Magnesium To Prevent Heart Attacks: Most Americans Are Magnesium Deficient

Here is my Heart Health Tip #2 during American Heart Health month: Magnesium to prevent heart attacks.

Magnesium is a critical co-factor that regulates the activity of over 300 enzymes in the body. Two of its important functions in relationship to the heart are its role in regulating the heart’s rhythm, and the fact that magnesium is nature’s natural muscle relaxant. A deficiency of magnesium makes the heart beat faster.

Calcium and magnesium are minerals that counterbalance each other; calcium causes muscle contractions whereas magnesium produces relaxation. When these two minerals are out of balance (too much calcium or magnesium deficiency) there is increased risk of having muscle cramps or muscle spasms.

Magnesium is one of the most commonly deficient nutrients in the US. A recent study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that 68% of Americans are magnesium deficient and a US Dept. of Agriculture survey showed that 80% of Americans may be deficient. Green leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach are some of the richest dietary sources of magnesium. With so many people being magnesium deficient, it is obvious that most Americans are not eating a fresh salad regularly.
About 20 years ago I was attending a medical conference when I heard the following story. A cardiac surgeon was giving a talk about his experience with a patient during open-heart surgery. The surgeon told us that he was performing cardiac bypass surgery on a 42-year old man. The man’s heart was healthy; he just had clogged arteries leading to the heart, which necessitated bypass surgery. The man was on the operating table with his chest clamped open and his heart exposed. Suddenly during the surgery, this man’s healthy heart suddenly went into a spasm and “froze”. The surgeon said this may have been the first time anyone actually witnessed a healthy heart go into a spasm like this. A magnesium deficiency increases the likelihood of muscle cramps and muscle spasms. A muscle cramp in the heart is called... a heart attack.

We now know that thousands of people every year with relatively healthy hearts experience similar events; a muscle cramp in the heart. Unfortunately, in about 50% of these cases, the first symptom is death. Here are just a few titles of some of the articles appearing in scientific journals that report this phenomenon. Magnesium Deficiency and Sudden Death (American Heart Journal, Aug. 1992), Plasma and Dietary Magnesium and Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death in Women (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2011) and Plasma and Dietary Magnesium and the Risk of Sudden Death in Women (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Nov. 2010).

In addition to heart attacks, magnesium deficiency is associated with many other health problems such as: elevated blood pressure, anxiety, depression, muscle weakness, abnormal heart rhythm, and migraine headaches.

Warning: Some blood pressure medications and all medications containing estrogen (both oral contraceptives, and hormone replacement medications for the symptoms of menopause) deplete magnesium which increases the risk of having a heart attack. Taking adequate magnesium supplementation on a daily basis provides strong protection against heart attacks.

I recommend that people take 500 mg of magnesium once or twice daily. The most common side effect of too much magnesium is diarrhea. If an individual gets loose stools from magnesium they should just reduce to a lower dosage. For more information, I recommend reading an article titled How Many Americans Are Magnesium Deficient which was published in the September 2005 issue of the Life Extension magazine.

Magnesium oxide is the form of magnesium that is found in most nutritional supplements because it is the cheapest form of magnesium. However, magnesium oxide is not very well absorbed. Magnesium citrate is better absorbed. Also, a newer form known as magnesium L-threonate has been shown to be much more effectively absorbed into the nervous system and brain. This product is called Neuro-Mag and is available from the Life Extension Foundation.

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