Magnesium: For the Heart, Blood and Brain

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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When the body is running smoothly, you may not give magnesium a second thought. But those who have a magnesium deficiency definitely notice that it’s gone!

Magnesium helps run practically all the processes in your body; lack of magnesium is associated with a whole slew of problems, ranging from fatigue to cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes! Let’s take a look at some of the research on this mineral, as well as how to make sure you’re getting just the right amount.

Magnesium and Your Body
At 25 g in the average adult, magnesium is the fourth most abundant essential mineral in the body, with 60% in the bones and the rest in soft tissue. It is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems, including those responsible for breaking down glucose, DNA synthesis and protein synthesis (1, 2). In addition, magnesium has the very important job of activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s energy source (2). Without magnesium, the body would have no energy and very few things would get done.

Those with a magnesium deficiency may initially experience weakness, loss of appetite and nausea; as the condition worsens, individuals may experience numbness and even seizures (1). In addition, low levels of magnesium have been associated with serious conditions, a few of which we will discuss further.

Diabetes. Up to 40% of type-2 diabetics have a magnesium deficiency, possibly because magnesium is necessary for the production, function and transport of insulin (3). In a published analysis of seven studies involving a total of 286,668 participants, increasing magnesium intake by 100 mg per day lowered the risk of developing diabetes by 15% (1).

Research has been conducted to study the relationship between magnesium levels, fasting glucose levels and insulin resistance, indicators of type-2 diabetes. In a randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trial, 63 subjects with type-2 diabetes were given either 50 ml of magnesium chloride (MgCl) or placebo daily for 16 weeks. Researchers found that those taking the MgCl had significantly higher magnesium levels and lower fasting glucose levels and insulin resistance than the placebo group at the end of the study (4).

Bone health. Magnesium is essential to bone health, as it is essential for metabolizing vitamin D and calcium. Therefore, you should always balance your calcium and magnesium intake. In one animal study, researchers found that magnesium supplements taken with a diet adequate in calcium significantly improved bone mineral contents, bone area, bone thickness and bone mineral density by improving bone metabolism without changing calcium absorption (5).

Migraines and dementia. Magnesium is responsible for counteracting the clotting action of calcium in the blood. When magnesium levels are low, clots may clog up tiny blood vessels in the brain, leading to a migraine (3). Magnesium deficiency also promotes neurotransmitter hyperactivity, which can lead to headaches. Without magnesium to relax the blood vessels, spasms and constrictions in the brain may cause migraines, as well (3).

In one study, researchers gathered 81 people who experienced three to four migraines a month. They were given either 600 mg of magnesium or placebo daily for 12 weeks. By the last three weeks, the patients receiving the magnesium had a 41.6% reduction in attack frequency compared to a 15.8% reduction in the placebo group. The duration and intensity of migraines also decreased for those taking magnesium (6).

Those with dementia and memory problems may also benefit from magnesium supplementation. A recent study published in the journal Magnesium Research found an inverse relationship between Alzheimer’s disease severity and magnesium levels (7). Alzheimer’s disease patients also experience rapid synapse degradation, which leads to memory loss; magnesium works to prevent synapse loss, slowing memory loss (7).

A study out of Tel Aviv University demonstrated magnesium’s effect on cognitive processes. The researchers divided rats into two groups and fed them an identical diet of magnesium-rich foods; one group, however, was also given the supplement magnesium L-threonate (MgT). Results showed that both young and old rats fed MgT had enhanced learning abilities, working memory and short- and long-term memory due to increased functional presynaptic release sites in their brains (8).

Heart health. A diet deficient in magnesium can lead to heart problems, including arrhythmias, blood clots, high blood pressure (hypertension) and coronary arteriosclerosis, the stiffening of artery walls (2). In a study of 7,731 men and women over a six-year period, it was found that the risk of developing hypertension decreased as serum magnesium levels increased (9).

Magnesium supplementation may also be beneficial to those already diagnosed with hypertension. In one randomized crossover study, researchers gave 60 hypertensive patients either 20 mmol magnesium per day or placebo for eight weeks, and then the opposite for another eight weeks. After monitoring their blood pressure 24 hours a day, the researchers concluded that magnesium supplementation lowered the blood pressure of those with hypertension significantly more than the placebo (9).

Additional research. This article just scratches the surface of how magnesium is linked to good health. Researchers are also investigating this mineral’s benefits to those with ADHD, autism, asthma, stress, fatigue, osteoporosis and more (5).

Recommended dietary allowances for magnesium range from 300 to 420 mg per day for a healthy adult (1). Magnesium is found in a variety of foods; those with the highest magnesium content include kelp, wheat germ, almonds, cashews and molasses. When it comes to supplements, look for magnesium citrate, which is inexpensive and easily absorbed by the body (3). WF

1. National Institutes of Health, “Magnesium,”, accessed Feb. 3, 2014.
2. M. Seeling and A. Rosanoff, The Magnesium Factor (Penguin Group Inc., New York, NY, 2003).
3. C. Dean, The Magnesium Miracle (Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 2007).
4. M. Rodriguez-Moran and F. Guerrero-Romero, “Oral Magnesium Supplementation Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Control in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects: A Randomized Double-Blind Controlled Trial,” Diabetes Care, 26 (4), 1147–1152 (2003).
5. Magnesium Nutrition Association,, accessed Feb. 24, 2014.
6. A. Peikert, C. Wilimzig and R. Kohne-Volland, “Prophylaxis of Migraine with Oral Magnesium: Results from a Prospective, Multi-Center, Placebo-Controlled and Double-Blind Randomized Study,” Cephalalgia 16 (4), 257–263 (1996).
7. K. Chiarello-Ebner, “The Latest in Dementia Research,” WholeFoods Magazine, 37 (2), 60–62 (2014). 8. G. Liu, et al., “Enhancement of Learning and Memory by Elevating Brain Magnesium,” Neuron, 65 (2), 165–177 (2010).
9. Oregon State University, “Magnesium,”, accessed Feb. 13, 2014.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2014