Magnesium really is everywhere in the body – it’s the 4th most abundant mineral. It’s involved in hundreds of different biochemical reactions and enzyme systems, supporting processes like protein synthesis, cell growth, and energy production. It has roles in nerve function, muscle control, and blood pressure. Even blood sugar regulation depends on magnesium. The body has several mechanisms to stabilize levels. We’re carrying about 25 grams in total, much of which of which is locked in the skeleton. Some magnesium sits on the surface of bone and helps (slowly) regulate levels in the rest of the body: Only a tiny fraction of the total body’s magnesium (1%) is actually in the blood.
We obtain magnesium in our diet, with an “average intake” of 360mg per day. Most foods contain magnesium, though some have more than others. After ingestion, magnesium enters the blood stream through a combination of diffusion and also active absorption at sites throughout the bowel. Some of this effect appears to be influenced by vitamin D. Kidneys manage most of the excretion of magnesium and actively control the amount that is eliminated to maintain steady levels. Interestingly, almost all magnesium filtered out initially, and then about 95% of it reabsorbed. Drugs which inhibit the regular function of the kidney, like diuretics (“water pills”) can affect magnesium levels. Some diuretics promote excretion of magnesium, while others promote retention – it depends on their mechanism of action. There are a long list of other drugs that can influence magnesium levels, most by affecting the kidney’s filtration process. Proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Nexium) are among the offenders, and can cause hypomagnesemia in some. Given its multiple actions, low magnesium levels are associated with conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Other medical conditions can affect magnesium levels, either through action on absorption or elimination. Alcoholism, kidney or liver disease, and various gastrointestinal malabsorbtion conditions (e.g., Crohn’s disease) can all reduce magnesium levels.
Does magnesium have medicinal effects when consumed? In medical and pharmacy practice, it has several demonstrated uses – the most well known are probably as an antacid or laxative. Good old milk of magnesia (MOM) works because magnesium is partially absorbed – enough stays in the bowel, drawing water into the colon and softening and dislodging anything below. Injectable magnesium, sold as a prescription drug, allows large doses to be given quickly, and is ued for the treatment of preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension) and eclampsia (the resulting seizures) – it’s well tolerated and better than other drugs. Magnesium also seems to be effective for treating some forms of arrhythmia, as well as asthma exacerbations. Some types of migrane and cluster headaches also seem to respond to magnesium supplements.
In other medical conditions, magnesium’s role is less clear. Magnesium levels may be related to osteoporosis, but the role of supplements is still being established. Diets high in magnesium seem to reduce the risk of stroke, but supplementation doesn’t seem to offer the same benefit. The same can be said for managing high blood pressure – effects with supplements are inconsistent and unimpressive. For treatments of conditions like anxiety, ADHD, muscle cramps, and restless leg, more data is required before we can determine if supplements are beneficial.
In cases where drugs or diseases have reduced blood magnesium levels, supplementation is appropriate. Magnesium supplements effectively treat and prevent low magnesium. There’s debate over which type of oral supplement is “best”, fueled by a lack of studies that have actually examined how much magnesium is actually absorbed. Magnesium gluconate and magnesium chloride seem to be preferred over magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate, which are associated with more diarrhea. Some pharmacies manufacture magnesium glycinate, which is claimed to be superior. There is little credible information to guide selection, unless you are a rat. Given the influence of food and other factors, the specific version used may depend more on individual preferences and side effects. Magnesium is often combined with calcium in tablets, sometime in specific ratios (e.g., (3:1). There’s no scientific basis for these proportions.
Supplements or Diet?
Having established magnesium’s bona fides as a drug, with medicinal uses, what does this suggest about supplementation in the absence of a confirmed deficiency? Given the number of systems and processes that are controlled by magnesium, supplementation could plausibly have biological effects. However, for it to do so, it would need to act against all of our regulatory systems that work to keep our levels fairly constant. Magnesium supplements are generally well tolerated and toxicity is rare. But here’s where we run into questions about correlation and causation. Without prospective data from randomized controlled trials, we cannot infer that supplements have the same effects as dietary changes. Benefits in studies seem to be related consuming foods rich in magnesium, not necessarily magnesium supplements.
Magnesium is abundant on earth and so it’s also abundant in food. In general, the absorption of magnesium from the diet is estimated at about 50%. Despite the prevalence in food there is information to suggest that dietary magnesium consumption can still be insufficient. Plants, and particularly grains, have more magnesium than meat or dairy. A simple rule of thumb is that magnesium usually accompanies fiber. The water supply can also contribute to magnesium intake, particularly in areas with “hard” water. There’s epidemiological evidence that connects water hardness with cardiovascular disease. While the data are interesting, few studies have measured consumption and correlated it with magnesium levels. Given that most of our magnesium consumption is from food, the current consensus does not support minimum hardness levels being established in the water supply.
Risk and Benefit
No harms or adverse effects have been observed when magnesium is consumed as a food ingredient. Supplements, however can cause adverse effects – diarrhea being the most common when daily doses exceed 350mg. High levels, hypermagnesemia, is uncommon but has been reported, particularly with regular consumption of magnesium supplements in people with decreased kidney function. In the absence of risk factors, particularly undiagnosed kidney disease, magnesium supplementation is generally considered safe.
Magnesium supplementation has an established role for some diseases and medical conditions, and looks promising for others. Whether supplementation is required in the absence of a relevant disease or documented deficiency is unclear. While it is tempting to extrapolate the relationship between low magnesium and various diseases into an argument for supplements, the issue of confounding in dietary studies cannot be ignored. As we have seen with other vitamin studies, the long-term benefits of supplementation should not be assumed until they have demonstrated. Given the complexity of magnesium’s role in the body, the best way to answer questions about the benefit of supplements is with randomized trials. But there’s another approach that has an attractive risk/benefit perspective: Boosting magnesium intake through dietary changes. Helpfully, foods rich in magnesium are already recommended in diets associated with positive health outcomes: Green vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds are all good sources of magnesium. Supplementation may not turn out to be harmful, but it may be unnecessary. And it may distract people from making positive changes to their diet. Without a confirmed deficiency, or specific medical need, magnesium supplementation seems unnecessary.
Transdermal Magnesium Health Maintainance
By Mark Sircus, OMD. Reviewed by Wendy Wells, NMD
Physicians fail to look for magnesium deficiencies in their patients and this is a tragedy for modern medicine and the patients they serve. Though magnesium (Mg) is a mineral acknowledged as being essential for several hundred different functions in the body, doctors are conditioned by medical authorities and their professional organizations to avoid using it. Instead they prescribe many pharmaceutical medicines that make the magnesium deficiencies even worse, for most pharmaceuticals have a depressing effect on cellular magnesium levels.1
Research shows that 68% of individuals in the United States do not consume the daily recommended amount of dietary magnesium, and 19% of Americans do not consume even half of the government's recommended daily intake of magnesium. Though that kind of statistic is horrific in terms of the health status of a population, the reality is much worse. These statistics are based on an RDA that is set too low. Recently, the Independent Vitamin Safety Review Panel, an independent panel of physicians, academics, and researchers, recommended that the daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium should be raised because current standards are not adequate to prevent illnesses. The fact is that as our world has become more toxic, our need for magnesium has increased dramatically while at the same time the amount supplied by our basic foods has decreased substantially. Our foods are losing their nutritional values because of modern agricultural methods and also because of food processing.
A big unreported problem is that we are consuming too much calcium. Research shows that the ratio of calcium to magnesium in the palaeolithic or caveman diet the ancient diet that had evolved with our bodies was 1:1, compared with a 5:1 to 15:1 ratio in present-day diets, with more calcium than magnesium in our current diet, there is no doubt about magnesium deficiency.5
A lack of this critical nutrient is a major factor in many common health problems. Common conditions such as mitral valve prolapse,2 migraines, attention deficit disorder, autism, fibromyalgia, anxiety, asthma, and allergies have all been associated with a deficiency in magnesium. The list of diseases associated with magnesium deficiency is inexhaustible, because like air and watermagnesium is a basic element to life. Magnesium deficiency is a core instigator of pathology as is iodine and many other vitamins and minerals. The difference is that we need a lot of magnesium (Mg), about 1000 milli-grams (mgs)a day just to keep up with the demands of the body. Magnesium is to the body like oil is to a car's engine, and if not enough is present, problems arise quickly, which in human physiology translates into heart disease, strokes, neurological dysfunction and cancer.
If you do not have sufficient amounts of magnesium, your body cannot make or utilize protein. Similarly if you don't have adequate amounts of magnesium, the vitamin C and E that you consume cannot be used.
Magnesium chloride is a universal medicine and is something strong enough to use in dramatic life-threatening instances during emergency treatment. It is nothing short of a miracle mineral in its effect on a wide breadth of health problems. Magnesium has the propensity to rejuvenate the aging body, and in the form of magnesium chloride, it is a remarkable infection fighter. Magnesium chloride is the most useful and least toxic form of magnesium, and when understood properly (as the basic medicine that it is), Mg has to be prescribed to the majority of patients as a foundational support for other therapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions.
Most people who are aware of the need for magnesium supplementation take their magnesium in an oral form, but many things affect magnesium absorption from the gut, including medications an individual is on. The health status of the digestive system and the kidneys significantly influence magnesium absorption. Only one-third to one-half of dietary magnesium is absorbed into the body at best. Gastrointestinal disorders that impair absorption such as Crohn's disease can limit the body's ability to absorb magnesium.
The most limiting factor to adequate magnesium absorption by oral supplementation is diarrhea. When one takes the amount necessary to use magnesium as a medicine, most people experience loose stools and this again reduces absorption because the magnesium moves through the system too fast. This can be avoided by use of a transdermal allocation of magnesium chloride. In this way we bypass completely the digestive tract and avoid these problems.
In his book, Holy Water, Sacred Oil; The Fountain of Youth, Doctor Norman Shealy adds that the dilemma with oral magnesium compounds are that they have a laxative effect. He also states that there is reliable evidence that magnesium absorption relies upon the mineral's staying power in the intestineat least 12 hours. If, for some reason, the transit time is less than 12 hours, magnesium absorption is drastically impaired.5
The therapeutic value of magnesium as a transdermal application reaches well beyond the potential of dietary magnesium. Transdermal therapy effectively saturates the tissues, delivering high amounts of magnesium to where we need it most, directly into circulation.
Dr. Shealy's book on magnesium revealed studies on magnesium chloride that had been both sprayed on the entire body and used in a footbath. Sixteen individuals with low intracellular magnesium levels were brought in and were asked to do a 20 minute foot soak in conjunction with spraying their entire body once daily. Intracellular Magnesium Tests were done on all participants to document their deficiency and another test was done a month later. Twelve of the sixteen individuals, which equates to 75%, had substantial improvements in their intracellular magnesium levels.
The application of magnesium chloride tothe skin is very well tolerated, gets absorbed very quickly, and is inexpensive.
Test results before and after 4 weeks of foot soaks and daily body spraying:
Electrolyte Name Before After Ref Range
Magnesium 31.4 41.2 33.9 - 41.9
Calcium 7.5 4.8 3.2 - 5.0
Potassium 132.2 124.5 80.0 - 240.0
Sodium 3.4 4.1 3.8 - 5.8
Chloride 3.2 3.4 3.4 - 6.0
Phosphorous 22.2 17.6 14.2 - 17.0
Phosphorous/Calcium 4.2 8.6 7.8 - 10.9
Magnesium/Phosphorous 1.4 2.3 1.8 - 3.0
Magnesium/Calcium 4.2 8.6 7.8 - 10.9
Potassium/Calcium 17.6 26.1 25.8 - 52.4
Potassium/Magnesium 4.2 3.0 2.4 - 4.6
Potassium/Sodium 39.1 30.5 21.5 - 44.6
Just a few of the positive results that have been reported from the utilization of transdermal magnesium chloride:
Aids in hypertension.
Massaged into arthritic joints will frequently render almost instant reprieve from pain.
Sprayed into the mouth a number of times per day will invigorate the medulla elongate, and stimulate enamel on the teeth
Magnesium oil in a hot bath will impart a very relaxing soak while delivering a vast amount of magnesium to your cells. Great for restless legs.
Assists in the prevention of strokes and aids in recovery.
Improvement in insomnia.
Overall energy production (ATP)
Helps maintain memory function.
Magnesium is crucial for the removal of toxins and heavy metals
Helps build bones and make proteins.
Sprayed on wrinkled skin will, in due course, begin to smooth them out
Calming effect on the nervous system.
Assists diabetes by enhancing insulin secretion, facilitating sugar metabolism. Without magnesium, insulin is not able to transfer glucose into cells.
Restores magnesium levels lost through chemotherapy, and reduces the risk of colon cancer
Improvement in autistic individuals
Asthma (both histamine production and bronchial spasms increase with Magnesium deficiency)
Cystitis - Bladder spasms are exacerbated by magnesium deficiency
Prevents Premenstrual Syndrome & cramping pain during menses
Tooth Decay - Magnesium deficiency perpetrates an unhealthy balance of phosphorus and calcium in saliva, which damages teeth
Magnesium assists in the relaxation of spastic blood vessels that cause pain and numbness of the fingers and extremities
Magnesium has been utilized in treating central nervous symptoms of vertigo and confusion
Musculoskeletal conditions such as fibrositis, muscle spasms and pains, eye twitches, muscle pains and fibromyalgia
Anxiety and panic attacks are helped by keeping adrenal stress hormones under control
Increases DHEA levels, which is the bio-marker for aging. DHEA has been referred to as the, Master Hormone, and when produced at sufficient levels, will induce the production of all of the other hormones whose depletion can be associated with many symptoms of aging
Sherry Rogers, M.D. Detox or Die. Syracuse, New York : Prestige Publishing, 2002.
Alterations of Long-chain Fatty Acids and Magnesium Concentration in Acute Myocardial Infarction.". Flink, E.B., et al. s.l. : Archives of International Medicine Press. PMID:7212885
Bernard Rimland, Ph.D. San Deigo : Autism Research Review International, 1987, Vol. 1(4). PMID:14722135
Hypertension. www.pubmed.gov. [Online] August 34(2) 1999. [Cited: October 30, 2007 www.pubmed.gov. 247-52.]
Carolyn Dean M.D, N.D., The Miracle of Magnesium; Ballantine Books, New York; 2003.
Norm Shealy, M.D., Ph.DC. Holy Water, Sacred Oil; The Fountain of Youth. 2000.
Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. The Magnesium Miracle. New York : Ballantine Books, 2007.