February is Heart Health Month and heart health expert and cardiologist Dr. William Davis, M.D., talks about the importance of lowering high cholesterol naturally and reducing your chances of coronary heart disease with the use of magnesium and other nutritional strategies.

Tired of the media onslaught promoting statin drugs? What happened to the conversation about nutritional strategies that reduce cholesterol? Since February is Heart Health Month, now is a great time to highlight the importance of magnesium for the reduction of high cholesterol.

There are a number of ways to significantly reduce cholesterol using diet and nutritional supplements. Reductions in bad cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol, of 25, 30, 50, even 100 mg/dl are possible—if you have the right information.

At the top of the list of natural strategies to reduce LDL and supplement and/or sometimes replace your need for prescription medication (in consultation with your doctor) is magnesium.

Magnesium can act like a natural statin drug and lower bad cholesterol (LDL), reduce triglycerides and increase good cholesterol (HDL) (1).

In order for the body to make cholesterol, it requires a specific enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase. Magnesium regulates this enzyme so as to maintain only a proper amount of cholesterol in the body. When the body is magnesium deficient, cholesterol continues to be produced in excess, which can cause a cholesterol buildup and may lead to coronary heart disease.

The HMG-CoA reductase enzyme is the exact same enzyme that is targeted and inhibited by statin drugs. The inhibiting process is similar to magnesium's function, except that magnesium is the natural way that the body has evolved to use to control and limit cholesterol when it reaches a certain level; statin drugs are used to destroy the entire mechanism.

The term metabolic syndrome describes a set of conditions that many believe may be another name for the consequences of long-term magnesium deficiency. The list includes high cholesterol, hypertension and elevated triglycerides that lead to and promote coronary heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. In a 2006 study (2) published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, entitled: Magnesium Intake and Incidence of Metabolic Syndrome Among Young Adults researchers concluded: “Our findings suggest that young adults with higher magnesium intake have lower risk of development of metabolic syndrome.”

In an age when statins dominate conventional heart disease prevention, an important role remains for nutritional approaches. Because statin drugs are principally LDL-reducing agents and do not address other causes of heart disease, nutritional strategies add a real advantage. Nutritional approaches can be used to minimize and sometimes eliminate the use of statin drugs altogether. Perhaps it would be better to regard statin therapy as a solution only when natural, nutritional means have been exhausted.

The adherence to a healthy diet is not enough in the majority of cases. The American Heart Association’s diet, for instance, yields a 7% drop in cholesterol. That’s too small to make any real difference (3) and, by itself, virtually guarantees a future of heart disease. The formerly popular ultra low-fat diets (≤10% of calories from fat) yield variable drops in cholesterol, but HDL or the good cholesterol is also substantially reduced and harmful triglycerides increased (4). The net effect can be increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The restriction of processed carbohydrates is an effective way to lose weight and thereby reduce cholesterol, particularly for people starting with lower HDL and higher triglycerides. Reducing intake of flour products (pasta, breads, bagels, pastries, cookies, cakes, pretzels, and other processed foods) may, in fact, yield larger drops in cholesterol than now outdated low-fat diets (5).

While dietary restriction of total fat intake has only limited power to reduce cholesterol, avoidance of saturated fat (e.g., in butter, greasy meats, cured meats, fried foods) and hydrogenated fat (“trans fats” in margarine, shortening, and many processed foods) remains a well-proven means of reducing LDL cholesterol modestly. Replacing saturated fat sources with healthy monounsaturated oils (olive, canola, flaxseed) provides even greater benefits for cholesterol reduction, as well as reduced triglycerides and VLDL (6, CM Williams, et al., 1999).

Weight loss (if you’re overweight) has broad effects on risk reduction: reduction of cholesterol levels (total and LDL), increased HDL, reduced triglycerides, and correction of small LDL, VLDL, and abnormal postprandial (after-eating) fat clearance (7).

Magnesium can help. Magnesium helps the body digest, absorb, and utilize proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and helps prevent obesity genes from expressing themselves.

As a practical solution, supplementation at a level of 2.3 milligrams of magnesium per pound of body weight per day (this comes to about 345 milligrams per day for a 150 lb individual) can really help. When supplementing with magnesium, start on a gradient of a low dose and gradually build up. If you get diarrhea you can lower the dose back down until you are at a comfortable level. While magnesium supplementation is generally quite safe, people on certain antibiotics should not take magnesium. If you have kidney disease (renal failure) or any kidney disorders, you should not take any magnesium supplements without consulting a physician.

In all practicality, because of magnesium’s crucial role in health, its widespread deficiency in Americans, and the growing depletion of magnesium in water and foods, supplemental magnesium is necessary for nearly everyone to ensure healthy levels. Not all forms of magnesium are equally absorbed by the body. One of the most absorbable forms of nutritional magnesium is magnesium citrate in powder form. Start out slow and build up to and find your body's tolerance level.

For most people, no single supplement or diet change will reduce LDL to your target. A combination of several strategies usually yields the large drops that we need to achieve dramatic LDL reduction, but nutritional magnesium and the above diet adjustments will help.

Heart health expert and cardiologist, William Davis, M.D., is the author of "Track Your Plaque: The only heart disease prevention program that shows how the new CT heart scans can be used to detect, track, and control coronary plaque" (www.trackyourplaque.com). Dr. Davis is a member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association and invites you to get more information that will help you avoid the magnesium deficiency. Go to www.nutritionalmagnesium.org.

The ideas, procedures and suggestions contained in this article are not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. All matters regarding your physical health require medical supervision. Neither the author nor the publisher shall be liable or responsible for any loss, injury or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion in this article. The opinions expressed in this article represent the personal views of the author and not the publisher.


  1. Rosanoff A, Seelig MS, “Comparison of mechanism and functional effects of magnesium and statin pharmaceuticals.” J Am Coll Nutr 2004;23(5):501S-505S.
  2. Ka He, MD, ScD; Kiang Liu, PhD; Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD et al. Magnesium Intake and Incidence of Metabolic Syndrome Among Young Adults. Circulation 2006;113:1675-1682.
  3. Pearson TA, Blair SN, Daniels SR, Eckel RH, Fair JM, Fortmann SP, et al. AHA guidelines for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and stroke: 2002 update. Consensus panel guide to comprehensive risk reduction for adult patients without coronary or other atherosclerotic vascular diseases. Circulation 2002;106:388–91.
  4. Krauss RM, Dreon DM. Low-density lipoprotein subclasses and response to a low-fat diet in healthy men. Am J. Clin Nutr 1995: 62:478S–87S.
  5. Krauss RM, Blanche PJ, Rawlings RS, Fernstrom HS, Williams PT. Separate effects of reduced carbohydrate intake and weight loss on atherogenic dyslipidemia. Am J Clin Nutr 2006 May;83(5):1025–31.
  6. Gulesserian T, Widhalm K. Effect of a rapeseed oil substituting diet on serum lipids and lipoproteins in children and adolescents with familial hypercholesterolemia. J Am Coll Nutr 2002 Apr;21(2):103–8.
  7. Miller WM, Nori-Janosz KE, Lillystone M, Yanez J, McCullough PA. Obesity and Lipids. Curr Cardiol Rep 2005 Nov;7(6):465–70.

Published online, Feb. 2010, WholeFoods Magazine