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Clifton Sheets, MD September 30, 2011Nutritional Supplements

I often advise my patients to take magnesium. The potential health benefits are impressive and include reductions in blood pressure, improved blood sugar control, better bone mineral density and improved sleep. Over 300 enzyme reactions in the body need magnesium as a co factor. If you are not getting enough in your diet, you may be at risk of developing some significant health issues.

Magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in the human body. The vast majority of it is deposited in the bone. Only 1% is found in the blood stream at any one time, but the body works hard to maintain magnesium levels within a constant range. It will take magnesium from bone if there is not enough in your diet in order to maintain a normal level in the blood.

Magnesium rich foods include spinach, almonds, legumes, and whole wheat bread. Magnesium is also often found in “hard” water and mineral water. Bottled water, “softened” water and many municipal water supplies are magnesium deficient. The recommended daily allowance for males is 420 mg/day and 320 mg/day for women. It has been estimated that the daily magnesium deficiency in the typical American diet is close to 100 mg.

Magnesium improves blood sugar control. A study of 52 overweight, insulin resistant, non-diabetic individuals with normal magnesium blood levels were given 345 mg of magnesium a day. After 6 months, fasting blood sugar was reduced by 7%. A long term study of 85,000 women and 42,000 men revealed that those with the highest level of magnesium intake reduced their risk of diabetes by up to 34%. For every 100 mg increase in daily intake of magnesium, the risk of developing adult onset diabetes drops by 15%.

When taken at night, magnesium suppresses the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Elevated cortisol impairs sleep. Patients taking magnesium frequently report improved and more restful sleep.

Magnesium dilates bronchiole tubes, a property I exploited in the emergency department when I treated severe asthma attacks. After 2 months of magnesium therapy, chronic asthmatic children receiving 300 mg a day of had an average of 28% fewer days of severe asthma, and were able to reduce their prescription use of asthma inhalers by 40%.

Magnesium lowers blood pressure. It acts like a calcium channel blocker and may reduce systolic pressures by as much as 20 mmHg in magnesium deficient patients. Magnesium also stabilizes cell membranes. As such it reduces the chance of abnormal heart beats.

Magnesium can improve bone density. When deficient, calcium metabolism is altered and bones demineralize in an attempt to raise the blood level of magnesium.

Magnesium helps migraine patients. Research has shown that 50% of migraine sufferers are magnesium deficient. Interestingly 60% of migraine sufferers have a gene defect that impairs their magnesium metabolism. Magnesium also reduces panic attacks, and symptoms of depression.

Magnesium is available in several forms. I tell my patients to avoid most, as magnesium can cause diarrhea if it is not well absorbed. I prefer magnesium glycinate. I typically suggest 400 -800 mg at bedtime. Magnesium glycinate is inexpensive and available at most health food stores, or on-line from companies such as Life Extension.

Magnesium in very large doses can cause cramps and diarrhea. Muscle weakness and extremely low blood pressure are signs of magnesium toxicity. Magnesium can bind to antibiotics such as Cipro, Levaquin and Avelox and impair their absorption. There should be at least a 2 hour window between the dose of these antibiotics and magnesium supplementation. If you have any kidney disease you should not take magnesium supplements until you consult with your doctor.