By Sayer Ji
Calcium deficiency is a common nutritional concern, but how many folks consider the vital importance of magnesium in human health and disease?
New research published in the journal BMC Bioinformatics indicates that magnesium’s role in human health and disease is far more significant and complicated than previously imagined.
While it is well known that all living things require magnesium, and that it is found in over 300 enzymes in the human body, including those enzymes utilizing or synthesizing ATP (the molecular unit of currency for energy transfer), the new studied titled, “3,751 magnesium binding sites have been detected on human proteins,” indicates that a deficiency of magnesium may profoundly affect a far wider range of biological structures than previously understood.
The proteome, or entire set of proteins expressed by the human genome, contains well over 100,000 distinct protein structures, despite the fact that there are believed to be only 20,300 protein-coding genes in the human genome.
The discovery of the “magneseome,” as its being called, adds additional complexity to the picture, indicating that the presence or absence of adequate levels of this basic mineral may epigenetically alter the expression and behavior of the proteins in our body, thereby altering the course of both health and disease.
Indeed, modern medicine and nutrition fixates primarily on calcium deficiency (due, in part, to the WHO’s highly unscientific definition of osteoporosis), even in the face of accumulating peer-reviewed research indicating that excess calcium consumption can greatly increase cardiac morbidity and mortality.
Research relevant to magnesium has been accumulating for the past 40 years at a steady rate of approximately 2,000 new studies a year. Our database project has indexed well over 100 health benefits of magnesium thus far. For the sake of brevity, we will address seven key therapeutic applications for magnesium as follows:
- Fibromyalgia: Not only is magnesium deficiency common in those diagnosed with fibromyalgia, [ii] [iii] but relatively low doses of magnesium (50 mg), combined with malic acid in the form of magnesium malate, has been clinically demonstrated to improve pain and tenderness in those to which it was administered.[iv]
- Atrial Fibrillation: A number of studies now exist showing that magnesium supplementation reduce atrial fibrillation, either by itself, or in combination with conventional drug agents.[v]
- Diabetes, Type 2: Magnesium deficiency is common in type 2 diabetics, at an incidence of 13.5 to 47.7% according to a 2007 study.[vi] Research has also shown that type 2 diabetics with peripheral neuropathy and coronary artery disease have lower intracellular magnesium levels.[vii] Oral magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce plasma fasting glucose and raising HDL cholesterol in patients with type 2 diabetes.[viii] It has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and metabolic control in type 2 diabetic subjects.[ix]
- Premenstrual Syndrome: Magnesium deficiency has been observed in women affected by premenstrual syndrome.[x] It is no surprise therefore that it has been found to alleviate premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention,[xi] as well as broadly reducing associated symptoms by approximately 34% in women, aged 18-45, given 250 mg tablets for a 3-month observational period.[xii] When combined with B6, magnesium supplementation has been found to improve anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms.[xiii]
- Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality: Low serum magnesium concentrations predict cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.[xiv] There are a wide range of ways that magnesium may confer its protective effects. It may act like a calcium channel blocker,[xv] it is hypotensive,[xvi] it is antispasmodic (which may protect against coronary artery spasm),[xvii] and anti-thrombotic.[xviii] Also, the heart muscle cells are exceedingly dense in mitochondria (as high as 100 times more per cell than skeletal muscle), the “powerhouses” of the cell,” which require adequate magnesium to produce ATP via the citric acid cycle.
- Migraine Disorders: Blood magnesium levels have been found to be significantly lower in those who suffer from migraine attacks.[xix] [xx] A recent Journal of Neural Transmission article titled, “Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium,” pointed out that routine blood tests do not accurately convey the true body magnesium stores since less than 2% is in the measurable, extracellular space, “67% is in the bone and 31% is located intracellularly.”[xxi] The authors argued that since “routine blood tests are not indicative of magnesium status, empiric treatment with at least oral magnesium is warranted in all migraine sufferers.” Indeed, oral magnesium supplementation has been found to reduce the number of headache days in children experiencing frequent migranous headaches, [xxii] and when combined with l-carnitine, is effective at reducing migraine frequency in adults, as well.[xxiii]
- Aging: While natural aging is a healthy process, accelerated aging has been noted to be a feature of magnesium deficiency,[xxiv] 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.[xxv] Magnesium supplementation has been shown to reverse age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans.[xxvi] 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.[xxvii]
Best Sources of Magnesium In The Diet
The best source of magnesium is from food, and one way to identify magnesium-containing foods are those which are green, i.e. chlorophyll rich. Chlorophyll, which enable plants to capture solar energy and convert it into metabolic energy, has a magnesium atom at its center. Without magnesium, in fact, plants could not utilize the sun’s light energy.
Magnesium, however, in its elemental form is colorless, and many foods that are not green contain it as well. The point is that when found complexed with food cofactors, it is absorbed and utilized more efficiently than in its elemental form, say, extracted from limestone in the form of magnesium oxide.
The following foods contain exceptionally high amounts of magnesium. The portions described are 100 grams, or a little over three ounces.
- Rice bran, crude (781 mg)
- Seaweed, agar, dried (770 mg)
- Chives, freeze-dried (640 mg)
- Spice, coriander leaf, dried (694 mg)
- Seeds, pumpkin, dried (535 mg)
- Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened (499 mg)
- Spices, basil, dried (422 mg)
- Seeds, flaxseed (392 mg)
- Spices, cumin seed (366 mg)
- Nuts, brazilnuts, dried (376 mg)
- Parsley, freeze-dried (372 mg)
- Seeds, sesame meal (346 mg)
- Nut, almond butter (303 mg)
- Nuts, cashew nuts, roasted (273 mg)
- Soy flour, defatted (290 mg)
- Whey, sweet, dried (176 mg)
- Bananas, dehydrated (108 mg)
- Millet, puffed (106 mg)
- Shallots, freeze-dried (104 mg)
- Leeks, freeze-dried (156 mg)
- Fish, salmon, raw (95 mg)
- Onions, dehydrated flakes (92 mg)
- Kale, scotch, raw (88 mg)
Fortunately, for those who need higher doses, or are not inclined to consume magnesium rich foods, there are supplemental forms commonly available on the market. Keep in mind, for those who wish to take advantage of the side benefit of magnesium therapy, namely, its stool softening and laxative properties, magnesium citrate or oxide will provide this additional feature.
For those looking to maximize absorption and bioavailability magnesium glycinate is ideal, as glycine is the smallest amino acid commonly found chelated to magnesium, and therefore highly absorbable.