Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Magnesium Manifesto

"There is no life without magnesium." -Mark A. Sircus

I feel so overwhelmed. There is simply so much to say, and I have no idea how to say it all coherently because my mind has been spinning with all this new, amazing information for almost a week. I'll do my best. (And I'll pepper as many of my research sources as I can fit in throughout the post, so I'd recommend clicking around and checking them out.)

Magnesium is incredibly important.  (Especially for pregnant women, but I'll get to that later.) Magnesium is probably most well-known for its partnership with calcium in muscle function--calcium contracts muscles, magnesium relaxes them.  But magnesium is actually involved in far more than that.  From what I gather, every time a nerve cell fires, magnesium is required to control the entry of calcium into the body's cells.

Dr. Christianne Northrup sums it up nicely when she says, "Magnesium is essential for the functioning of more than 300 different enzymes in the body, particularly those that produce, transport, store, and utilize energy. . . . In short, living without adequate levels of magnesium is like trying to operate a machine with the power off" (source).  And Mark A. Sircus, a magnesium proponent, describes magnesium as "the source of life" and "the lamp of life" because of its essential role in plant photosynthesis and human bodily functions (source).

As I've immersed myself in studying this amazing mineral over the past week, I have come more and more to see it with deep awe and reverence. Magnesium is at the core of all life and life-giving.  I'm in love with magnesium.

And, unfortunately, most of us are low on magnesium. Magnesium and calcium must be maintained in their proper balance in order to function correctly, but the average modern American consumes far more calcium than necessary and not nearly enough magnesium. That excess calcium can disrupt many important functions. Instead we should take in more magnesium than calcium or at least a 1:1 ratio.

There are myriad ways that magnesium deficiency can manifest itself in your body. Some of those are:
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Asthma
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Abnormal bowel function, constipation, etc.
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure 
  • Muscle pain, cramps, and spasms
  • Depression
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Kidney disease and kidney stones
And low magnesium can lead to several problems of particular interest to women, both pregnant and not pregnant:
So how do we ensure that we get enough magnesium?

Our ancient ancestors would have obtained more than enough magnesium through plants, nuts, and seeds from the earth's rich non-depleted soil and through soaking in the pristine ocean's limitless supply of magnesium chloride. With soils depleted of nutrients and oceans often too far away and/or full of toxins and pollutants, we aren't quite so lucky. But we can do our best with what we've got.

What are the best food sources of magnesium?

You pretty much can't go wrong with dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, salmon, and whole grains.  Some of the best among those sources, according to The World's Healthiest Foods:
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spinach 
  • Swiss chard
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds
Magnesium is also found in hard water.  One site I visited explained:
In a survey of 25 cities in the US, the lowest death rates from heart disease were found in areas where the drinking water supplied above average levels of magnesium. Part of Texas has the highest levels of magnesium in drinking water, and also the lowest cardiovascular mortality rates in the US Australia has some of the lowest drinking water magnesium levels, and also the highest cardiovascular death rate in the world.
How can we improve the body's ability to absorb dietary magnesium?

Avoiding or limiting certain magnesium-depleting foods and beverages will protect your body's magnesium stores, including:
  • Soft drinks
  • Sugar and refined carbs
  • Excess unhealthy fats
  • Alcohol 
  • Caffeine
  • Excess animal protein
  • Certain medications, such as diuretics and steroids/corticoids
Increasing consumption of probiotics and prebiotics has also been shown to increase the absorption of essential minerals, in part because of their ability to break down the mineral-binding phytic acid in foods, releasing those formerly bound minerals for absorption. (See here)

Getting vitamin d through regular sunlight exposure will also improve your body's ability to retain magnesium and calcium.  Sunlight seems to do this more efficiently than vitamin d supplements. (See here

How else can we get magnesium?

Ocean water is a limitless source of magnesium chloride.  And, based on my internet research, magnesium is better absorbed through the skin than the gut.  If you live near a beach with clean water, regular soaks should benefit your magnesium levels.  For the rest of us, taking baths with epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) or magnesium chloride flakes will raise levels of magnesium in the body.

Magnesium is also available, of course, in oral supplements, but these can cause diarrhea in some people.

Pregnant Women, Listen up!

Clearly magnesium is essential for all of us, but I'm becoming convinced that maintaining adequate magnesium levels could reduce or eliminate a large portion of the pregnancy complications women encounter.  And, as I listed earlier, magnesium can also remedy many of the other complaints associated with our womanly cycles.

Dr. Christianne Northrup shared a story that illustrates what I'm talking about:
I was first introduced to magnesium during my obstetrical training, where I saw how effective magnesium sulfate was in preventing seizures and restoring normal blood pressure in pregnant women suffering from toxemia. Magnesium is also frequently given to women having preterm labor to stop contractions. It works! 
A good friend of mine, Alexa, had her third baby in 1994. About seven weeks before the baby was due, she started to have contractions that would only stop when she lay down. Because she was 2.5 centimeters dilated and almost fully effaced (conditions often present when a woman goes into labor with a full-term third child), she was put on bed rest. Luckily this helped, and she was able to avoid a lengthy stay at the hospital. After having her baby, Alexa was extremely run down, had frequent migraines, and severe muscle cramps. She decided to go to a Naturopath for help. He immediately diagnosed severe magnesium deficiency, and she was given weekly magnesium IVs to correct the imbalance. . . .

Alexa's OB/GYN was insistent that she get 1500 mgs of calcium every day to protect her baby's and her bones. He told her to take a couple of Tums, an antacid, any day she didn't get enough calcium from the food she ate. Tums contains calcium, and it was the calcium "supplement" he recommended to all his patients. (This was his strategy for keeping her calories from dairy fat down, too.) He never recommended that she increase her magnesium, just her calcium. It's not surprising that she had a magnesium deficiency after following his advice during three pregnancies.  (Source)
This story is frustrating for so many reasons.  But I want to focus on what Dr. Northrup says in the first paragraph.  Doctors know that magnesium helps women with toxemia and preterm labor.  So my question is... if they know it, why do they wait until a woman comes to the E.R. to pump her full of magnesium?  Why are they putting women on bed rest when they have preterm labor instead of teaching them about optimizing their magnesium levels?  Why aren't women with recurrent miscarriages or infertility or PMS or excruciating menstrual cramps being tested for low magnesium?!

Why aren't we all being told how crucial it is to keep our magnesium levels optimal?

I couldn't know this information and not share it.  So here I am.

Magnesium is crucial. 

Please spread the word.


Katrina said...

So interesting! Thanks for doing all this research and posting this. I really had no idea how important magnesium is. I had preterm labor with my last baby and now I'm super curious whether a mg deficiency could have been part of the cause. I've been taking an extra calcium supplement this pregnancy that has extra vit D and mg, but I think I will do even more to make sure I'm getting enough magnesium.

kamille said...

LOVED this post. i actually recently bought epsom salt to put in our baths, but have been forgetting. you've motivated me to remember!

it is very interesting that doctors wait until a woman is in pre-term labor at the hospital to begin supplementing with magnesium (happened to my sister who has delivered all of her babies preterm - 25 weeks, 32 weeks, and 34 weeks). they put her on magnesium and it didn't stop things. but i wonder what would have happened if she would have had magnesium all along. she lost one of her twins (born at 25 weeks) and it was really sad (obviously).

thanks again for this post!

Shannon Staloch, LM, CPM said...

very informative...thanks!

Sarah said...

I have 7 of the symptoms of low magnesium on the first list. I have also struggled with infertility, I have ha 16 miscarriages (just one this week), preterm labor and birth, preeclampsia and horrible pregnancy leg cramps. I am guessing this is not all just a coincidence! Thank you so much for this information. I am hoping that making sure I get enough magnesium will help my body do the things that it is meant to do!

Janie said...

thank you so much for this post, the epsom salt baths in this pregnancy have helped me so much. And this post is so full of info that I have passed it on to many friends!