Mark Hyman, MD, Putting Magnesium Back in Your Life
01 Mar, 2008
Mark Hyman, MD, is the medical director and founder of the Ultrawellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, and the author of several New York Times best-selling books on nutrition, diet and a healthy lifestyle. His clinic is a center for functional medicine, a new field of medicine that addresses chronic disease through its underlying causes rather than just the symptoms. A leading authority on alternative medicine, Dr. Hyman has appeared on numerous television programs including Today, Good Morning America, and The View. Recently Dr. Hyman sat down with Organic Connections to give us his views on the subject of magnesium, which his research has found is a vitally essential mineral—in fact magnesium is covered extensively in one of his books, Ultraprevention.
“Magnesium is something I focused on for a long, long time and I think is one of the key elements in helping repair people’s biology,” Dr. Hyman says. “It’s a macromineral of which most of us are deficient, and this is responsible for many, many symptoms. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions and is found in all the body’s tissues.”
How Do You Know if You’re Low?
Dr. Hyman states that most of us are deficient in magnesium, but how can we know if we have this deficiency? One might think it can be tested in the blood by a doctor—but unfortunately that’s not the case. “When we test for magnesium, the tests for most people come out ‘normal,’ so we think it’s normal,” Dr. Hyman says. “But that’s a very misleading assumption—that testing for magnesium with conventional blood tests shows an accurate level. We use serum magnesium, which tells us only about what’s in the bloodstream, not about what’s inside the cells. Testing for red-blood-cell magnesium is a little more useful but it’s still difficult to measure.”
So what is the best test? “The best diagnosis for a magnesium deficiency is simply a good medical history,” says Dr. Hyman. “So anything that twitches or cramps or spasms or is tight in any way is a sign of magnesium deficiency.”
Such signs include a long list of symptoms: muscle cramps or twitches, insomnia, irritability, sensitivity to loud noises, anxiety, autism, ADHD, heart palpitations, angina (a spasm of the arteries), constipation, spasms in the muscles, headaches, migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, asthma and kidney stones (which are caused by a calcium-magnesium imbalance); even diabetes and obesity are related to magnesium deficiency. Other symptoms connected to magnesium deficiency include high blood pressure, menstrual cramps, irritable bladder, irritable bowel, acid reflux and premenstrual syndrome.
Magnesium affects several crucial areas of health, and Dr. Hyman elaborates more specifically on each:
Heart health: “Magnesium is very important for cardiac function and is essential in stabilizing cardiac membranes and preventing arrhythmias. I also think that it helps with things like angina as well.”
Bone health: “I think calcium and magnesium are both necessary; your bones certainly have a lot of magnesium and people tend to ignore that. I always recommend calcium and magnesium for osteoporosis.”
Nerves, anxiety and stress: “Magnesium relaxes the nervous system in a number of ways. Besides just relaxing the muscles, it actually is a natural blocker of a receptor in the brain called MMDA. This receptor is stimulated with calcium, actually, and it’s something that leads to over-excitation and stimulation of the brain and irritability, depression and many other things. Magnesium is a natural MMDA receptor antagonist, which helps to really calm the nervous system overall.”
Depression: “Depression and anxiety are very related and I think magnesium helps reduce the same phenomena in the brain. I would always recommend that people use a nutritional approach to depression before actually using antidepressants because mostly they don’t work well.”
ADHD: “ADHD is a hyper-irritability of the nervous system. Many of these children are very depleted in magnesium because their diets are poor—they eat high amounts of sugar. I think magnesium is a critical deficiency in kids with both ADHD and autism and it has a very calming, relaxing effect on them.”
The basic reasons go all the way down to a cellular level. “Magnesium is necessary for your cells to make energy, to stabilize cell membranes and to help your muscles relax,” Dr. Hyman says.
Magnesium and the Medical Community
When you go to your doctor with the types of symptoms enumerated above, he or she is not likely to prescribe magnesium. But interestingly, magnesium has been utilized by the medical community for many years—almost always as a last resort.
Earlier in his life Dr. Hyman worked in an emergency room and witnessed this firsthand. “When I was in the emergency room, magnesium was used fairly routinely in critical care situations intravenously to prevent or to try to reverse cardiac arrest or if there was abnormal rhythm in the heart,” he says. “When all the drugs had failed we pulled out magnesium.
Magnesium was also used to treat preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy) and premature labor. It was also administered to alcoholics when they turned up in the emergency room, as they tend to be deficient in magnesium. “We use it all the time as well when people are constipated,” Dr. Hyman points out. “We give them milk of magnesia.”
Why Are We Deficient?
“The reason many people are so magnesium-deficient is very simple,” says Dr. Hyman. “They do a lot of things to cause their bodies to lose magnesium and eat almost no foods that contain magnesium.”
Of course today’s common diet is a major problem, consisting of processed and refined foods. Average diets consist mostly of white flour, meat and dairy—none of which contain magnesium. “We don’t eat magnesium-rich foods,” Dr. Hyman continues. “When was the last time the average person had a high dose of sea vegetables like seaweed, or dark green leafy vegetables, or beans or nuts? Mostly if you’re an American your nut consumption comes from chocolate-covered peanut butter cups or high-sugar-content trans-fat-laden peanut butter. This is obviously not high-magnesium food.”
In addition to the average person’s lack of magnesium intake, many aspects of people’s lives actually rob their systems of the little magnesium they contain. Drinking coffee and alcohol, eating sugar and being under chronic stress all cause their bodies to become depleted.
How does Dr. Hyman recommend that magnesium intake be restored to a person’s diet? He considers it a three-stage process. “First of all, I suggest that people identify how to stop draining their bodies of magnesium,” he says. “Two, eat foods that are high in magnesium, and three, take supplements.
In terms of cutting out elements that drain the body of magnesium, Dr. Hyman recommends limiting coffee, colas, high salt, sugar and alcohol. He points out that medications, such as diuretics, water pills and antibiotics, and many drugs actually cause a person to lose magnesium as well; so if these medications are necessary, a higher intake of magnesium could also be warranted.
There is a long list of magnesium-rich foods that can be added to a diet. These include kelp, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts, filberts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, tofu, soybeans, brown rice, figs, dates, collard greens, avocados, parsley, beans, barley, dandelion greens and garlic.
Dr. Hyman also recommends magnesium supplements, avoiding the most commonly available forms—magnesium carbonate, magnesium sulfate, magnesium gluconate and magnesium oxide.
“I think it’s great to get people’s awareness up about magnesium, because it’s such a critical factor in terms of the general well-being people can achieve through its use. I find that in my practice it’s probably one of the most powerful, beneficial and therapeutic tools that I have for a whole host of chronic illnesses.”
For more information on Dr. Hyman, to access his video blog or to view his list of books, visit www.drhyman.com.
You can also order Dr. Hymann’s book, Ultraprevention, from our bookstore.