By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Found in all human tissue, especially bone, magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body. Participating in over 300 enzymatic reactions, magnesium is most concentrated in mitochondria, cellular organelles which produce most of your energy stores. Not only does magnesium play a significant role in ATP production, but it helps regulate your blood sugar and strengthens your bones. Additionally, it facilitates muscle relaxation and the synthesis of fat, protein, and nucleic acid. As such an important mineral, inadequate magnesium supply can lead to changes in neuromuscular, cardiovascular, immune, and hormonal function, and may impair energy metabolism and your capacity for physical work.

Low on Magnesium? Here are 5 Signs

As your body doesn’t endogenously synthesize magnesium, you need to obtain it elsewhere, i.e. through the diet, drinking water, and/or supplements. Abundant in leafy green vegetables such as kelp and spinach, magnesium also may be found in almonds, cashews, course pumpkin seeds, beans, tofu, and fruits such as figs, apricots, and bananas. While mineral-rich hard drinking water contains magnesium, softened or bottled water usually doesn’t. Since soil is becoming increasingly magnesium deficient, and cooking and processing also leech magnesium from foods, health experts generally advise magnesium supplementation in conjunction with a healthy diet.

Not only essential for health maintenance, especially cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention, magnesium has across-the-board applications for multiple conditions. Because it improves the metabolic efficiency of heart cells, magnesium is useful for treating angina, arrhythmia and sudden death, atrial fibrillation, arteriosclerotic heart disease, strokes, congestive heart failure (CHF), heart attack, high blood pressure, and mitral valve prolapse. As a muscle relaxer within arterial walls, magnesium alleviates chest pain and other symptoms of angina that are due to lack of oxygen to, or energy in, the heart. Ingested regularly, magnesium can help maintain vascular tone, and thus healthy blood pressure, and may also possible reverse arterial plaques. Magnesium is also useful for treating migraine headaches & helping prevent insulin resistance.

Many people are magnesium deficient, whether from clinical conditions like CVD, hypertension, pre-eclampsia (a pregnancy disorder), diabetes, asthma, hormonal changes such as menopause, or poor diet and other lifestyle habits. With angina, there is a direct correlation between magnesium deficiency and frequency of chest pain. Diuretic or excessive caffeine or alcohol use can result in loss of magnesium in the urine, and chronic emotional and physical stress can result in depletion due to excess cortisol release. Those with various bowel diseases and some medications which treat GI distress, such as histamine 2 antagonists, may not be able to absorb dietary and supplemental magnesium.

Blood tests alone are insufficient to determine whether one is magnesium deficient. Such measurements will not reflect deficit in tissues; 65 percent of magnesium is in the mineral phase of bone and 34 percent is sequestered in muscle, leaving only 1 percent residing in plasma and interstitial fluids. Although a mononuclear blood level analysis can better predict magnesium deficiency, physicians should investigate patients’ dietary histories to see if they are consuming enough leafy green vegetables and fruits, especially if mitral valve prolapse, ischemic heart disease, CHF, or hypertension are at issue.

Magnesium-Rich Foods

As a sound “insurance policy,” I recommend ingesting at least 400 mg magnesium per day regardless of dietary intake. Magnesium is extraordinarily safe for most people; the only contraindication is for people suffering from kidney failure or kidney insufficiency or whose hearts already beat at a slow rate, at less than 60 beats per minute. Loose stools are a common side effect of excess magnesium consumption. Since chelated forms of magnesium bound to amino acids are better absorbed than magnesium oxide, the best forms of magnesium to take are glycinate, taurinate, and oratate.

References and resources:

  • The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. (Ballentine Books, 2007)
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Fact Sheets available at

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