Magnesium Deficiency: An Undiagnosed Epidemic Behind the Epidemics of Heart Disease and Diabetes

A patient who hadn’t felt good for many years came in the other day and told me an osteopathic physician she had gone to for OMT, manipulative treatment, had suggested she take a basic 400 mg magnesium supplement and it had been life changing for her.

She handed me a xeroxed little essay the osteopath had written about the many functions of magnesium in the human body and the symptoms of deficiency.

All her vague gastrointestinal symptoms were gone, her skin had cleared, her energy level had improved and she felt more clearheaded.

“What was your level?” I asked.

“He didn’t check it” was her answer.

I didn’t know what to think, I mean it’s probably harmless to take, but without knowing the level…

I started looking into this and the more I read, the more intrigued I became.

I found several articles from the last century (the 1990’s) all the way up to last week (news that excess vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, apparently through lowering bone magnesium levels), all saying mostly the same things:

Even though magnesium is abundant on this planet, many people (for example 80% of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis) have low intracellular magnesium. Almost half the US population consume less than the recommended daily amount of magnesium.

Serum levels of magnesium tell us nothing about total body magnesium, because we are programmed to pull magnesium from our tissues to keep blood levels in range. Only 1% of our body’s normal 25 grams of magnesium is found outside our cells, and about 90% is found in bone and muscle cells.

Magnesium is essential for the function of 300 enzymes, mitochondrial ATP production and activation (cellular energy), synthesis of DNA, RNA and protein and regulation of ionic gradients (keeping sodium and potassium levels normal).

Magnesium deficiency is linked to inflammation (as measured by C-Reactive Protein, CRP), atherosclerosis, vasospasm, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome as well as isolated hypertension.

Magnesium deficiency has been linked to sudden cardiac death.

The magnesium content of ur modern diet is decreasing, because of more and more processing of food as well as modern farming practices and soil depletion; we are also consuming things like phosphorus (in soft drinks) that lower body magnesium levels.

According to the NIH:

“Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. As magnesium deficiency worsens, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur. Severe magnesium deficiency can result in hypocalcemia or hypokalemia (low serum calcium or potassium levels, respectively) because mineral homeostasis is disrupted.”

Not only can low magnesium contribute to the development of diabetes, but there are indications that magnesium supplementation may improve blood sugar control in diabetics. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve lipid profiles. Other not yet certain possible benefits of magnesium supplementation are migraine prevention and asthma control.

People at risk for magnesium deficiency, besides diabetics, include the elderly, patients taking diuretics or Proton Pump Inhibitors, those with inflammatory bowel disease or chronic diarrhea from other conditions, patients who have had small bowel surgery, people with gluten sensitivity and patients with alcohol or soft drink dependence. Perhaps surprisingly, people who exercise vigorously can also become magnesium deficient.

Foods that supply good amounts of magnesium include almonds (check), spinach (check), black and kidney beans (check) and avocado (check), and also some things that aren’t on my meal plan: Peanuts, soy milk, shredded wheat, bread (presumably whole grain) and yogurt.

So, this is from someone who usually doesn’t think much of vitamins and supplements: Because I’ve been taking PPIs for my hiatal hernia since they first came out and because my blood pressure is higher than I’d like in spite of being pretty ideal weight – I picked up a bottle of magnesium capsules the other day.

And the more I read, the more I worry about the decreasing nutrient value of much of our mass produced foods. The BMJ article cited below points out:

“The loss of magnesium during food refining/processing is significant: white flour (−82%), polished rice (−83%), starch (−97%) and white sugar (−99%). Since 1968 the magnesium content in wheat has dropped almost 20%, which may be due to acidic soil, yield dilution and unbalanced crop fertilisation (high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, the latter of which antagonises the absorption of magnesium in plants).”

Here are two comprehensive references:

National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet for Health Professionals

Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis (BMJ)

6 Responses to “Magnesium Deficiency: An Undiagnosed Epidemic Behind the Epidemics of Heart Disease and Diabetes”

  1. 1 Carol Thelen September 2, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    So, any recommendations on dose to supplement?

  2. 3 csthelen September 2, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    Thanks. More and more I see hospital discharge summaries putting patients on it, but nothing uniform.

  3. 4 VMcDougall September 3, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Timely topic, I too am seeing this more and more. I struggle with not being able to use a serum lab level as a guide but monitor GI symptoms, fatigue and myalgias after the pt has started the oral supplement.

  4. 5 PCBryant September 15, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    Magnesium supplementation also has positive effects on sleep problems.

  5. 6 DAVID B. KARPF September 15, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Thank you for your mini-article i completely agree that magnesium is one of the few supplements that is worthwhile taking. I have been taking 400-500 mg of magnesium daily for a number of years, and frequently recommend a similar dose to my patients. It has apparently been effective in resolving nocturnal muscle cramps in a number of my post-menopausal patients.

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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.


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