I love the idea of quantifying different levels of minerals, vitamins, hormones, lipid profiles, being able to measure what you’re doing at base line and make dietary changes, and then measure these lab markers again. This is the definition of preventative medicine.

Preventative medicine focuses on the bigger picture, and is something that you can actually do on your own.

I think preventative medicine, preventing micronutrient deficiencies, things like magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin D, these essential minerals and vitamins that we need for a variety of different biochemical pathways in our body. These deficiencies cause insidious damage over time that may rear its head as degenerative disease later, like cancer and diabetes.

Magnesium is involved in hundreds of reactions in the body, everything from your hormones to your heart beat to your humerus. It’s the 2nd most abundant cation in the cells. Magnesium is involved in ATP formation, the transmission of nerve impulses, heart and blood vessel function, temperature, detoxification reactions, muscles and healthy bones, and insulin sensitivity.

ATP must be bound to a magnesium molecule to be biologically active. Glutathione requires magnesium for its synthesis and therefore is important for helping to prevent damage from chemicals, heavy metals and other toxins. Magnesium drives over 300 enzyme and physiologic reactions. It is involved in DNA and RNA synthesis.  Magnesium profoundly affects high blood pressure, yet you never hear of many health care practitioners suggesting to increase magnesium in conjunction with treatment. A meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that inadequate magnesium is strongly correlated to ischemic vascular disease. Different cell types contain different concentrations of magnesium. This is closely related to mitochondrial density of a tissue, such as heart muscle. Magnesium is essential for single celled organisms such as bacteria. The role of magnesium is underestimated and more attention needs to be placed on the role of magnesium and human health.

I am often asked why do I need to take a magnesium supplement? Can’t I just get it from food?

Ideally, you can get sufficient amounts of magnesium and other minerals from food, but research strongly shows that most of us do not eat foods containing enough magnesium. This is true in the United States and countries in Europe and Australia. Despite not hearing much about magnesium, the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) estimated that at least half of the U.S. population had inadequate intakes of magnesium.

Other food sources which should contain magnesium are nuts, seeds and legumes; however, phytic acid, oxalic acid as well as enzyme inhibitors in these foods may interfere with the absorption of magnesium, unless specific cooking techniques and preparation are used when preparing foods such as soaking, fermenting or sprouting.

Techniques used to refine grains found in the breads and pasta from your local supermarket remove up to 97% of magnesium, thus refined foods common in today’s diet are deficient in magnesium. People who consume sugar as well as sodas and soft drinks may be deficient in magnesium because sugar uses up magnesium. For every single molecule of sugar consumed, your body requires over 54 times that amount of magnesium to metabolize the sugar.

Signs and Causes of Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is a relative term in that magnesium can be deficient in multiple levels. For example, an alcoholic can deplete his/her magnesium levels to the point blood levels are depressed and clinical signs are ominous. An athlete on the other hand may sweat out copious amounts of magnesium and a sub clinical form of magnesium deficiency may appear where fatigue or cramps are the only signs, but all lab measurements are normal.

The most common causes of magnesium deficiency are alcoholism, disease and malnutrition. However, prescription medications such as diuretics, oral contraceptives, statins, antibiotics, corticosteroids, psychiatric medications, and proton pump inhibitors cause disruptions in magnesium homeostasis. Chronic gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, sports related issues, low level of vitamin B6, alkalosis, and high aluminum levels may inhibit magnesium absorption.

Early signs of magnesium deficiency are fairly non specific, but looks for things like loss of appetite, irritability, insomnia, headache, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, weakness and fatigue. Muscular fatigue and decreased reflexes may also present in the face of a true magnesium deficiency. A chronic magnesium deficiency can lead to more serious symptoms, including:  numbness, tingling, cramps, seizures, heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, personality changes, bone density changes, coronary spasms and kidney stones.

More than 50 percent of alcoholics have low serum levels of magnesium; as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Kidney disease causes excessive loss of magnesium in urine. Advanced age is associated with magnesium deficiency because absorption decreases with age; also the elderly take medications that interfere with absorption. Diabetes leads to increased magnesium loss in urine. Certain medications such as antibiotics, diuretics, and chemotherapy can all result in magnesium deficiency.

No lab test really gives you a true accurate reading of the magnesium status in your tissues. Only when you are grossly deficient in magnesium, does it show up on a lab test.  Only one percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood. A red blood cell (RBC) magnesium tests the intracellular level of magnesium and may be more informative than other available tests.  Other tests evaluate your magnesium status include a 24-hour urine test, or a sublingual epithelial test. At the end of the day, doctors need to evaluate your clinical situation in conjunction with the lab results.

Environmental reasons for magnesium deficiency

Intensive farming strips our soils of magnesium. Even the WHO has placed magnesium depletion on its list of concerns. Green leafy vegetables should be one of the best sources of magnesium; however, these days our soils are deficient in the mineral, making our food that grows in the soil depleted too. Evidence to this is that many research studies done over the past 70 years show a 15 to 80% reduction in magnesium in certain fruits and vegetables today, compared to those of our great grandparents before the industrial age.

Optimize Your Magnesium Levels

Most can maintain their levels in the healthy range without supplements, simply by eating a varied diet, including plenty of dark-green leafy vegetables. The levels of magnesium in your food are dependent on the soil where its grown. Organic foods may have more magnesium because the fertilizers used in organic farming generally contain less nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

One of the best ways is to eat plants. The reason is that plants contain an abundance of chlorophyll, a protein that contains magnesium at its center; kind of analogous to hemoglobin and iron. Plants utilize the energy from the sun through chlorophyll and magnesium to convert it into metabolic energy. Magnesium is closely connected to light. In low light conditions, plant stores of magnesium are about 50% of normal. This may also apply to mammalian cells. But it may not be far off as most of us stay indoors!

Green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard are excellent sources of magnesium, nuts and seeds such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Avocados are also a good source. Juicing your vegetables provides a lot of magnesium. If you crave chocolate, it may because you need magnesium. Chocolate is rich in magnesium and strong cravings may indicate a deficiency.

Eating a whole food, varied diet will ensure that you are receiving proper amounts of magnesium. But there are other factors too, if you have a condition that causes magnesium deficiency such as an unhealthy digestive system, Crohn’s disease, leaky gut, etc., or an athlete that sweats a lot, you may be prone to magnesium deficiency. You may want to take extra precautions supplementing your diet with magnesium in order to avoid magnesium deficiency.

Different Types of Magnesium Supplements

Be aware that there are a wide variety of magnesium supplements on the market, due to the fact that magnesium must be bound to another molecule. A 100% pure magnesium supplement doesn’t exist.  The substance used in any given supplement combination affects the absorption and bioavailability of the magnesium, and may provide slightly different health benefits. The reason magnesium is produced with an amino acid chelate is that it is thought to be better absorbed. Too much magnesium will cause diarrhea.

Magnesium aspartate – is amino acid chelated magnesium. Aspartate is critical for cellular energy production and is thought to have a positive effect on chronic fatigue syndrome.

Magnesium citrate – is a very common form that has good bioavailability, it is absorbed about 30 -40% in general. It is also used however in bowel prep solutions for colonoscopies and pulls water into the lumen of the intestines, thus dehydrating the body.

Magnesium carbonate – which has antacid properties, contains 45 percent magnesium and it is used to produce magnesium oxide and is sold as Maalox is pharmacies. It is a common food additive as well and is not toxic in low doses.

Magnesium chloride / Magnesium lactate – contain only 12 percent magnesium, but has better absorption than others, such as magnesium oxide, which contains five times more magnesium

Magnesium gluconate – is a form of magnesium that is reported to have one of the highest bioavailability’s. It is also said to be involved in the pentose phosphate pathway.

Magnesium glycinate – is a chelated form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability and is typically considered ideal for those who are trying to correct a deficiency. Glycine is an amino acid and actively transported across the gastrointestinal villi.

Magnesium malate – another amino acid chelated to magnesium. It has been studied in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Malate can theoretically in the cellular energy cycle as it is part of the Cori cycle.

Magnesium orotate – magnesium is bound to orotic acid which has been studied in cardiovascular disease. It is thought that orotate is taken up by the mitochondrial membrane. Studies have shown some improvement in congestive heart failure and exercise performance.

Magnesium oxide – a non-chelated type of magnesium, bound to an organic acid or a fatty acid. Contains 60 percent magnesium, and has stool softening properties. It is commonly sold in pharmacies as Maalox to help relieve constipation. It has poor bioavailability and should not be used as a supplement. It also can interfere with the absorption of some B vitamins and iron.

Magnesium piconolate – exists as a liquid magnesium supplement.

Magnesium salicylate – a popular NSAID sold under the name Doan’s in many pharmacies. Salicylate is the chemical used to form aspirin.

Magnesium sulfate – is a common form of magnesium prepared for intravenous or intramusclular administrations. It is used to treat cardiac arrhythmias, pregnancy induced hypertension as well as to prevent seizures

Magnesium taurate – contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, an amino acid. Together, they tend to provide a calming effect on your body and mind. May help improve cardiac function as well as insulin function. Both taurine and magnesium help to lower blood pressure.

Magnesium threonate – a newer type of magnesium supplement that appears promising in memory and brain function, primarily from its ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane, and may be the best magnesium supplement on the market.

Balance Your Magnesium with Calcium, Vitamin K2 and D

Getting your nutrients from a varied whole food diet is how you balance your nutrients.  In general, whole foods contain all the co-factors and co nutrients in the proper amounts for optimal health. When you’re using supplements, you need to be aware how nutrients influence and synergistically affect each other.

For example, it’s critical to balance magnesium, calcium, vitamin K2, and vitamin D in the body. It is thought that a lack of balance between these nutrients is why calcium supplements, for instance, have become associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Vitamin K2 keeps calcium in its appropriate place and if you’re deficient in vitamin K2, added calcium may accumulate in the wrong places, like your coronary arteries. Vitamin D and vitamin K2 are best taken together. Taking huge doses of vitamin D3 supplements without sufficient amounts of K2 in the diet may lead to vitamin D toxicity symptoms.

Realize that the optimal ratios between vitamin D and vitamin K2 have yet to be determined, some authorities suggest a 100 to 1 ratio of vitamin D to vitamin K2 should be followed. The latest adult vitamin D dosing recommendations are about 8000 IU’s daily.

Magnesium is actually a more important supplement in the diet than calcium. Calcium is abundant in the body and it is very difficult to become deficient in calcium from dietary causes. Most forms of calcium deficiencies are due to disease states, such as kidney disease, vitamin D deficiency or hypoparathyroidism. Maintaining an appropriate calcium-to-magnesium ratio is important regardless, which is about 1 to 1.

Magnesium will also help keep calcium in your cells so they can do their job better. In many ways it serves as nutritional version of the highly effective class of drugs called calcium channel blockers, used in the treatment of high blood pressure, angina, and abnormal heart rhythms. Magnesium and vitamin K2 also complement each other, as magnesium helps lower blood pressure, which is an important component of heart disease.

So, all in all, anytime you’re taking any of the following: magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3 or vitamin K2, you need to take all the others into consideration as well, since these all work synergistically with each other.

Magnesium improves detoxification.

Magnesium is a chelating and detoxifying agent that helps maintain proper liver function. Every day we are exposed to environmental toxins. Magnesium inhibits heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides and other toxins from attaching to tissue. It keeps newly introduced or recently uprooted toxins from organs and tissues suspended for easier elimination. Magnesium is crucial for the removal of toxic substances and heavy metals such as aluminum and lead.

Glutathione, the body’s most important anti-oxidant also needs magnesium in order to neutralize free-radicals. Another magnesium benefit is it’s alkalizing properties, which starts the movement of toxicity from the tissues and organs into circulation for elimination through excrement.

Athletes may require extra magnesium

Athletes have a greater need for a higher intake of magnesium supplementation due to magnesium loss through sweating; hot and humid condition may further increase demands. Magnesium ranks high when it comes to fitness, especially in endurance sports and bodybuilding. There is emerging evidence that magnesium requirements are elevated in athletes, and that performance might benefit from higher intakes. Aside from being used up in the production of energy, magnesium might also assist performance by reducing accumulation of lactic acid and reducing the perception of fatigue during strenuous exercise through its action on the nervous system.

Magnesium is crucial for energy metabolism by the activation of enzymes known as ATPase’s, which are needed to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate). When ATP is broken down, energy is released for all muscle contractions, and when exercising strenuously, this turnover is extremely high, thus low levels of magnesium can limit energy production, leading to fatigue, lethargy, reduced power, muscle twitches or cramps.

Some studies have shown that magnesium can exert greater quadriceps force. Although there are other studies that have not shown this. Without sufficient magnesium the body cannot produce adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP). ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism. Some studies even show increased growth hormone and IGF-1 levels with optimal magnesium intake.

Medical uses of magnesium

Research has shown a positive correlation between magnesium levels and lean tissue growth rates (protein synthesis). Maintaining healthy magnesium levels in your body may be important in the prevention of colorectal cancers. Your heart and lungs needs magnesium to stay healthy. Magnesium regulates the contractile ability of the heart muscle. It is concentrated 18 times greater in the heart muscle than in the bloodstream. A decreased magnesium level in the heart muscle may predispose a person to coronary spasms. Magnesium also has a relaxing effect on smooth muscle. It may be helpful in relaxing the smooth muscle of the bronchioles (improving asthma) and the arterioles (lowering blood pressure). More importantly, magnesium decreases coagulation and acts as a calcium channel blocker. As such, it helps the heart to pump more effectively. It has been shown that both histamine production and bronchial spasms increase with magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is administered in hospitals for acute myocardial tissue necrosis or lack of oxygen to the heart tissue and cardiac arrhythmia. Many educated doctors understand the need for magnesium supplementation such as those sited below, but nevertheless it is not standard used to treat high blood pressure or other cardiovascular diseases.

Magnesium slows down aging.

While natural aging is a healthy process, accelerated aging has been noted to be a feature of magnesium deficiency, especially evident in the context of long space-flight missions where low magnesium levels are associated with cardiovascular aging over 10 times faster than occurs on earth. One of the possible mechanisms behind magnesium deficiency associated aging is that magnesium is needed to stabilize DNA and promotes DNA replication. It is also involved in healing up of the ends of the chromosomes after they are divided in mitosis. Also being that magnesium helps you cope with stress, this may be another mechanism by which it slows aging. At the same time, chronic stress can deplete magnesium leading to problems. This may present in the heart as arrhythmias, or a feeling of just feeling stressed. Magnesium itself can help calm the nervous system

Magnesium helps with fat loss and diabetes.

Magnesium is one of the number one minerals for improving Insulin Sensitivity. It is known that magnesium deficiency worsens insulin resistance, which causes hyperinsulinemia, leading to hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidemia. People with these diseases often have mineral and nutrient inadequacies in any case.

Magnesium supports healthy brain function.

Magnesium is a neuro-protective agent as it can be used in the prevention and treatment of seizures. Magnesium deficiency causes over-excitatory brain patterns, which damages the neurons, eventually leading to cell death. In the brain, that is not easy to fix. Studies show that magnesium also protects against neurological deficit after brain injury. Magnesium helps prevent feelings of fatigue. People deficient in magnesium often feel tired, fatigued and run-down because hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body are being compromised.

Magnesium has a calming effect on your body’s nervous system and relaxes the muscles, which in turn will help you to fall asleep easier. A deficiency of magnesium is also sometimes responsible for the nervousness that prevents sleep as well as restless legs syndrome. Magnesium may also improve the length and quality of slow wave sleep. It has been labeled a powerful relaxation mineral.

Magnesium may relieve headaches and migraines. Low magnesium levels have been found in chronic migraine sufferers. In one study, people who took magnesium reduce the frequency of attacks by 41.6%, compared to 15.8% in those who took placebo.

Magnesium assists in strong bone formation and maintaining healthy teeth

Intake of magnesium through diet and supplements has been positively associated with bone density throughout the whole body, according to research published in an American Journal and studies from Finland have shown lower rates of hip fractures when levels of magnesium were raised. Magnesium helps the body metabolize calcium and converts dietary vitamin D to an active form so is extremely important in the prevention of osteoporosis.

In conclusion

Human health appears to be far more complex than previously thought, and magnesium, like vitamin D has benefits that may be more far-reaching than we’ve imagined. A great resource to find out more about the importance of magnesium is GreenMedInfo.com’s database, which has indexed over 100 health benefits of magnesium.