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.

Restoring Magnesium

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

You can also order Dr. Hymann’s book, Ultraprevention, from our bookstore.


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  • John Paboojian

    ok, he says to take magnesium supplements but then you states avoiding these common ones. You list all of the magnesium supplements out there, however, you dont state which magnesium supplement he says to take of the form of magnesium? Can you comment on which form of magnesium supplement he recommends?

  • Linda

    My question EXACTLY? I take Mag. oxilate. Am I wasting my money?

  • Vickie

    I found this on Dr. Weil’s website regarding magnesium because I have leg cramps and muscle spasms all the time.

    How much, and what kind, does an adult need?

    According to the National institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended
    dietary allowances (RDAs) for adult males is 270-400 mg; adult females
    is 280-300 mg; for pregnant females 320 mg daily; and for breastfeeding
    females, 340-355 mg. Dr. Weil recommends taking half as much magnesium
    as one does calcium, to offset calcium’s constipating effect and to ensure the appropriate
    balance of these two key minerals in the body. Look for magnesium
    citrate, chelate, or glycinate, and avoid magnesium oxide, which can be
    irritating to the digestive tract.

  • Robin

    You might want to check out “The Magnesium Miracle” by Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. It’s simply AMAZING the things that a magnesium deficiency causes and prevents. :) My husband and I have been researching magnesium deficiency for the past 8+ months and have found that most Americans (80-94%) are magnesium deficient. Most of what they eat causes magnesium to be stripped from the body. There are many videos on YouTube. I’d go there and search for “Carolyn Dean magnesium deficiency” or “Dr. Stephen Sinatra magnesium” (he’s a cardiologist… another amazing man who believes in proper nutrition vs long-term use of prescription drugs) or “magnesium deficiency” and Dr. Osborne’s video should come up. Dr. Osborne outlines on a white board just how a person becomes magnesium deficient, why we stay that way, and what we can do about it. My husband and I take magnesium oxide every day along with a meal and Vitamin D3. That helps the body assimilate the magnesium better. Magnesium Oxide (which my hubby bought from a large chain store) isn’t absorbed by the body very well. In fact, he discovered, after researching it, that the body only absorbs up to 4% of the magnesium oxide taken. We have learned that to being with it’s a good idea to start out taking 200-400 mg once or twice a day… start out slow and increase it. The only side effect of taking too much magnesium is that it loosens the stools (which constipated people love!). We increased ours daily, until we found a good fit. And some days, due to stress and diet, your body may want more. I always muscle test before taking any supplements to see how much my body needs at that moment. Muscle testing is Applied Kinesiology, a way to discover information about the body, what it needs, what is good for it, what isn’t good for it. We’ve also learned that most people require between 400-800 mg of magnesium daily. I encourage you to watch Dr. Osborne’s video on You’ll understand much more about magnesium and how stress, drinking coffee, soda, eating white breads, sugars, processed foods, taking certain kinds of medication can strip the body of magnesium. :)

    I checked the labels of magnesium supplements at a health store chain the other day. Many supplements contain several variety of magnesium. Most contained magnesium oxide as the main source. And even when they list three different kinds of magnesium… with magnesium oxide being listed first (and it’s the cheapest) along with two others… which one do you think is going to be in that supplement the most? I think it’s really sad that many supplements use the cheapest ingredients, just to have more profit. :( And be wary of so-called natural or health food stores… you still have to read the labels. I also checked out one store we love… only it’s not where we live now, and discovered that that is exactly what is in their brand of supplements… magnesium oxide… the cheapest least absorbed kind of magnesium. I encourage you to continue educating yourself, find out how much the body absorbs of which type of magnesium, print it out and take it with you to the store… READ LABELS before purchasing… and Try different kinds… as every body is different. Discover what works well for you and your body. :)

    I have muscle spasms sometimes too… or my toes curl up, cramp and hurt. When that happens, I take more magnesium, or for immediate relief, put Epsom salts in warm water and soak my feet in it. The body absorbs the magnesium quickly that way. In fact, now when my husband takes a shower, he plugs the tub and puts Epsom salts in the the water… soaking his feet in it while he’s showering. I believe that Dr. Carolyn Dean states somewhere that she soaks in Epsom salts every morning to get her magnesium… plus she sips it slowly throughout the day. We both take magnesium citrate and vitamin D3 with food at least a couple of time during the day and always before we go to sleep at night. We learned that the muscle spasms could be caused by the brain diverting the magnesium from our muscle to our heart, a vital organ. Because that’s what the brain does… protect our vital organs. Magnesium relaxes and calcium contracts. That’s why it’s vital to have both in our bodies. Plus, magnesium is vital to make many, many functions and enzymatic processes work in our body. It’s VITAL to have magnesium in our body.

  • Eloha

    I wonder if that was a typo, I’ve taken magnesium carbonate and Love it! Its fizzy so mixed in a drink it absorbs quickly and I feel calm quickly. My favorite source of magmesium is coconut water and the best supplement is “calm” or “magcalm” which is vailable with added calcium, too.
    I love cashews but its difficult to avoid the temptation of over eating them! :)

  • Charlotte Isabelle

    Magnesium stopped my interstitial cystitis after taking the first dose of 500 mg. I have been so sick with ic, I was almost incapacitated. My urologist was recommending surgery because all treatments had failed, including botox injections, urgent pc neuromodulation and numerous drugs. Thank you, Dr. Hyman!!!!

  • Robert

    I get spasms and cramp in my left arm. This occurs four or five times during the day and wakes me up innumerable times during the night. The pain is excruciating. I have lost mobility and strength in my left arm. Has any one else had this and have you found a cure.

  • Organic

    Eloha, the Calm or Calmag is magnesium citrate, not magnesium carbonate. Probably got confused. Either case I agree – its good stuff!!

  • Organic

    Have you tried CALM or any magnesium supplement?

  • JB

    I have had MS for 25 years and magnesium helps me greatly…but this is unknown in the medical community…so sad.

  • Julie

    From what I’ve heard – yes. Look up Jigsaw’s Magnesium Malate product.