Saturday, May 25, 2013

Magnesium for Health

The majority of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and that includes me (but not for much longer for me). Both times I have been hospitalized this year, they have given me magnesium through the IV lines and I began to feel better.

Actually it took some digging to make the connection with how I felt and my magnesium levels. When a person isn't well, and is admitted to a hospital, it's easy to believe feeling better is the result of the overall course of treatment rather than focus on a single element (unless it's specific like surgery, setting bones, stopping a blood loss...).

Magnesium is extremely important for good health. Yet for far too many years this vital mineral has been largely overlooked by most doctors. Shockingly, most laboratory blood tests do not even measure magnesium status although magnesium is involved as an essential factor in more aspects of health than any other mineral. Since magnesium status is rarely measured, most doctors don't know when their patients are deficient in magnesium, even though about 80% of us are deficient in this essential mineral.

I did notice that both times after I was released from the hospital, I felt better overall for several days and then went into a slow decline even though the original cause had been "repaired".  It was only in recent soil testing minerals for my garden that I began to make the connection (which I actually knew about several years ago and soon forgot).

My Wish List on has a folder of books I want on health, and I'd had The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Carolyn Dean listed for a long time... so I finally ordered it 2 weeks ago. Fantastic book for anyone really concerned about health and well-being! I was about halfway through reading it when I had a routine follow-up with my doctor. When they drew blood for some tests, I asked that magnesium be measured. (It is NOT routinely measured.)

Sure enough, the labs showed a magnesium deficiency, and my doctor sent in a prescription to my pharmacy for magnesium oxide (with no calcium), 400mg in the mornings, and another 400mg at night. I'm not convinced this is the best form of magnesium for bioavailability, so more research on my part is needed. For the nonce, it's what I have.

By the way, there is a serious additional benefit from magnesium: it's alkaline. Our American diet is far too acidic when it should be pH neutral, so adding an alkaline food or supplement will help towards a neutral pH balance.

Most OTC magnesium supplements have too much calcium, and the ratio of calcium to magnesium is quite delicate, according to Dr. Dean. Magnesium is necessary to properly metabolize calcium, and it keeps calcium in solution in the body, so it prevents calcifications which are quite common. Calcium causes muscles to contract, while magnesium gives them the ability to relax. (That means no more leg cramps for me!)

Magnesium (Mg) is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. There is an increased interest in the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Magnesium is at the core of the chlorophyll molecule, and an essential ingredient for healthy plants, and the animals (including humans) that eat those plants. All living organisms depend on magnesium in all types of cells, body tissues and organs for a variety of functions. Magnesium in human and animal bodies is important in regulating muscle and nerve functions. Half the magnesium in humans is found in our bones but only 1% in the blood.

Where can we get magnesium other than in supplements? Foods such as green leafy vegetables, some legumes, nuts, seeds and unrefined grains are good sources. (There is a list below of some good foods for magnesium.) However, if those plants do not get enough magnesium from the soil, neither do we. We know our soils have become depleted in minerals and microminerals over the last hundred years, yet few of us have soil tests done, nor do we add much-needed mineral replacements.

Without enough magnesium, plants often develop some yellowing in their older leaves between the veins. Magnesium is essential for photosynthesis, and helps activate plant enzymes needed for growth. Animals have a need for more magnesium than plants, so a plant magnesium deficiency often shows up first in the animals, especially those that graze or forage.

Magnesium in our soils

Where does magnesium originate? Magnesium is an abundant alkaline element in the earth’s crust, occurring naturally in several minerals like dolomite, vermiculite and clay soils like montmorillonite. It is the third most dissolved element in sea water, and seafoods are among the foods highest in magnesium. Alkaline soils and humus-rich soils generally contain more magnesium that acidic soils. Magnesium found in the form of magnesium ions (Mg2+) in the soil (in solution or bound to soil particles) is the most important for exchangeable magnesium. However, magnesium ions are at risk of leaching along with nitrates and calcium.

Other plant sources for magnesium are organic materials (compost), animal dung and plant material. The more magnesium taken up by the old plant material, the more will be available again for new crops. Cation Exchange Capacity, called CEC, affects the potential for plants to take up magnesium.  Soils with a high CEC tend to hold more magnesium. However, if there are also high levels of N and K (nitrogen and potassium) in the soil, less Mg will be available. 

You can add magnesium with serpentine superphosphate (a slow-release magnesium), dolomite (a calcium-magnesium limestone), and calcinated magnesite. You can also add magnesium by using Epsom salts, which is very water-soluble (thus readily available to plants) and best used as a foliar spray to prevent leaching. 

Epsom salts is a magnesium sulfate, extracted from the mineral Epsomate, and naturally occurs in water. The name Epsom comes from the town in England (Epsom) where water was first boiled to release these minerals. The advantage of magnesium sulfate over other magnesium soil amendments (such as dolomitic lime) is its high solubility.

Some plants, notably tomatoes, potatoes and peppers require a soil high in magnesium. If you grow these, you should have a soil test done to determine magnesium levels, especially available magnesium, and then choose your magnesium amendment(s) carefully for optimal uptake.

Some High Risk Groups for a Magnesium Deficiency
People taking Certain Medications:

Proton Pump Inhibitors
Prescription PPIs include Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium)
Dexilant (dexlansoprazole)
Prilosec (omeprazole)
Zegerid (omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate)
Prevacid (lansoprazole)
Protonix (pantoprazole sodium)
AcipHex (rabeprazole sodium)
Vimovo, Prilosec OTC (omeprazole)
Zegerid OTC (omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate)
Prevacid 24HR (lansoprazole)36

Diuretics: Lasix, Bumex, Edecrin, and hydrochlorothiazide

Antibiotics: Gentamicin, and Amphotericin
Anti-neoplastic (Cancer) medication: Cisplatin
Zinc Supplements

People with Gastrointestinal Disorders - Most magnesium is absorbed through the colon so people with gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn's disease are at high risk for a magnesium deficiency.

People with Poor Functioning Kidneys - The kidneys should be able to regulate magnesium in the blood, excreting less when stores are low, however, excessive loss of magnesium through urine can occur to people on specific medications, poorly managed diabetes, and alcoholics.

People Consuming high amounts of Fiber - Eating large amounts of fiber has been shown to interfere with the bodies ability to use magnesium. However, more research needs to be done to confirm how much fiber affects magnesium.

Some Magnesium Rich Foods:
Fish - Halibut and Yellow Fin Tuna
Seafood - Oysters, Shrimp, and Scallops
Chocolate - Chocolate Nibs, Dark Chocolate, Cocoa Powder and Milk Chocolate
Beans - Black Beans, White Beans, Kidney Beans, Black Beans, Lima Beans, Navy Beans, Pinto Beans
Nuts & Seeds - Pumpkin Seeds, Almonds, Pine Nuts, Brazil Nuts, Macadamia Nuts, Cashews
Dairy - Cheese from
Grass Fed Cows, Chocolate Milk, and Organic Raw Milk
Meats - Grass Fed Meats, Pastured Poultry & Eggs, and Bison Meat
Leafy Greens - Spinach, Kale, Dandelion Greens, and Beet Greens
Vegetables - Artichokes, Pumpkin, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Okra, Squash, and Parsnips
Sea Vegetables - Kelp and Seaweed
Fruit - Dried Figs, Dried Apricots, Prune Juice, Bananas, Avocados and Raisins
Culinary Herbs - Basil, Cilantro, Tarragon, Chives, Spearmint, Sage, Dill, Savory, dried coriander
Legumes - Peanuts, Chickpeas or Garbanzo, Cowpeas, Black-Eyed Peas, and Lentils
Grains - Buckwheat, Oat Bran, Brown Rice, Millet, Cornmeal, Spelt Grain, Barley, Quinoa and Whole Wheat
Tomato Products - Tomato Paste and Sun Dried Tomatoes
Blue Green Algaes - Spirulina, Chlorella, and Klamath Lake Blue Green Algae

A good substitute for refined sugar in cakes and breads, molasses is also a great source of magnesium. Molasses provides 242mg (61% DV) per 100 gram serving, 816mg (204% DV) per cup, and 48mg (12% DV) per tablespoon.


  1. Magnesium glycinate is the form I have taken for years. I take 1200 mg. of KAL Magnesium glycinate at suppertime. It helps with the leg cramps and with sleep.

    If I've been too active, and cramps start, I use Earth Medicine Magnesium Oil. It's in a spray bottle and I put 2 sprays on each side of the calf, and 2 on the arch of my foot, and the cramps stop in 20 mins. It doesn't need to be rubbed in. If you have cuts, etc or have recently shaved, it will sting.

    The magnesium in my garden is getting close to optimal, at 12%. Ideal is 15%, and my CEC is 10.50. So it's getting there. I've been working on it since 2010.

    If I go in to see my doc, I'm going to request a magnesium test. I've been craving nuts and seeds a lot for the last few months, so I'm wondering...

    My DH has recently been dx'd with arrhythmia and I started him on the mag. glyc. because magnesium also regulates heart function.

    1. Pam, why did you choose the glycinate form of magnesium?

    2. Years ago I did research into the best forms of several supplements I wanted to try. There are often 2-4 or more forms of an item. Some are far more easily assimilated than others. At this point in time, I've forgotten most specifics, as I just stick to what has worked for me.

      But I think (perhaps incorrectly) for calcium the calcium carbonate (Tums, etc.) is the worst form and calcium lactate is the top or best. I could not use the lactate, as I reacted to it (dairy issues) so I used the citrate form. There may be another form on the list before calcium carbonate, I don't remember.

      I expect you could google and find the info somewhere. I don't recall where I had found it. This was in 2000. I don't recall what any other magnesium forms were.

    3. I think Dr. Dean covers the different forms of magnesium (and why to use or not use each) in her book but I haven't read the book to that point yet.

  2. Great post, Darius -- I do eat a lot of foods high in magnesium, but, as you say, they are only as nutritious as the soil they were grown in. I understand that one can absorb magnesium through the skin -- by taking a bath in Epsom or some other high-magnesium salts.

    1. I received a free sample spray bottle of magnesium oil (from Ancient Minerals) that I apply when I remember. Getting magnesium via the skin is supposed to be better than taking supplements orally, with no side effects.

      I'd love to soak in a tub with some absorbable form of magnesium added to the water, but my fiberglass tub does not encourage me to soak.

  3. I was having heart palpitations on a daily basis and was getting resigned to having the afib my father had had most of his life. My son brought me a bottle of potassium citrate and a bottle of magnesium oxide tablets. The 1st day I took them the "afib" stopped. Eight months later I haven't had so much as a flutter. If I had reported to my Dr. as I was about to, who knows what I would have been prescribed. I feel like I really dodged a bullet.

    1. Hooray for you! I assume you are still taking both supplements? If so, how much is in each of those tablets?

      I'm still having leg cramps when I first awaken in the mornings, but less severe.

    2. I am indeed still taking them. I stopped for a week once to see what would happen, and the flutter began again on day 3. I dont seem to need a lot. I take 200 (half a tablet)of the magnesium. I could probably up it now, but it does the job and, starting out, if I took more I would get diarrhea. With the potassium, if I am low, I get an allover achy feeling. If I have that I take 3 capsules three times a day. The capsules are 99mg. So on a day when I feel achy I am taking up to 1000mg. It is hard on your stomach, so after meals is good with lots of liquid. On a normal day I will take 2 or 3 tablets. The stated daily requirement for potassium is 3.5 grams. It still amazes me that a supplement could have that huge an effect on ones health, but there it is.

    3. I'm going to look into this today. Already got him on the mag. and had seen reference to potassium, but not what type or how much. He sees the heart doc today and his primary tomorrow.

  4. I did get to the section in Dr. Dean's book about different forms of magnesium. She writes that the form of magnesium chloride has the most bioavailability, followed by the mag. forms acetate, gluconate, lactate and malate.

    Mag. taurate has special properties for the heart.

    She recommends 2x calcium to magnesium.


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