The Enormous Importance of Magnesium: Part I

by | Nov 6, 2008 | Nature's Therapies E-Journal

Please Note: This article represents the first part of a series of articles concerning magnesium and calcium, and the potential benefits of their supplementation. The second part of my discussion of magnesium will be presented in next month’s issue of Nature’s Therapies, and will be followed in the succeeding issue by a similar presentation regarding calcium.


Millions of people take calcium and magnesium supplementally, but often incorrectly. Aggressive marketing by some pharmaceutical firms promoting their brands of supplemental calcium as being crucial to osteoporosis prevention has contributed to the common perception that it is far more important to take supplemental calcium than magnesium. This is a potentially risky misconception.

Magnesium is actually required for proper calcium utilization in the body. It is nature’s calcium channel blocker that helps regulate the intracellular flow of calcium ions. Magnesium is as essential as calcium for normal bone metabolism. One study found that magnesium was a pivotal factor in helping to prevent hip fractures in older women.

In most ways, the operations of calcium and magnesium in the body are intricately connected. Magnesium and calcium are synergists in the production of the energy compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP, produced in the mitochondria or “powerhouse” of the cell, is not energy itself, but rather, the carrier of energy that it releases as required to fuel chemical reactions within the cells. On the other hand, calcium and magnesium also act as antagonists in various metabolic processes, including the synthesis of nucleic acids (i.e., DNA and RNA) and protein (in this reference, calcium acts as an inhibitor, and magnesium, an initiator).

Chronic low blood levels of calcium and/or potassium may be related to an underlying magnesium deficiency. Hence, magnesium supplementation often renders calcium or potassium supplementation more effective.

Supplemental calcium is certainly worthy of consideration, especially in any protocol that addresses osteoporosis. However, absent an understanding of the dangers of magnesium deficiency and the synergistic, yet competitive, relationship between magnesium and calcium, supplementation with the latter alone can prove problematic. For this reason, I have chosen to begin this overview of these two minerals with a discussion of magnesium.

Magnesium’s Many Roles In The Body

Magnesium is in its highest concentrations in tissue with high metabolic activity, such as the brain, heart, kidneys and liver. Other than potassium, magnesium is the most abundant cation (positively charged ion) in soft tissue, and its deficiency leads to tissue breakdown and destruction.

Magnesium is involved in the functioning of more than 300 essential enzyme reactions in the body and it’s absolutely critical to the normal functioning of every organ system. For instance, as regards the cardiovascular system, low magnesium levels may result in coronary arterial spasm and sudden-death heart disease. The magnesium-content of heart muscle has been shown to be low in those who die of “sudden-death.” Magnesium, an effective vasodilator, has an anti-arrhythmic effect on the heart muscle and limits platelet aggregation (i.e., clumping together of clotting cells in the blood).

This mineral is crucial to the maintenance of emotional, as well as physical, well-being. Magnesium, a natural tranquilizer that ameliorates erratic nervous system activity, also combats stress through reduction of muscular tension via relaxation of skeletal muscles. Magnesium deficiency may contribute to depression (including post-partum depression), irritability, agitation, anxiety and panic attacks.

Magnesium is crucial for relieving chronic fatigue, especially if it occurs in conjunction with depression, anxiety and sleep difficulties. Magnesium shortfall may be a contributory factor to the dramatic increase in recent decades in the incidence of hyperactivity in children. Accordingly, studies have indicated that supplementation with magnesium may decrease hyperactive behavior.

Some of Magnesium’s Other Essential Roles Include:

  • Activates pathways involved in protein and carbohydrate metabolism and is involved in the function and maintenance of DNA.
  • Helps to regulate the electrical reactivity of cell membranes, and thus, the flow of vital nutrients and waste products across those membranes.
  • Involved in the synthesis of lipids and proteins.
  • Plays an important role in muscle relaxation and neuromuscular transmission.
  • Prevents tooth decay by binding the calcium in tooth enamel.
  • Aids detoxification by assisting in the removal of excess ammonia (by-product of protein digestion) from the body.
  • Helps to prevent spasms of the gastrointestinal tract, arteries (including the coronary arteries), fallopian tubes (a cause of infertility), and bronchial spasm (as occurs in asthma).
  • Can help reduce the build-up of unwanted calcium deposits in arteries and heart valves.
  • Exerts an anticancer effect. Magnesium-deficiency has been shown to increase cancer susceptibility. Ironically, chemotherapy depletes magnesium stores and, in so doing, may actually stimulate the development of malignancies.
  • Helps to lower blood pressure in pregnant women with pre-eclampsia and is also an anticonvulsant in eclampsia (i.e., toxemia of pregnancy).
  • Deficiency may be indicated by abnormal menstrual symptoms, including:cramping; fatigue; depression; water retention; irritability.
  • Chemical sensitivities cannot be resolved until magnesium-deficiency is rectified.

Common Magnesium-Deficiency Symptoms

apprehensiveness; personality changes; confusion; anxiety; alcoholism; disorientation; psychosomatic illnesses; insomnia; hypothyroidism; adrenal gland fatigue and weakness; lack of coordination; obesity; fluid retention; proneness to motion sickness; muscle-twitch; tremors; weakness; bizarre muscle movements of the face and eye muscles; hair loss; swollen gums; tension in the neck and shoulders; weakness of the heart muscle; angina pectoris; proneness to blood clots in the arteries; white blood cell disorders; chronic sore throat; hay fever; asthma; gastrointestinal disorders; nausea; constipation; colitis; intestinal parasites; liver weakness; gallbladder disorders, including gallstones; bladder control problems; PMS; amenorrhea (absence of menstrual period); tetany; muscle cramps; skin lesions; warts.

The Growing Magnesium Deficiency Epidemic

Given the utter essentiality of magnesium to both physical and emotional health, this mineral is egregiously under-valued and thus sub-clinical magnesium deficiency has become very common. Magnesium is primarily an intracellular (i.e., inside the cell) mineral. Standard blood tests (which assay the plasma component of the blood) cannot detect any but the most severe cases of deficiency, because only 1% of body magnesium occurs outside the cells, and these tests do not measure the intracellular content. Substantial intracellular depletion can exist when plasma magnesium levels are normal or even elevated.

In the U.S., the average intake of magnesium has fallen over 50% in the last century. U.S. government surveys found that the typical American diet provides less than half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium. Some authorities estimate that 80% of the population is magnesium-deficient.

The refining of grains may result in the loss of more than 75% of original magnesium-content. Additionally, the rise in popularity of processed foods (processing strips much of the mineral content from foods) and the depletion of magnesium-rich soil by chemical fertilizers are also major contributors in the decline of bio-available magnesium in the modern diet. This dietary shortfall is exacerbated by the tendency to load up on supplemental calcium while ignoring magnesium as a bulwark against osteoporosis. Importantly in this reference, a build-up of calcium in the body causes magnesium to be flushed out of the cells.

Magnesium-deficiency is common in long-standing or under-controlled diabetics (diabetics tend to have lower than normal magnesium levels and magnesium supplementation may improve glucose tolerance). Could the rapidly increasing incidence of what was once referred to as adult-onset diabetes in children be related in part to magnesium deficiency? Importantly, magnesium has been used for decades to treat alcoholics during withdrawal. Alcohol is a simple carbohydrate and alcoholics are particularly prone to hypoglycemia.

Magnesium excretion is increased by the use of refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine and various prescription drugs, including birth-control pills and diuretics. The antibiotics: Gentamicin, Amphotericin, and Cyclosporin; diuretics, such as Lasix, Bumex, Edecrin, and Hydrochlorothiazide; and the chemotherapy drug Cisplatin all tend to increase loss of magnesium via the urine.

Additionally, a great deal of magnesium is lost as a result of excessive vomiting (e.g., as occurs with bulimia, morning sickness and chemotherapy) and chronic diarrhea (as occurs in many cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — magnesium deficiency is commonly a contributor to the development of IBS). Also, long-term consumption of distilled water or reverse osmosis treated water can contribute to magnesium loss.

Notable Food Sources of Magnesium:

kelp; nuts: almonds, cashews, Brazil, walnuts, filberts, pistachio and pecans; sesame seeds; Lima beans; dried peas; red beans; soybeans; millet; wheat; brown rice; rye; lentils; seafood; dark green vegetables in general; kale; spinach; beet greens; coconut; figs; dried banana.

Important Magnesium Synergists:

Adequate healthful dietary fats and protein; calcium; B-complex vitamins; vitamin C; vitamin D; adequate hydrochloric acid and potassium.

Please read: Magnesium: Part II

Dr. Berkowsky’s Premium Nutrition Magnesium Formulas:

How They Are Made And Why They Are Extraordinary On Many Levels

For 25 years I have served as product formulator for Nature’s Design, a cutting-edge company which offers product lines (including Premium Nutrition) of exquisite quality nutritional and herbal supplements. I have formulated these products to work with the body’s vital force rather than overruling it.

My formulating strategy is not to inefficiently supply mega-doses of potentially useful nutrients, but rather, to provide highly utilizable, synergistically enhanced nutrients and other biochemical moieties in a form and quantity that efficiently supports the body’s “inner physician” in its duties of maintenance and repair. The key principles in this context are highest quality ingredients and manufacture, and intra-ingredient balance and synergy.

To date, I have formulated two unique magnesium formulas: Premium Nutrition’s LifeMag and Premium Magnsium Plus. (I am currently working on a third one, which will be available in mid-2009). These two products have been used by many thousands of people over the last 20 years and, their enormous popularity continues to grow. We commonly hear from people who report they have never found another magnesium product that can serve as an adequate substitute for either of these products. Many people refer to them as “life-changing”.

In order for a mineral to be absorbed from the small intestine (the primary site of nutrient absorption) into the blood, it has to be attached to a substance which serves as a mineral transporter that will carry it through the intestinal wall into the blood, and then from the blood into the cells.

Magnesium citrate is formed by the bonding of elemental magnesium and citric acid. The latter is an organic acid found in many fruits, which effectively bonds to many minerals and trace nutrients and serves as a very effective transporter across the gastrointestinal mucosa (the lining which covers the inside of the stomach and intestines). Citrates are highly bioavailable; therefore, large doses are not required to ensure efficacious uptake into the blood.

A mineral chelator is a substance that tightly bonds with a mineral atom and transports through the gastrointestinal mucosa, the blood vessel wall and/or the cell membrane. This bound pair consisting of chelator and mineral atom is referred to as a mineral chelate.

Amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) are high quality mineral chelators that are recognized by the gastrointestinal mucosa and/or cell membrane as a desirable molecule, and thus, are readily absorbed along with their mineral payloads.

Due to a dedicated amino acid transport system found in cells of the intestinal wall, amino acids are particularly well absorbed through the gastrointestinal mucosa. Therefore when a mineral atom is strongly bonded with amino acids, it is far more efficiently absorbed into the blood than it would be in the form of an inorganic salt, such as magnesium oxide or magnesium carbonate.

In fact, chelation of minerals in digested food with amino acids is a process that occurs naturally in the gut. In other words, it is one of the fundamental ways the body facilitates the absorption of minerals into the system. Thus, laboratory-produced amino acid chelated minerals mimic one of the body’s own preferred methods of enhancing mineral absorption.

Also, amino acid chelation of minerals helps to counter competitive interactions that can occur between different minerals (e.g., between calcium and magnesium) when they are taken as inorganic salts (e.g., dolomite). In the small intestine, minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc will naturally compete for the same transporters to ferry them across the intestinal membrane into the blood. Thus, a relatively large amount of one of these minerals may block the absorption of much smaller amounts of the others if they are simultaneously present at the site of absorption. As amino acid chelated minerals are already bonded to their own transporters, the problem of intra-mineral competition is greatly reduced.

An amino acid consists of an amino group of atoms, an acid group, and an R-group. Variations among R-groups determine the character of the different amino acids, such as alanine, aspartic acid, lysine and tyrosine. When formulating products containing amino acid chelates, I select specific amino acids according to the functions they serve in the body and their relative effectiveness as mineral transporters. I then balance the proportions of each of the amino acid chelates to create a mineral formula that is well-absorbed, dynamic in activity, finely balanced and very comfortable and nurturing to the body.

Both Premium Nutrition’s LifeMag and Premium Magnesium Plus are at the very top of the quality range of commercially available magnesium formulas. Each contains magnesium citrate and full spectrum, highly bonded amino acid chelates. Additionally, while LifeMag contains magnesium aspartate and magnesium lysinate, Magnesium Plus contains magnesium alaninate, magnesium lysinate and magnesium tyrosinate.

Magnesium Plus also features a matrix of magnesium-rich herbs which contains natural magnesium co-factors, making this preparation, essentially, a magnesium food. In this way the absorption and utilization of the magnesium is enhanced. The following herbs are in this formula: chickweed, marshmallow root, horsetail concentrate, Irish moss and oat straw.

Over the years, both of these products have developed large fan bases. Determining which one is most suitable for a given individual is largely a trial and error process (many people not only do well with both but actually use both at the same time). However, a basic rule of thumb is that while Magnesium Plus, with its herbal base, is somewhat more dynamic in action, LifeMag is the best place to start for those individuals who may be sensitive to herbs or have sensitive systems. Of course, if a person’s health-building regimen is being guided by a health professional, that person can help to determine which one of these magnesium formulas may be more personally suitable.

Please Note: The information presented herein, including ailment-related comments, are for informational purposes only; health concern matters require supervision by a physician. The author, publisher and others associated with this article cannot be responsible for the misuse of information herein.

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