Magnesium: The Heart Helper
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Although magnesium has many uses in the human body, it has a major role in the health of the heart. It has been referred to as "nature's calcium channel-blocker" because of its ability to block the entry of calcium into vascular smooth-muscle cells and heart muscle cells. As a result, magnesium supplementation can help reduce vascular resistance, lower blood pressure, and lead to more efficient heart function. Magnesium also helps regulate proper calcium metabolism through its actions on several hormones including parathyroid hormone and calcitonin (1). Studies of pregnancy have shown that the developing placenta and fetus drain maternal magnesium stores, and low levels may contribute to the cardiovascular problems seen during pregnancy (2). Evidence also suggests that magnesium helps to regulate body temperature (3).
Magnesium deficiencies increase our susceptibility to not only heart disease, but also kidney stones, cancer, insomnia, PMS, and menstrual cramps. Magnesium lost through the kidneys is increased through diuretic use, diabetes, antibiotics, alcohol, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and chronic diarrhea. Women lose a lot of magnesium during menstrual bleeding.
Magnesium is necessary in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. Without magnesium, the cells cannot pump potassium and sodium into and out of the cell. So magnesium deficiency is often the culprit when potassium deficiency is suspected. One can supplement the diet with potassium, and still not see an improvement in health conditions because the potassium is not getting inside the cells where it is needed. Magnesium also helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphorus into the bones. It also helps utilize the B complex Vitamins as well as Vitamin C and E, and helps the body convert blood sugar to energy (3).
Ailments which may benefit from Magnesium supplementation:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Acute myocardial infarction
Congestive heart failure
High blood pressure
Mitral valve prolapse
The RDA for magnesium is 350 milligrams for adults. However, magnesium must be taken in combination with calcium in a 2:1 ratio. So for every 1,000 milligrams of calcium ingested, there must be 500 milligrams of magnesium. And since it is suggested that everyone ingest at least 2,000 milligrams of calcium a day, that means at least 1000 milligrams of magnesium and the RDA is severely lacking.
Nutritional sources of magnesium:
nuts, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables.
To go to the next article in this series, see Potassium: High Blood Pressure and Fluid Retention
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(1) Murray, Michael T. (1996). The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, p. 162.
(2) Harvard Heart Letter. (1991). Magnesium: Coming of Age. August, pp. 6-7. Available Online: [http://www.execpc.com/~magnesum/harvard.html].
(3) Dunne, Lavon J. (1990). Nutrition Almanac. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 78.
(4) Murray, as in (1) above, p. 163.
as in (3) above, p. 79.