Mighty Magnesium

Bruce Cole, Publisher of Canadian Natural Health Retailer Magazine, Interviews Dr. Cory Holly... In your experience, what are some of the most damaging effects you've seen caused by a magnesium deficiency?

Heart disease, physical weakness, poor exercise recovery, leg cramps, anxiety, insomnia, chronic fatigue and depression. Excess acid production and heartburn is also related and very common. Magnesium is an essential mineral in human nutrition and liberates an alkaline pH. It opposes, buffers and balances acid waste. Magnesium plays a very important role in our overall health, especially in the regulation of pH, waste management and energy production.

Do you have any “success stories” regarding patients you have worked with or treated magnesium?

One of our Spartacus gym members, a rather large and strong fellow, and in good physical shape, complained of having heart problems at age 28. He said his doctor had diagnosed him with a condition called atrial fibrillation (AF) also known as irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm. He was prescribed medication and told to avoid caffeine.

After a brief review of his diet and lifestyle, I recommended he investigate the mineral magnesium and consider taking some magnesium aspartate (10% magnesium/90% aspartic acid) as a dietary supplement. I knew there was some clinical evidence, especially from Europe, to suggest that AF can be controlled, modified and even abated by taking it. But I also said there was no guarantee.

A week went by and then I saw him again on the gym floor training. He had a big smile on his face. He rushed up to me and shouted, “Cory, you saved my life! My anxiety and symptoms of AF disappeared the morning after I took 1000mg of magnesium aspartate. I’m a believer!”

From that time on he never had any more heart trouble or cardiac concerns, except once, when he neglected to take his magnesium for three days.

What are the best ways to get magnesium into the body?

The best way begins with consuming organic whole food from plants and animals. Anything green is a great place to start, such as Tracy’s Magnesium Salad as a cozy relationship exists between magnesium and chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in algae and plants that captures energy from sunlight (photosynthesis). Magnesium is the central atom of chlorophyll.

All green plants provide organic sources of bioavailable magnesium. Other great food sources include raw nuts and seeds, fish, beans and lentils, brown rice, avocadoes and dried fruits. But just like weight-training can make a strong man even stronger, a whole food diet reinforced with supplements becomes stronger to.

The difference between whole food alone, and whole food reinforced with supplements, is similar to the difference between iron and steel. Iron (whole food) is strong, very strong, but steel (whole food + supplements) is stronger, more flexible and more resistant to oxidation. To create steel you have to add a tiny bit of carbon to iron. When you add supplements to whole food it acts like carbon converting the whole food into steel. Some choose iron. That’s good. I choose steel.

What are some of the most important benefits magnesium offers an individual for heart health?

As stated by cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra, “Among the top nutrients for heart health, the benefits of magnesium supplements really stand out. A shortage can cause or worsen congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, chest pain (coronary vasospasm), high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), heart attack and even sudden cardiac death.”

The best way to understand the importance of almost anything, including people, fitness and natural health products, is to watch, measure and “feel” what happens when they’re present, when they leave and when they’re reintroduced.

The discovery of vitamins in the early 20th century was originally based on the observation that when certain foods were deleted from the diet of a rodent, symptoms of disease would appear that otherwise would not be present. When the same food was added back to the diet, the symptoms would disappear.

When it comes to our personal health and wellness, examination of outcome in relation to change is the best way to determine success or failure, benefit or risk. This is the basis of evidence based molecular medicine. Positive change equates to positive outcome. Negative change equates to negative outcome; simple cause and effect.

How would a person determine how much magnesium they need to maintain a healthy heart?

Most heart disease “creeps” up slowly and insidiously. Science can teach us things impossible to feel or verify with our senses alone. Nutrition is something you have to measure objectively. Let me give you an example. A 40 year old family friend was told after a standard physical medical exam that he was in perfect health. He said he felt great. One week later at a hockey game he got excited and had a near fatal heart attack.

Three days later he was on steroids, lying on a table having coronary quadruple bypass surgery. In simple terms his diet sucked and he was in poor physical condition. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for magnesium is 350 mg. I estimate he got less than 50 mg daily for most of his life. You can’t make magnesium out of thin air, and you should never rely exclusively on how you feel. Health as a functional state has to be tested physically and measured objectively.

Relying on the sensation of taste alone is a huge mistake in today’s world where sterilized, devitalized and processed food is the norm. Modern factory food is woefully lacking in magnesium and the idea that we get everything we need from food is a myth.

What are the major benefits magnesium brings to women during pregnancy?

Pregnancy “pulls” many life-giving elements out of the mother’s body tissues, organs and glands if they are not consumed adequately through optimum nutrition and added supplements. The baby comes first.

Most women do not take sufficient amounts of micronutrients during pregnancy to compensate for the added biological burden and passenger as living “cargo”. They often get pregnant under less than ideal conditions. As a result, they never really recover from the experience and/or they struggle with depression, obesity, food cravings, fatigue and thyroid conditions for the rest of their lives.

Magnesium supplements taken during pregnancy can help relieve constipation, modify emotional stress, help ease nervous tension, improve sleep quality and prevent osteoporosis. Cramps and labor pains during delivery tend to be less painful.

How would a person determine how much magnesium they need to ensure a healthy pregnancy?

Examine your diet. Analyze its composition. Get to know the food you eat. Compare that data to any symptoms and connect the biochemical dots. Facts don’t lie. Begin with what is obvious. Simply examine what you eat day-to-day and add up the numbers. Use math and rely on logic. This is what our CSNA student graduates learn to do.

“Mrs. Jones, I’ve carefully evaluated, analyzed and scrutinized your current diet, and I’m concerned. Based on my calculations, you’re only getting about 25% of the daily magnesium experts feel you should be getting at this time. You feel tired most of the time, you’re not sleeping well and you’re constipated. Those are all common symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Let’s try adding some magnesium orotate [aspartate, citrate, oxide, bisglycinate, chelate, mixed Kreb’s cycle intermediates] to your diet and see if that doesn’t improve things. I’m sure it will”.

How does magnesium work to benefit individuals suffering from Asthma?

As a calcium antagonist, it relaxes airways and smooth muscles and dilates the lungs. It also reduces airway inflammation, inhibits chemicals that initiate spasm, and increases anti-inflammatory nitric oxide.

How would a person determine how much magnesium they need to help with the conditions of asthma?

By simply experimenting with taking magnesium as a dietary supplement on a daily basis. Start with a low dose of 100-200mg of elemental magnesium [citrate, malate or bisglycinate]. Check the label for potency. Take note of your symptoms and look for improvement, especially if the asthma is exacerbated by stress and emotions. Increase the dosage gradually if necessary. According to researcher Dr. Mildred Seelig, the dosage range for men is 6–8 mg per kg (3.0 to 4.5 mg per pound) of body weight per day. For athletes Seelig recommends 6-10 mg per kg.

What are the properties within magnesium that allow it to be an effective natural anesthetic?

Magnesium is predominantly an intracellular ion. Its blocking effects on NMDA [N-methyl-D-aspartate] receptors are responsible for the analgesic and sedative characteristics. Magnesium sulfate by injection in hospitals has been used in obstetrics with good results, inhibiting premature labor and in the treatment of eclampsia-associated seizures. It is potentially analgesic and sedative, and can be used as adjuvant during general anesthesia, attenuating the blood pressure response to tracheal intubation and decreasing the need of anesthetics.

How does magnesium help people who are battling fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue?

There’s a definite connection between fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and impaired energy production within the cell. The reasons are poorly understood and mostly theoretically, but most likely magnesium affects enzyme systems involved in the electron transport chain inside the mitochondria. Magnesium increases the body’s ability to generate and regenerate ATP. I usually recommend 5 gm of magnesium creatine chelate (MCC) in conjunction with malic acid (2 gm) and D-Ribose (5 gm) for fatigue and muscle syndromes. Add all of these in powder form to a blender with some ice and 250 ml of clean filtered water. Add 40-60 gm whey protein isolate, a small amount of fresh fruit such as blueberries, and 2 T. of an omega-3 rich seed oil blend derived from flax, hemp and pumpkin seeds. Shake’n’Take!

What role does magnesium serve in helping blood sugar balance?

Magnesium plays an important role in normal glucose metabolism. Hypomagnesemia [an electrolyte disturbance in which there is an abnormally low level of magnesium in the blood] increases insulin resistance, which is associated with Syndrome X, elevated blood lipids, obesity and chronic inflammation. Insulin resistance often precedes diabetes I, II and now III (Alzheimer’s). High sugar consumption creates a greater need for magnesium as sugar drives magnesium out of the body. Insulin resistance is a physiological condition in which cells fail to respond to the normal actions of the hormone insulin.

Constipation is an issue with most people at various times. What are the major roles magnesium plays in helping to relieve constipation?

Like vitamin C powder, magnesium has a well-established reputation in the natural health industry as a natural laxative. Magnesium relaxes the smooth muscles in the intestines. This helps establish a smoother rhythm. Magnesium also attracts water; this increased amount of water in the colon serves to soften the stool, helping to make stools easier to pass.

How will magnesium help an individual prevent kidney stones? Are there other elements that would support magnesium in this endeavor?

Harvard researchers found that taking 180 mg of magnesium along with 10 mg of vitamin B6 daily will prevent kidney stones by 92.3 percent per year! Another study showed close to a 90 percent reduction with magnesium alone (500 mg daily). Dr. Julian Whitaker suggests 500 mg of magnesium and 75 mg of B6 per day if someone is prone to kidney stone formation.

Magnesium deficiency allows calcium to fall out of solution inside the body. This undesirable precipitation of calcium can lead to calcium deposits in the artery wall, joints or the kidney’s. Kidney stones vary in composition, including a diverse, biological matrix of calcium, uric acid, struvite and cystine. About 80% are comprised of calcium oxalate.

Drinking clean filtered water is critical to prevent kidney stone formation. Fresh celery, carrot and parsley juice is a wonderful daily tonic. Diuretic herbs such as uva ursi, dandelion root and horsetail all have a long history in natural medicine for preventing and treating kidney stones.

What are the properties in magnesium that allow it help prevent and/or relieve spasms and cramps?

Calcium triggers muscle contraction by reaction with regulatory proteins that in the absence of calcium prevent interaction of actin and myosin. Magnesium counteracts or balances the contractile activating, action potential function of calcium. Magnesium ions are essential to the formation of specific enzymes that inhibit neural pathways, thereby causing excited muscle fibers to relax.

What affect does magnesium have on migraines?

People who experience migraines often have lower levels of serum and tissue magnesium. Magnesium plays a role in neurotransmitter release and vasoconstriction.

How would a person determine how much magnesium they need to help with any of the conditions we've talked about?

Read books, follow the advice of experts, researchers and doctors you trust, then experiment with taking a magnesium supplement on a daily basis. Don’t expect overnight results. There is no technical device yet known that can calculate the exact micronutrient needs of any individual. What we have are general guidelines, research, anecdote and clinical observation. Most of the hard evidence is obtained from animal studies.

Everyone understands the role calcium plays in bone health. How does magnesium fit in and what role does it play?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is required for vascular contraction and vasodilatation, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling and hormonal secretion. An adult body contains about 1 kg, 99% of which is stored in the skeleton. An adult body contains approximately 25 gm of magnesium, with 50% to 60% present in the bones and most of the rest in soft tissues. Less than 1% of total magnesium is in blood serum, and these levels are kept under tight control. Normal serum magnesium concentrations range between 0.75 and 0.95 millimoles (mmol)/L.

Both minerals are essential, meaning, “must have or will die”. Both are alkaline forming and play an enormously important role in cardiovascular and nervous system health. They work as gate keepers, control agents and rescue workers.

How would a person determine how much magnesium they need to help with bone health?

Get a bone density scan and if you’re not weight training, begin a basic program. Humans need gravity, load and torque to create the bioelectrical sparks that drive essential minerals into bone. Inactivity is synonymous with bone fragility and porosity. Start by taking a low dose multi-mineral with a dozen or so chelated minerals as a foundation mineral base. Reinforce this with an extra calcium-magnesium supplement in a 1:1 ratio.

Tracy and I take a homogenized blend in tablet form of calcium citrate (250mg), magnesium citrate/oxide (250mg), potassium citrate (20mg), zinc citrate (5mg), manganese citrate (1mg), silicon (100mcg) and vitamin D3 (2,5mcg). We each take four of these daily in addition to many other wonderful supplements.

There are likely people who should not take magnesium or at the very least, should see their MD or ND before considering it as a supplement. Who are those people that should be cautious?

  • AIDS patients on meds
  • Renal patients on meds
  • Magnesium interacts with bisphosphonates and tetracycline antibiotics and should be taken 2 hours before or after these medicines.

What does too much or the wrong amount of magnesium do to the system?

Too much magnesium from food does not pose a health risk in healthy individuals because the kidneys eliminate excess amounts in the urine. Excessive doses of magnesium from dietary supplements or medications often result in diarrhea that can be accompanied by nausea and abdominal cramping. These symptoms will stop as soon as the supplement or medication is reduced or eliminated.

Magnesium toxicity can occur in people with hypothyroidism, those using magnesium-containing medications such as antacids, laxatives, cathartics, and in those with certain types of gastrointestinal disorders, such as colitis, gastroenteritis, and gastric dilation, which may cause an increased absorption of magnesium.

Magnesium toxicity caused by taking natural health products [as opposed to minor side effects] is extremely rare. Symptoms may include hypotension, nausea, vomiting, facial flushing, retention of urine, ileus, depression, and lethargy before progressing to muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, extreme hypotension, irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest.

The risk of magnesium toxicity increases with impaired renal function or kidney failure because the ability to remove excess magnesium is reduced or lost.

Minerals as a general rule are potentially more toxic than vitamins. Magnesium is an essential mineral, but there is a limit, so stay within it. When this biological limit or individual tolerance is exceeded, as with all things, risk of damage increases.

Symptoms such as diarrhea or nausea are the language of nature, created to get our attention before any serious harm occurs. Pay attention, start with modest dosages, identify the best form of magnesium for your body in terms of effect and tolerance, and increase the amount gradually. Most minerals including magnesium should be taken with meals to assist in breakdown, absorption and uptake into the blood.

Respect nature and she will respect you.

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