One of the six core strategies in the Undoctored Wild, Naked, and Unwashed program for health and weight loss is restoration of magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency is alarmingly common in today’s world. Why? Our reliance on filtered water that has had all of the magnesium removed, the reduced content of magnesium in modern crops, and the widespread use of proton pump inhibitors—-drugs prescribed to treat acid reflux and ulcers while reducing magnesium absorption.
Remember those darned phytates in wheat and other grains that bind magnesium and other positively charged minerals in the intestinal tract, preventing absorption and causing you to pass them into the toilet? Phytates reduce magnesium absorption by 60 percent, even when consuming just a single bagel or deli sandwich. It means that for years minerals were prevented from being absorbed whenever any phytate-containing grain was in the vicinity, blocking the absorption of even mineral supplements. Advice to include grains in every meal and snack predictably caused deficiencies of positively charged minerals, especially magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc. Add it all up, and sadly magnesium deficiency is the rule, rather than the exception.
Magnesium is at the top of the list of minerals that have been depleted. Have a breakfast of cereal with fruit, and nearly all the magnesium from breakfast is lost in the toilet due to phytates. Have a lunch of turkey breast on whole wheat bread with lettuce and tomatoes—and, once again, nearly all the magnesium from this meal was bound and passed. Popular acid blocking drugs (PPIs) like Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, and others also block magnesium absorption. Those with diabetes and prediabetes typically have the most severe magnesium deficiencies, as they lose magnesium through their urine. Combine the magnesium absorption–blocking effect of grain phytates and PPIs with the removal of magnesium from drinking water via water filtration, both municipal and home, as well as the reduced magnesium content of modern crops, and magnesium deficiency is now the rule. We therefore start the Undoctored process with profound, body-wide magnesium deficiency.
Although the health benefits of restoring magnesium aren’t as dramatic as that of vitamin D restoration or wheat/grain elimination, it can still yield some perceptible and measurable benefits. The fact is, this has real health implications. Because magnesium participates in many essential body processes, depletion is disruptive. Among the effects of magnesium deficiency:
- Higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Ironically, the number-one preferred starting treatment for high blood pressure among primary care physicians is thiazide diuretics, such as hydrochlorothiazide and chlorthalidone, which cause increased urinary loss of magnesium (and potassium) and have thereby been associated with increased sudden cardiac death. In other words, hypertension that is partly to blame on magnesium deficiency is “treated” with a drug that worsens magnesium deficiency–such is the flawed logic typical of conventional medical care.
- Higher or erratic blood sugar, since magnesium is required for the body’s enzymes to process blood sugar. Accordingly, each 100-milligram increase in daily magnesium intake decreases risk for diabetes by 15 percent.
- Muscle cramps, particularly in the calves and fingers, since magnesium modulates muscle tone.
- Heart rhythm disorders, especially premature atrial and ventricular contractions, atrial fibrillation, even life-threatening rhythms such as ventricular tachycardia and torsade des pointes.
- Higher risk for sudden cardiac death and heart attack. People with lower magnesium levels have double the risk of people with higher magnesium levels.
- Osteopenia and osteoporosis. Since over half of body magnesium is contained in bones and provides a “cross-bridging” function for structural bone proteins, lack of magnesium can have devastating long-term implications for bone health.
- Constipation. Ever notice that many laxatives are nothing more than forms of magnesium, such as milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide)?
- Migraine headaches, with magnesium injections providing relief in some instances.
The power of magnesium to even be lifesaving in acute deficiencies is evident in hospitals, where it is administered intravenously to subdue life-threatening heart rhythms and does so immediately and dramatically. But we, of course, do not want to allow such acute, life-threatening deficiencies to develop.
Magnesium also plays an important role in prevention or even reduction of kidney stones (calcium oxalate).
As with other Undoctored strategies, restoration of magnesium reaches across numerous health issues because it addresses an intrinsic, fundamental human need, thereby providing outsize, sometimes life-changing, benefits. Because most of us don’t want to drink from a nearby stream or river flowing over rocks and minerals or forage for wild foods, we are left with nutritional supplementation. When done properly, magnesium supplementation can be powerful. When done improperly (which is what most people who supplement magnesium are guilty of), you may be obtaining only the benefit of a laxative without restoration of this essential mineral.
You want to obtain between 400 and 500 milligrams per day of magnesium, often called elemental magnesium (the weight of magnesium only, without the weight of the acid, such as malate). Confusingly, some supplement manufacturers will list the weight of the total capsule or tablet. For example, one 1,250-milligram tablet of magnesium malate provides 150 milligrams of elemental magnesium—the 1,250 milligrams is immaterial; you are only interested in the quantity of elemental magnesium. If you find a brand that only lists the total weight, skip it and find one that lists elemental magnesium.
If you suffer from constipation, choosing a less efficiently absorbed form of magnesium may be preferable. Such forms cause an osmotic effect, pulling water into the intestines, a benign process compared to irritative laxatives like phenolphthalein or senna that exert low-grade damage over time and are even associated with cancer risk. Taking 400 milligrams (total weight of magnesium + citric acid) of magnesium citrate two or three times per day is a good place to start. If nothing happens after 24 hours, one or more doses of 800 to 1,200 milligrams will usually do the trick; then back down to the 400-milligram dose two or three times per day.
Choose the following forms for their greater absorptive potential:
- Magnesium malate, in tablet or capsule form (malic acid is a common component of fruit).
- Magnesium bicarbonate. This is the most highly absorbed form, but it is available only as a liquid that you make yourself. You will find this recipe here and in my UNDOCTORED book.
- Magnesium glycinate. While not absorbed as well as malate, it is a reasonable choice.
- Magnesium citrate. This is the preferred form if you desire a modest laxative effect or if you have a history of calcium oxalate stones (as both magnesium and citric acid inhibit formation of kidney stones).
- I do not recommend magnesium oxide; although it is the most inexpensive and most common form, very little of it is absorbed and the laxative effect is quite prominent.
Because magnesium deficiency is the rule in modern society, since you cannot obtain sufficient quantities through modern foods or water, and because the health implications of deficiency are so great, everyone needs to restore magnesium. (The only exception is people with kidney disease who abnormally retain magnesium.)
Here are some foods that are high in magnesium content:
- Bananas and Plantains
- Butternut Squash
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Seeds (sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin)
- Yogurt and Kefir
- And we had to save this one for last: Dark Chocolate