5 diseases magnesium could help you avoid

A magnesium deficiency is dangerous — partly because it’s almost impossible to detect.

Annoying symptoms that are commonly reversed with magnesium supplementation include muscle weakness, muscle spasms/leg cramps, eye twitching, tingling, numbness, fatigue, nausea, depression, anxiety, irritability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), skin acne and eczema.

But, what poses the real danger is that low magnesium is linked with several major chronic illnesses including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, migraine headaches and osteoporosis (bone thinning).

Here’s how to avoid them…

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Low magnesium and heart disease

A recent study of 414 consecutive heart disease patients, less than 50 years of age, had their serum magnesium levels measured and were then followed for 2 years. These researchers found an 8-fold higher heart attack rate among those with low magnesium levels (bottom one-fourth) compared to those in the highest levels (top one-fourth).

Equally compelling data from the ongoing Framingham Heart Study recently discovered that the lower the magnesium intake the higher the atherosclerosis seen on imaging in people with no prior heart trouble.

Moreover, Korean researchers also found low magnesium levels to be associated with higher atherosclerosis in a Korean population otherwise at low risk for cardiovascular disease. They analyzed 34,553 participants by coronary computed tomography (CT scan) in 2010-2012 and found the odds of showing coronary calcification (atherosclerosis) in the low serum magnesium group was more than twice that of the normal serum magnesium group (P < 0.001).

The good news is that a higher magnesium intake significantly helps reduce heart disease. Even a 50-mg/day increment increase of magnesium has been shown to have 22 percent lower arterial calcification, and a 58 percent lower arterial calcification in the lowest magnesium intake group compared to the highest magnesium intake group. This association was stronger in women than men.

Magnesium helps maintain a normal heart rhythm. IV magnesium is given to reduce the chance of atrial fibrillation and cardiac arrhythmia because of its action on calcium and potassium movement into cells. In one study of women, higher dietary intake of magnesium was associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death.

Magnesium supplementation improved lipid panels and blood pressure in randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial.

Low magnesium and stroke

Cerebrovascular disease (stroke, which is another form of atherosclerosis) shows the same trend with magnesium. In the February 2012 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a meta-analysis of seven studies totaling more than 241,000 people revealed that an extra 100 milligrams of magnesium a day reduced their risk of stroke by 8 percent.

Type 2 diabetes and even pre-diabetes

In a 2014 study it was found that patients with type 2 diabetes, magnesium supplementation with 300mg daily for 3 months significantly lowered fasting blood sugars (184 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl) and 2-hour postprandial blood sugars (from 239 mg/dl to 189 mg/dl but no change in those taking placebo). That’s valuable to know, considering that low magnesium levels correlate with worsened diabetic retinopathy and blindness.

Another 2014 study took this even further and found that for those of us who do not have diabetes, there is a protective (preventive) effect from magnesium supplementation. In this study researchers found that it improved the metabolic profile, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure of normal weight people with high insulin levels. This is very important because approximately 1 in 3 (or more) American adults already have insulin resistance and/or metabolic syndrome, but most don’t know it yet.

Yet another study showed a similar health benefit of magnesium supplementation in non-diabetic subjects, and emphasized the need to “optimize magnesium status” to prevent insulin resistance and subsequent type 2 diabetes.

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Low magnesium and migraine headaches

In 2007 a small case control study of 140 migraine patients found that their serum magnesium was significantly lower than the normal population; the lower their magnesium levels, the more frequent their migraines.

Low magnesium and osteoporosis

It is thought that magnesium deficiency acts directly to lower bone mineral density through action on crystal formation in bone cells, and acts indirectly by lowering the secretion of parathyroid hormone plus contributing to low grade inflammation.

A meta-analysis in June 2016 of 1,349 postmenopausal women reported that low serum level of magnesium was a risk factor for osteoporosis.

Which magnesium supplements work best?

Did you know that magnesium oxide is the second most abundant compound in the Earth’s crust (35 percent)? Yes, and it’s also the most prevalent form of magnesium supplement I see being used. Much better are magnesium compounds that dissolve well in liquid, are more completely absorbed in the gut, and are bioavailable. According to studies these are not magnesium oxide or magnesium sulfate.

We know that mineral electrolytes are a vital part of nerve and muscle function. According to the Mayo Clinic, 78 percent of leg cramp sufferers have a severe magnesium deficiency.  Successful treatment depends largely upon which type of magnesium supplement you take.

Related: A novel way to boost your magnesium

There are poorly absorbed — and there are highly absorbed — magnesium supplements. Absorption with magnesium oxide (only good as a laxative) is only around 4 percent. Magnesium sulfate is about 10 percent, magnesium carbonate is about 30 percent, magnesium lactate and chloride are somewhat higher.

The most absorbable (~90 percent) are magnesium citrate, orotate, glycinate, malate, taurate, aspartate, or arginate.

Also, magnesium is absorbed easily through your skin and you can supplement with magnesium oil or Epsom salt baths.  Even if you feel you eat enough magnesium from nuts, fish, meat, dark green vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruits, you can still supplement and be the better for it.

Michael Cutler, M.D.

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Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.