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By Jean Carper

This overlooked nutrient fights against heart disease, pain and diabetes. 

Readers constantly ask me, "Am I getting enough calcium?" Yet that may be the most critical nutritional question of the moment. Americans' intake of magnesium dropped 509% in the last century, and the consequences are alarming. A lack of magnesium underlies our epidemic of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis, says Lawrence Resnick, M.D., a professor of medicine at Cornell Medical Center. Minus magnesium, hearts beat irregularly; arteries stiffen, constrict and clog; blood pressure rises; blood tends to clot; muscles spasm; insulin grows weaker and blood sugar jumps; bones lose strength; and pain signals intensify.

"Many people needlessly suffer pain-including fibromyalgia, migraines and muscle cramps- because they don't get enough magnesium," says Mildred Seeling, M.D., a leading magnesium researcher at the University of North Carolina. Many people worsen the problem by loading up on calcium, which flushes magnesium out of cells, Resnick says. He urges getting at least 1 milligram of magnesium for each 2mg of calcium.

How Much Do You Need?

The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 320mg for women, 400mg for men. Many authorities take a 400mg magnesium supplement daily. Possible side effects: diarrhea or loose stools. "It's no big deal," Seeling says, because the body usually adapts, or you can cut back. Avoid magnesium supplements if you have kidney disease. You need extra magnesium if you drink alcohol or if you take diuretics or high doses of calcium. Those all deplete magnesium.

10 Important Ways It Helps:

1. Heart arrhythmias. "People need to know magnesium deficiency predisposes them to serious, even deadly, heart arrhythmias"- irregular and abnormally fast heartbeats or atrial fibrillation- says cardiac specialist Michael Brodsky and the College of Medicine of the University of California, Irvine. In a British study, taking magnesium daily for six weeks reduced arrhythmias between 25% and 50%. In new U.S. Department of Agriculture tests, women skimping on magnesium developed irregular heartbeats within three months. Supplements corrected the abnormality.

2. Blocked Arteries. High blood magnesium cuts you odds of dying from common "ischemic" heart disease (blocked or narrowed arteries) by one-third, say researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In other research, magnesium shortages lower good HDL cholesterol and accelerate hardening of the arteries.

3. Blood Pressure. Cornell's Lawrence Resnick recently documented that the higher the magnesium inside your cells, the more apt you are to have lower blood pressure, more elastic blood vessels and a less enlarged heart. He calls magnesium a natural calcium-channel blocker (blood pressure drug) and says supplements can help normalize blood pressure.

4. Diabetes. "Diabetes is a magnesium deficiency state," says Jerry Nadler, M.D., of the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine. He finds 80% of diabetics have low intracellular magnesium. Indeed, research suggests low magnesium boosts your risk of developing type II diabetes by one-third. He says supplements can improve insulin activity and may cut diabetes risk and complications. Some specialists tell diabetics to take 400mg magnesium daily.

5. Strong bones. Magnesium is as vital as calcium in preventing osteoporosis, says the University of North Carolina's Mildred Seelig: It's essential for normal bone metabolism. In a Swedish study, Magnesium, but not calcium, helped prevent hip fractures in older women. Tufts researchers found high magnesium intake predicted higher bone mass and less bone loss in older people.

6. Migraines. Half of migraine sufferers have low magnesium, and upping magnesium has reduced the duration, intensity and frequency of migraines. Headache frequency dropped 42% in German adults who took 600mg magnesium daily for a month. Italian children given 122mg to 366mg magnesium daily had two-thirds fewer migraines after a month.

7. Sound Sleep. Several studies show a lack of magnesium can alter electrical activity in the brain, causing agitated sleep and frequent awakenings. "It looks like magnesium is important for a good night's sleep," says USDA researcher Forrest H. Nielson.

8. Safer Pregnancy. Extensive research shows that magnesium lessens pre-eclampsia, is which blood pressure soars in late pregnancy, upping the risk of spontaneous abortions and premature, low-birth-weight babies. A large new British study of 10,000 women in 33 countries confirms that taking magnesium sulfate supplements reduced the hazard by 50%.

9. Pain Relief. If you have leg cramps or other muscle cramps, taking 100mg to 400mg magnesium daily may bring relief Seelig says. Extra magnesium also may help prevent or relieve painful myalgias (including the syndrome known as fibromyalgia), chronic lower back pain, restless legs syndrome, erythromelalgia (a painful dilation of blood vessels) and chronic fatigue syndrome. Seelig says magnesium reduces a pain transmitter in the nervous system called substance P.

10. Extra benefits. Taking magnesium could counteract the heart attack and stroke hazards of hormone replacement therapy, Seelig says: "I still use HRT, because research shows magnesium counters estrogen's clot-producing abilities." Further, magnesium may help treat premature ejaculation and relieve certain symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.


Nuts and seeds per 1 ounce
Pumpkin seeds 152mg
Sunflower kernels 100mg
Almonds 78mg
Cashews 73mg
Peanuts 50mg
Walnuts 45mg

Wheat bran cereals per 1 ounce
100% Bran 134mg
All Bran 106mg
Wheat germ 90mg
Raisin Bran 48mg

Legumes per ½ cup
Tofu 94mg
Baked beans 72mg
Chickpeas 52mg
Lentils 43mg

Fruits and vegetables 
Potato med w/skin 56mg
Spinach, 1 cup raw 50mg
½ cup cooked 79mg
Avocado, ½ hass 35mg
Banana, medium 34mg

Seafood per 3 ounces
Shrimp, cooked peeled 43mg
Salmon 31mg

(Jean Carper is an authority on food as medicine. This article was taken out of USAWEEKEND. )

Source: USDA