Magnesium: What Is It? - Excerpted from "Widespread Deficiency with Deadly Consequences," Life Extension magazine, May 2008
by David Nayor
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is essential to good health. Approximately 50% of total body magnesium is found in the bone. The other half is found predominately inside cells of tissues and organs. Only 1% of magnesium is found in the blood, but the body works very hard to keep blood levels of magnesium constant.
Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.
Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes
An alarming number of Americans suffer from diabetes and metabolic syndrome—conditions of aberrant blood sugar metabolism associated with greatly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, estimates suggest that 7% of the population has diabetes and more than 20% are affected by metabolic syndrome. Studies strongly suggest that magnesium may offer important protection against both metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
According to a research review from Northwestern University, magnesium could address several components of metabolic syndrome by increasing levels of HDL cholesterol, decreasing triglycerides, and favorably impacting glucose homeostasis, insulin action, and insulin secretion. Increased magnesium intake has also been linked to protection against hypertension, another component of metabolic syndrome.
The benefits of magnesium for cardiovascular health are already extraordinary, given its protective role against metabolic syndrome and diabetes, two major factors that threaten heart and vascular health. But its heart-healthy benefits don't end there. Magnesium acts through numerous mechanisms to protect the cardiovascular system, including preventing arrhythmia, improving congestive heart failure outcomes, and reducing inflammation.
A recent study explored the relationship between magnesium and congestive heart failure. Investigators examined serum levels of magnesium and C-reactive protein (CRP, a marker of inflammation) in patients admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure. They found that heart failure patients demonstrated higher baseline CRP levels and lower serum magnesium levels. Treating these patients with magnesium increased intracellular magnesium levels and decreased CRP, leading researchers to conclude that magnesium treatment could improve the prognosis of congestive heart failure.
Magnesium has been found to lower inflammation, decrease oxidative stress, and diminish endothelial (the lining of the blood vessel) dysfunction—all factors that underlie cardiovascular disease. Further, magnesium helps reduce platelet aggregation, which may help prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers reported an exciting new role for magnesium—maintaining memory function in middle age and even beyond. The research team discovered that magnesium regulates a key brain receptor essential to learning and memory. Plasticity (the ability to change) is critical to the brain's ability to learn and remember…The researchers were especially interested in magnesium's role in enhancing synaptic function. Increasing magnesium concentrations, said one of the researchers, "led to the largest increases of plasticity ever reported in scientific literature." The findings suggest that a magnesium deficit may impair memory and learning ability, while a surplus or even the recommended daily allowances (420 mg/day for men; 320 mg/day for women) might improve cognitive function.
Magnesium may help alleviate or prevent one of the most painful and debilitating conditions that can afflict adults: migraine headaches. Numerous studies strongly suggest that a person's magnesium status may be associated with the severity and frequency of these headaches..... Intravenous infusion of magnesium has been found to result in rapid and sustained relief of acute migraines.
Magnesium is one of the minerals that comprises bone matrix and helps make and keep bones strong and healthy. In fact, magnesium is a critical element needed to guard against osteoporosis, the decrease in bone mass and bone density that increases the risk and/or incidence of fracture. As the magnesium content of bone mineral decreases, bone crystals become larger and more brittle.
Magnesium may be especially beneficial for individuals who are prone to asthma. Research suggests that low dietary consumption of magnesium is linked with a higher prevalence of asthma. Intravenously administered magnesium has demonstrated beneficial effects for individuals suffering from acute asthma attacks. Scientists believe that magnesium may offset the effects of asthma by promoting broncholdilation of large airways.
Magnesium is absolutely essential to optimal health as we age. Sadly, many aging Americans find it difficult to obtain enough magnesium through diet alone. Fortunately, dietary supplements of magnesium are convenient and affordable, allowing all health conscious adults to protect themselves against the myriad risks linked with magnesium deficiency.