The importance of magnesium for heart health (Pt. 1)
We have been talking about energy production in the body and more specifically in heart cells. As we saw, ATP is the energy molecule for every cell in the body and optimizing its production has an incredible impact on our overall well being (1).
One way to optimize energy production is by improving circulation. Healthy circulation is essential to carry key heart nutrients for energy manufacture, which is why the ‘Heart and Body Extract’ is so important. The other way is by providing these nutrients. L-Carnitine and D-Ribose are the ones we have looked at, but there are others that are needed as well. This is the case of the mineral magnesium. Like L-carnitine, and D-ribose, magnesium is a necessary ingredient in maintaining healthy levels of cellular energy (2).
In what follows we will look with detail at this mineral, its main functions in heart health and how to obtain it in our diet.
What is so important about magnesium?
Primarily, magnesium is a co-factor that contributes to over 300 enzymatic systems in the body. One of these enzymatic reactions has to do with ATP (production of energy). This is how it happens: Inside the cell, magnesium appears to be concentrated in the mitochondria, where it attaches to proteins, co-factors and ATP to aid energy transfer. All enzymatic reactions involving ATP have an absolute requirement for magnesium. This includes the heart, making it another great addition to our health protocol (2). It also makes magnesium a true energy mineral, but it is more than that.
To understand magnesium we need to say that all human tissue contains some amounts. In total, the human body contains from 20 to 25 grams. It is the most common intracellular ion in the human body, second only to potassium.
Magnesium is distributed in three major body compartments:
- Approximately 65% is in the mineral phase of bone. From the bones it can be transported to other tissues where there might be a shortage
- 34% is sequestered in muscle
- 1% resides in blood plasma and interstitial fluids (2)
The fact that there is only 1% in the blood means that blood tests are not very reliable in terms of showing magnesium deficiency. Which is also the reason why magnesium deficiency is an “invisible deficiency” (3). Mononuclear blood level analysis is much more predictive (2).
Benefits of magnesium
From all this we can infer how magnesium is a mineral used through the body, specially by the heart, muscles, and kidneys. However, recently, researchers have discovered 3,751 magnesium-binding sites on human proteins, indicating that its role in human health and disease may have been vastly underestimated (3). This makes magnesium even more important than we thought. Some health care professionals, like neurosurgeon Norman Shealy , M.D, PhD, goes as far as to say that almost every disease we know can be associated with magnesium deficiency (1).
This means that magnesium is not only critical for energy requiring processes, but also for:
- Protein synthesis: Helping digest proteins, as well as carbohydrates, and fats
- Membrane integrity
- Nervous tissue conduction: Activating nerves
- Muscle contraction: Activating muscles
- Hormone secretion
- Maintenance of vascular tone
- Intermediary metabolism
- Body’s detoxification processes, making it important for helping prevent damage from environmental chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxins
- Serving as a building block for RNA and DNA synthesis
- Acting as a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin
- Blood sugar balance
- Improving circulation and blood pressure
- Helping cellular energy production
- Relaxing the nervous system
- Relieving pain and relaxing muscles
- Bone density and calcium balance
- Regulating heart contractility by blocking calcium from heart muscle. The heart has twenty times higher concentration of magnesium
New research is giving us additional information about this important mineral. Dr. Dean’s work of more than 15 years points to the fact that there are 22 medical areas that magnesium deficiency can trigger, all of which have all been scientifically proven. This includes, among others:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Blood clots
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Musculoskeletal conditions: fibromyalgia, cramps, chronic back pain, etc.
- Nerve problems
- Obstetrics and gynecology (PMS, infertility, and preeclampsia)
- Tooth decay
Magnesium and stress
The prevalence of individuals with anxiety has grown significantly over recent years. Anxiety typically manifests due to the perception of unmanageable stress. This can sometimes be due to chemical imbalances in the brain, such as the balance between glutamate and GABA.
Chronic stress can influence glutamate-GABA balance and lead to the development of anxiety over time. A deficiency of magnesium can quickly build up stress within the body and drain energy reserves (ATP), making the sufferer feel chronically fatigued. With regular intake of magnesium, one can increase resilience to stress, effectively combat anxiety and increase energy. Because magnesium is an absolute requirement to make energy and since it is needed for so many processes in the body, keeping its stores full is a great way to help overall health function smoother.
Dr. Jockers mentions several ways to incorporate this vital mineral into our daily routine. One very important way is to control blood sugar and reduce stress, since these two are some of the most common factors that drain magnesium stores. Another way is to add magnesium rich foods. When it comes to getting nutrients into our body, food should always be the first strategy, he asserts. Foods that are high in magnesium are:
- Dark leafy greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sea vegetables
- Wild-caught fish
- Grass-fed butter
Another way is to have Epsom salts baths (magnesium sulfate). Soaking in an epsom salt bath is an easy and relaxing way to get magnesium into the body. This method is especially helpful for people with digestive disorders as it bypasses the GI tract altogether by absorbing through the skin (1).
A high percentage of the American population is magnesium deficient (2). By some estimates, up to 80% of Americans are not getting enough magnesium (3). Low levels of magnesium in the blood are known as hypomagnesemia. Several factors have contributed to this:
- Depleted soils are becoming more and more prevalent and as they do, our food and water are also being depleted
- Emotional and physical stress also deplete the body’s magnesium stores. This is because with stress more cortisol, (the ‘aging hormone’) is secreted from our adrenals which overtime leads to subtle magnesium depletion
- Dehydrating drinks like alcohol or coffee, diuretic medications, etc can promote excessive loss of this mineral through urine
- Several bowel diseases and some medications impede the intestinal absorption of magnesium, this is the case of acid blockers
- Poor dietary habits such as high sugar intake, over consumption of processed goods and too little intake of plant based nutrients
- What is so troubling about this loss of magnesium is that excessive loss has a strong link to diabetes and insulin resistance. What is more, magnesium loss is more prevalent in women, the elderly and those with various disease syndromes
- Deficiencies may lead to changes in neuromuscular, cardiovascular, immune and hormonal function, impaired energy metabolism, and reduced capacity for physical work. Magnesium deficiency is now considered to contribute to many diseases, and the role of magnesium as therapy is being tested in many clinical trials.
Early signs of magnesium deficiency include:
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
An ongoing magnesium deficiency can lead to more serious symptoms, including:
- Numbness and tingling
- Personality changes
- Muscle spasms and cramps, even eye twitches
- Abnormal heart rhythms: Irregular heart beats, this includes rapid heartbeats, slow heartbeats, and sudden changes in heart rhythm for no apparent reason
- Coronary spams
- Unexplained fatigue or weakness (3)
- Chronic Headaches/Migraines
- Muscle Spasms and cramping: Because magnesium is so important for proper nerve transmission, it comes as no surprise that it also plays a vital role in muscle contraction. When magnesium is depleted, muscle contractions can become weak and uncoordinated, leading to involuntary spasms and painful cramps. This is actually one of the most common early signs of magnesium deficiency. Spasms typically occur in the legs, feet, and sometimes even in places like the eyelids. Women may also experience worsened PMS-related cramping when magnesium stores are low.
- Mood Disorders
- ADD/ADHD symptoms (1)
Magnesium levels in women
Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of ‘The Magnesium Miracle’, who shares her expert insights with us says: “Fluctuating sex hormones affect magnesium levels, making women more sensitive to magnesium deficiency than men… Magnesium levels fluctuate during a woman’s cycle. The higher the estrogen or progesterone, the lower the magnesium. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, when both estrogen and progesterone are elevated, magnesium plummets. This can result in spasms in the brain arteries, a prelude to PMS and migraines. Increasing dietary and supplemental magnesium can help relieve PMS-related symptoms, such as headaches, bloating, low blood sugar, dizziness, fluid retention and sugar cravings.’ (4)
Magnesium supplementation and dosage
Research shows only 25 % of adults in the USA are getting the recommended daily amount of magnesium. When it comes to dosages some health care professionals recommend 310-320 milligrams for women and 400- 420 for men (3). However, others believe we need 1,500-2,000 milligrams of magnesium a day (6).
Dr. Sinatra recommends to supplement with 400 milligrams of magnesium once or twice a day and consume magnesium rich foods. Those on certain medications, like diuretics should make sure they follow this recommendation as these drugs excrete excessive amounts of magnesium, he also recommends supplementing with magnesium for type 2 diabetes patients.
Top food sources high in magnesium are:
- Swiss chard
- Grass fed dairy
- Pumpkin seeds
- Pink salts
- Dark chocolate
- Wild caught fish
- Sea vegetables (5)
Types of supplemental magnesium
In addition to what can be obtained through the diet, many health professionals often recommend supplemental magnesium. There are many different types of supplemental magnesium:
- Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability and is typically considered ideal for those who are trying to correct a deficiency
- Magnesium chloride/magnesium lactate contain only 12% magnesium, but has better absorption than others such as magnesium oxide, which contains 5 times more magnesium
- Magnesium oxide is a non-chelated type of magnesium, bound to an organic acid or a fatty acid. Contains 60% magnesium, and has stool softening properties
- Magnesium sulfate/magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) are usually used as laxatives. It can be easy to overdose so only take as directed
- Magnesium carbonate, which has antiacid properties, contains 45% magnesium
- Magnesium taurate, contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, an amino acid. Together, they tend to provide a calming effect on body and mind
- Magnesium citrate is a magnesium with citric acid, which like most magnesium supplements has laxative properties but is well absorbed and cost effective
- Magnesium threonate is a newer, emerging type of magnesium supplement that appears promising, primarily due to its laxative properties but superior abilities to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane and may be the best supplemental magnesium on the market (3). Magnesium threonate is the only form found in studies to easily cross into the brain to exert its effects. Dr. Jockers typically recommends 1-2 grams of this magnesium every day. If the person is having digestive issues or is wanting to use magnesium for the relief of joint pain, Dr. Jockers recommends a topical magnesium, like magnesium oil with MSM and if the person is also experiencing trouble falling asleep, topical magnesium with melatonin (1).
Calcium to Magnesium Ratio
The heart is a muscle that is constantly contracting. Just as with other muscles in the body, the heart relies heavily on magnesium for proper contractility. This is thought to be due to its role in regulating calcium and potassium concentrations in the muscle tissue (5).
Unlike our ancestors whose balance of calcium to magnesium levels were equal, our lifestyle habits today lead to an imbalance in this key electrical gradient. The result is a 10:1 calcium to magnesium ratio. This ratio disrupts the healthy balance of electrolytes within cells making nerves more susceptible to stress and pain perception.
Taking high amounts of calcium without adequate magnesium, will make the muscle contract involuntarily. This is known as hypercalcemia and it can contribute to significant changes in heart rhythms. Magnesium helps to balance out excess calcium to coordinate muscle contractions and reduced unwanted tension.
(2) Sinatra, Stephen T. The Sinatra Solution: Metabolic Cardiology. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health, 2011. 179-192. Print.