe. Check out the foods high in magnesium to see which high magnesium foods you would enjoy adding to your daily life, and look over the Mg deficit symptoms.

If you have some of these symptoms, consider adding a magnesium supplement to your daily life for three months as you also add more high magnesium foods to your diet (see Treatment for more tips on assessing and correcting a borderline or deficit Mg status).

You have a high risk of a magnesium deficit.

You need to make some changes to protect your health from illness and to optimize your life. Go now to the Treatment page of this website to get a good start. You will probably need to add more high magnesium foods to your daily life as well as to supplement with magnesium, depending on how many Mg deficit symptoms you are experiencing.

You have a very high risk of a magnesium deficit.

Make an assessment of your Mg deficit symptoms right away, and if you have two or more, you should consider a daily magnesium supplement for at least three months at as high a level of magnesium that is comfortable for your digestive tract. During that same three months, add daily foods you like that are high in magnesium.

See the treatment section of this webpage for tips on correcting any magnesium deficit you may have. If you are treated by a physician, show him/her this webpage to work towards a healthy magnesium status for you.