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When you think of a disease that kills women, breast cancer comes to mind immediately.
But according to goredforwomen.org, “heart disease is a killer that strikes more women than men and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. While one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease is the cause of one out of every three deaths.”
We associate fatal coronary heart disease with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and blocked arteries. But there’s another factor that we’ve known about for years that somehow has taken a back seat.
It takes a little more of a mental stretch to understand how this simple-to-fix problem causes fatal heart attacks. But recently, some persistent researchers have dug deep to uncover an association between this mineral deficiency and fatal coronary disease in women.
The mineral that prevents heart attacks
The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), is a long-term (14-year) national health study that focused on strategies for preventing heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
In December 2019, Dr. Charles Eaton of the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, along with a team of researchers from institutions across the country, published a paper outlining their examination of data from the WHI.
Specifically, they looked into the association between magnesium intake and fatal coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death in women.
They found that higher magnesium intake was associated with a lowered risk of fatal coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death, and that low magnesium intake was associated, in their sample, with a 22 percent higher risk of sudden coronary death.
Cholesterol is not the biggest problem
In other words, the researchers found that to prevent a fatal heart attack, women should be paying less attention to cholesterol, and more attention to their magnesium levels.
Dr. Carolyn Dean, a medical advisory board member for the Nutritional Magnesium Association, wonders why we’re still turning to statins as our first line of defense against heart disease.
“We’ve been using cholesterol-lowering drugs for several decades now, and there has only been an increase in heart disease and no decrease,” she says. “If cholesterol were the problem and statin drugs the solution, there should be a commensurate lowering of the incidence of this condition.”
“A further surprise is that nobody is looking at magnesium as a treatment for heart disease. When you have one common denominator like magnesium, it’s necessary to pursue that line of treatment before using strong drugs with side effects.”
Dr. Andrea Rosanoff, Director of Research & Science Information Outreach for the Center for Magnesium Education and Research, is thinking along the same lines, noting that “common risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome are all associated with low nutritional magnesium status or low magnesium dietary intakes.”
Here are some things we now know about dietary magnesium and heart disease:
- Magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker. The highest levels of magnesium in the body are found in the heart’s left ventricle. Magnesium is the gatekeeper that allows calcium ions into muscle cells to cause contraction. Once that’s accomplished, magnesium then ushers the calcium out of the cell. Without magnesium to “guard the channel,” calcium floods the cell, causing too much contraction of the muscle cells, which translates into angina and even heart attack.
- Women are generally told to take calcium supplements for bone health, etc., but they usually do not take magnesium supplements with them, creating a dangerous imbalance.
- Only one percent of the body’s magnesium is found in the blood, and so a typical blood test will usually not identify a magnesium deficiency.
Signs you may be magnesium deficient, and what to do about it
“Getting adequate magnesium either through diet, supplements, or both can both prevent heart disease in most people and reverse heart disease risk factors that are so often treated with medications that have unwanted side effects for many,” says Dr. Rosanoff.
Signs of magnesium deficiency are often overlooked, as they resemble other conditions. Seven signs of a possible deficiency are:
- Muscle twitches and cramps
- Anxiety and depression
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
The solution to hypomagnesemia (low magnesium) is to take a supplement. Consult your doctor about the dosage you should take.
The other answer is to add magnesium-rich foods to your diet. These include:
- Dark chocolate – one ounce has 16 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI)
- Avocados – 15 percent RDI
- Almonds and cashews – one ounce has 20 percent RDI
- Legumes – one cup of black beans has 30 percent RDI
- Whole grains – an ounce of dried buckwheat offers 16 percent RDI
- Fatty fish – half a salmon fillet has 13 percent RDI
- Bananas – a large one has 9 percent RDI
- Leafy greens – a cup of cooked spinach gives you 39 percent of the RDI
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- Could higher magnesium intake reduce fatal coronary heart disease risk in women? — EurekAlert
- Association of Dietary Magnesium Intake with Fatal Coronary Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death — Journal of Women’s Health
- Low Magnesium Linked To Heart Disease — Medical News Today
- Serum Magnesium and the Risk of Death From Coronary Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death — Journal of the American Heart Association
- How Magnesium Keeps Your Heart Rhythm Healthy — Everyday Health
- Magnesium and Heart Disease: What’s the Link? — Today’s Geriatric Medicine