Magnesium Deficiency: A Public Health Crisis

In January 2018, James J DiNicolantonio and peers published Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis in the journal, Open Heart.

If you’ve ever wondered what’s behind the claims that most of us are low in magnesium, this review will erase any doubt. It covers findings from 233 published scientific articles on magnesium for human health.

But it’s a heavy piece of research, which is why we summarize the key findings for you here. Read on to learn the science-backed case for magnesium supplementation.

What We Know For Sure About Magnesium Deficiency

1. Most Magnesium Deficiency is Un-Diagnosed

99% of our total body magnesium is “intracellular” — that means, inside cells. That means measuring magnesium levels by the common method, via blood serum, doesn’t give us an accurate read.

Most people have sub-clinical (or “silent”) magnesium deficiency, which means they may never be diagnosed but are still at risk. Sub-clinical deficiencies predispose us to multiple chronic diseases.

2. There are Multiple Risks of Magnesium Deficiency

We become magnesium deficient for many reasons, including chronic disease, use of medications, decreases in food crop magnesium contents, and over consumption of refined and processed foods.

The review authors state in no uncertain terms: “the vast majority of people in modern societies are at risk for magnesium deficiency.

3. Magnesium Deficiency is a Health Crisis

Sub-clinical magnesium deficiency (again, un-diagnosed but still serious) increases the risk of numerous types of cardiovascular disease, the focus of this review.

The authors argue that widespread magnesium deficiency is behind “incalculable” costs to our healthcare systems and human suffering. It should be considered a public health crisis.

“evidence in the literature suggests that sub-clinical magnesium deficiency is rampant and one of the leading causes of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and early mortality around the globe”

4. Magnesium Deficiency is Usually Easy to Solve

Treating magnesium deficiency is simple and low cost. Magnesium supplements are the answer to the problem of cardiovascular disease caused by insufficient magnesium.

“In order to prevent chronic diseases, we need to change our mindset away from exclusively treating acute illness and instead focus more on treating the underlying causes of chronic diseases, such as magnesium deficiency.”

What else does this ~50-page review teach us? Plenty! There are countless fascinating facts on magnesium deficiency covered by this review. Here, we’ll share the most intriguing findings that support getting more magnesium from supplements.

The Research-Based Case For Magnesium Supplementation

Magnesium For Health Basics

  • The human body contains around 25 g of magnesium
    • ~27% of total body magnesium is contained in the muscles
    • ~64% of total body magnesium is found in the bones
  • The most important functions of magnesium include:
    • Keeping intracellular sodium and calcium low
    • Keeping potassium high
    • Maintaining cellular and tissue integrity
    • ATP production and activation
    • DNA, RNA and protein synthesis and integrity

How Much Magnesium We Should Be Getting

  • Studies of Paleolithic nutrition (i.e., hunter/gatherer societies) showed a magnesium uptake with the usual diet of about 600 mg magnesium/day, much higher than today
  • Even though we get less magnesium now, our metabolism is best adapted to a high magnesium intake
  • The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium (between 300 and 420 mg/day for most people) may prevent symptoms of magnesium deficiency, but it’s unlikely to provide optimal health and longevity
  • Most people need an additional 300 mg of magnesium per day in order to lower their risk of developing numerous chronic diseases

Statistics on Magnesium Intake

  • A typical Western diet may only provide enough magnesium to avoid obvious symptoms
  • Much of the population may not even be meeting the RDA for magnesium
    Around half (48%) of the US population consumes less than the recommended amount of magnesium from food
  • Women, particularly, have low intakes; one study found that 10 out of 11 apparently healthy women were magnesium-deficient
  • Magnesium deficiency has been found in 84% of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis
  • More than 25% of youth have inadequate intakes of magnesium, even if they consume too many calories

Facts About Low Magnesium From Diet

  • Since 1940 there has been a tremendous decline in the magnesium available from foods, including in beef (−4 to −8%), bacon (−18%), chicken (−4%), cheddar cheese (−38%), parmesan cheese (−70%), whole milk (−21%) and vegetables (−24%).
  • The loss of magnesium during food refining/processing is significant: white flour (−82%), polished rice (−83%), starch (−97%) and white sugar (−99%).
  • Since 1968 the magnesium content in wheat has dropped almost 20%
  • Magnesium deficiency in plants is becoming an increasingly severe problem with the development of industry and agriculture and the increase in human population
  • Processed foods, fat, refined flour and sugars are all devoid of magnesium, and thus our Western diet predisposes us to magnesium deficiency

Causes of Magnesium Depletion

  • Many factors can drive up an individual’s demand for magnesium, which is why there is no universal minimum requirement for magnesium
  • Disease, medications, stress and dietary factors can deplete magnesium. Common risk factors include alcohol intake, intensive exercise, diabetes, a diet high in fat and sugar, caffeine use and more.

What You Should Know About Magnesium Testing

  • The elimination of magnesium is mainly controlled by the kidneys
  • Magnesium increases in the urine when there is magnesium surplus
  • Magnesium levels in the urine fall when we have a deficit of magnesium intake
  • Patients can have normal or even higher magnesium levels in the blood (serum testing) despite magnesium depletion
  • Magnesium can be pulled from the bone, muscles and internal organs to maintain normal serum magnesium levels when intakes are low
  • Magnesium deficiency is extremely hard to diagnose since symptoms are generally non-specific, there are numerous contributing factors, and there is no simple way to diagnose magnesium deficiency. Some tests are more reliable than others, however
  • Early damage from magnesium depletion isn’t easy to detect because the tissues damaged by magnesium depletion are those of the cardiovascular, kidney and the neuromuscular systems

Risks of Inadequate Magnesium

  • There are many signs of magnesium deficiency, ranging from less severe to those associated with morbidity
  • Even if you have normal serum magnesium levels, you could be deficient and predisposed to osteopaenia, osteoporosis and fractures
  • There’s a correlation between low magnesium consumption and risk factors for ischaemic heart disease, such as hyperlipoproteinaemia, arterial hypertension and body weight
  • Possible cardiac signs of magnesium deficiency also include arrhythmias, calcifications, atherosclerosis, heart failure, increased platelet reactivity and thrombosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, sudden cardiac death
  • Magnesium deficiency during pregnancy can induce maternal, fetal, and pediatric consequences that might last throughout life
  • Magnesium deficiency likely increases the risk of diabetes
  • Hypomagnesemia (confirmed low magnesium) detected at the time of hospital admission of acutely ill medical patients is associated with an increased mortality rate

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