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.