With the conventional side of medicine looking for the next blockbuster drug, and the world of natural health often chasing rare and exotic herbs, simpler interventions are frequently overlooked. This is especially the case with magnesium, which is the fourth most abundant element in the body and has hundreds of functions. Even though volumes of research shows that magnesium can guard against high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, kidney disease, blood sugar dysregulation, cognitive decline and even migraines, most Americans (and probably Australians) don't get enough magnesium from food sources.
Magnesium is essential for the chemical reactions that produce energy from sugar, among many others. Around half of our bodies' magnesium is stored in the bones, for both later use and to aid their strength and integrity. Deficiency is unfortunately so common because of our soils and water being depleted through poor farming practices and over-treating. To make things worse, many people just don't eat enough fruit and vegetables, and some drugs such as PPIs increase deficiency. So what's the problem? Well, a laboratory study found that human fibroblast cells grown in magnesium-deficient conditions lost the ability to divide faster than cells grown with enough magnesium. This was at least partially by speeding up telomere shortening - telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that allow cells to divide. However, the cell's ability to survive was not affected, as a moderate deficiency was simulated over a period of months. What this means for us may be that long-term magnesium deficiency speeds up aging, and therefore promote disease, in a way that sneaks up on us after many years. You may just get muscle cramps now and then for now, but things could get more serious than that. It is possible that magnesium protects telomeres from oxidative damage, aids in their structural integrity, or both.
Magnesium has also shown benefits for cardiovascular health. In a study of over two and a half thousand participants in the Framingham study, increasing magnesium intake by just 50mg a day was linked with 22% lower coronary artery calcification. The chance of having any coronary artery calcification was 58% lower in the highest category of magnesium intake compared with the lowest. These results were controlled for many factors, from age and sex to intake of calcium and vitamin K. Additionally, low magnesium has been associated with kidney disease in people with cardiovascular issues, but could be an independent risk factor for it too. In an adjusted analysis, low blood levels of magnesium were linked with a 58% increased risk of chronic kidney disease, and more than double the risk of end-stage renal disease. Migraines, on the other hand, are a condition that won't kill you, although some would say it sure feels like the case. In a 1996 trial, 81 adults suffering from an average of 3-4 migraines per month were assigned to receive either 600mg of magnesium a day or a placebo. In weeks 9-12, the final month of the study, patients who received magnesium experienced a 41% reduction in migraine attacks, as well as shorter attacks and less need for pharmaceutical pain relief. This should be common knowledge by now. Overall, with so many health benefits, it is surprising that magnesium intake is so overlooked. Spinach, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and black beans are some of the many food sources of magnesium.