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Book: Magnesium, The Nutrient That Could Change Your Life

Title Page and Table of Contents


Under the date of June, 1964, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a 50-page article by Mildred S. Seelig, M.D., entitled "The Requirement of Magnesium by the Normal Adult," which points up serious deficiencies of magnesium in the nutrition and the bodies of American people. We will skim through the article for you, our comments being in parentheses.

"Magnesium has been accepted as an essential nutrient for the rat since 1932."

(In France it was known as an essential nutrient before 1910.)

"A deficiency of magnesium is dangerous for the nervous system, heart and kidneys.

"Haury and Hirschfelder correlated low plasma levels of magnesium with several clinical conditions in which hyper-irritability or convulsions are presenting signs, among which were epilepsy, eclampsia [convulsive seizures] and renal [kidney] insufficiency.... Grass staggers of cattle, and the convulsions of calves fed only whole milk, were similarly found to be associated with low blood magnesium levels, and to be preventable by feeding magnesium supplements.

"Neuromuscular and mental symptoms, ranging from tremor, nervousness, and clouded sensorium through delirium, hallucinations and convulsions, were often most severe in patients with the lowest plasma magnesium levels . . .

"Patients lose a great deal of magnesium after operations.

"Hanna and MacIntyre have found mental depression and muscle weakness as a result of low magnesium in the body.

"Contrary to the consensus, the customary diet in Occidental [Western] countries cannot be relied upon to provide sufficient magnesium to maintain equilibrium. Magnesium requirements should be reconsidered in the light of findings that indicate the likely development of negative balance on magnesium intakes below 6 mg. per kg. per day."

(Six milligram of magnesium per kilogram of body weight per day. This is approximately 385 milligrams of magnesium in the diet per day.)

"Additional work should be carried out to ascertain, with more certainty, the optimal daily intake of magnesium . . . A prolonged dietary insufficiency of magnesium may contribute to the development of chronic disease.

"On the basis of 105 balance periods in men and 146 in women, totaling 658 and 781 days respectively, it appears that negative balances are likely to develop in either sex on magnesium intakes under 4 milligrams per kilogram per day."

(This is 256 milligrams of magnesium per day.)

(A large number of pages are devoted to tables and to technical description of the processes leading to the measurements.)

"At intakes of 10 mg. per kg. daily and above, markedly positive magnesium balances were found in both long-and-short-term studies leading to retention of as much as 444 milligrams of magnesium per day . . ."

(10 mg. per kg. per day is about 640 milligrams.)

(Data is then given to show that men excrete more magnesium than women, and that a too-high calcium intake can cause a magnesium deficiency.)

(Since taking nine dolomite tablets a day, I have reduced my bone meal intake from six to three a day. Dolomite tablets contain 100 milligrams of calcium to 46 of magnesium.)

(The following is something which we believe to be extremely important:)

"Magnesium seems to be absorbed more poorly from diets which are rich in phytates, such as brown bread, brown rice or oatmeal, or from refined bread to which phytate has been added."

(The phytate is in the wheat germ portion of the wheat, and acts to prevent magnesium from being absorbed. I would not stop taking wheat germ, as it has great advantages, but I would compensate for the phytate by taking liberal quantities of dolomite.)

(In the concluding part of the article are a few interesting items).

"Since the foods which constitute the major portion of the Occidental diet provide relatively little magnesium, it is not surprising that analyses of typical American and British dietaries . . . reveal that the customary diet often falls short of providing even 5 mg. per kg. per day. Finnish subjects on diets of similar caloric value ingested approximately 3 times as much magnesium as did the American subjects."

(Perhaps the food of the Finns is grown along more primitive lines, with less artificial fertilizers and poisonous insecticides, and more organic matter. I have recently concluded an experiment on our farm, with two groups of chickens, fed since they were a day old. One group was fed with organically produced food grown on our farm. The other was fed on purchased mash. Later on, some eggs laid by each group were analyzed by a reputable laboratory (La Wall and Harrison of Philadelphia), and it was found that the eggs laid by the organic group had 100 percent more magnesium than the other chickens. If all the farms in the U.S. were run on an organic basis, it probably would cure the national magnesium deficiency.)

"In the East, where soybeans, vegetables and rice are the main dietary constituents, calcium intake is likely to be low, and fish plays a small but more important role than meat in the diet, the daily magnesium intake falls below 6 mg. per kg. only infrequently and may surpass 10 mg. per kg. Coullumbine and associates in their study of Ceylonese medical students on a control diet corresponding to their customary intake found that the daily magnesium intake ranged from 351 to 641 mg., or 5.7 to 11.5 mg. per kg. per day.

"Indian men on their diets had a daily magnesium intake of from 6.1 to 10.6 mg. per kg. while in healthy young Chinese men and women from the upper classes it was from 6.5 to 10.6."

(In the U.S. the average is less than five mg per kg. per day.)

(Dr. Seelig, the author, tells about a patient described by Petersen, who had a persistently low plasma calcium level which rose on correction of the magnesium deficit, and showed improvement of previously intractable tetany.)

(The rest of this article is the summary by Dr. Seelig, and explains itself:)

"The widespread assumption that the average daily intake of magnesium is sufficient to maintain equilibrium in the normal adult has been questioned. Analysis of published metabolic data indicates that the minimal daily requirement is not 220 to 300 mg. per day, as has been reiterated, or even 5 mg. per kg. per day as has also been suggested, but probably at least 6 mg per kg. per day.

"The available clinical metabolic data provide evidence that at intakes below 6 mg. per kg. per day, negative magnesium balance is likely to develop, particularly in men. Women seem to retain more magnesium than men at low and marginal magnesium intakes. At intakes above 10 mg. per kg. per day, strong positive magnesium balances develop, which probably reflect repletion of suboptimal tissue stores. High protein, calcium and vitamin D intakes, and alcohol function to impede retention or to increase the requirement of magnesium, particularly in those on low magnesium intakes. On magnesium intakes above 6 mg. per kg. per day, little interference with magnesium retention by calcium, protein or vitamin D has been reported.

"The diet in the Orient apparently provides 6 to 10 mg. per kg. per day. The Occidental diet, however, provides an average of 250 to 300 mg. of magnesium daily, or less than 5 mg. per kg. per day for most adults. Because the Western diet is often also rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D, and alcohol ingestion is common, it is suggested that the optimal daily intake of magnesium should be 7 to 10 mg. per kg. per day.

"The existence of subacute or chronic magnesium deficiency is difficult to diagnose. Because the tissues damaged by magnesium depletion are those of the cardiovascular, renal and the neuromuscular systems, early damage is not readily detectable. It is postulated that long-term suboptimal intakes of magnesium may participate in the pathogenesis of chronic disease of these systems."

Yet it is only recently that some scientists have come to accept the existence of magnesium deficiency in man. For years, medical reports stated that a person could obtain enough magnesium from food to keep his bones and cells healthy. Yet the more researchers learned about this mineral, the more they have come to realize that much ill health is due to existing deficiencies. Furthermore, they now know that since most people never eat enough of the magnesium-rich foods (nuts, seed foods, and green vegetables), the deficiency may well be universal.

Without magnesium the actions of nerves and muscles are impaired. Convulsions, dizziness, muscular weakness, weak teeth and bones, and nervous irritability have all been cited as features of magnesium deficiency. There are other conditions where magnesium deficiency may also be present, yet difficult to detect because the overt symptoms are missing or masked. One such ailment is kwashiorkor, a protein-calorie deficiency disease.


Associated Diseases

A study by C. G. Linder and associates has been published in Pediatrics (Vol. 33, 1963). Linder found that children suffering from kwashiorkor also had severe magnesium depletion. Less than half the normal quantity of the mineral was present throughout the body. When the children were given curative diets, a positive balance of magnesium appeared.

Chronic alcoholics also tend to show low magnesium levels, particularly those patients with delirium tremens. Magnesium therapy often helps control delirium tremens, although there is still some question as to whether alcoholism actually causes magnesium deficiency or is perhaps partially caused by it. It is suggested by many researchers that it may well be the nonnutritious diet of the alcoholic that leads to magnesium deficiency.

Low magnesium levels have been reported in cases of steatorrhea, an illness marked by intestinal disturbances and loose fatty stools. I. MacIntyre and his colleagues report in Clinical Science (Vol. 20, 1961) that as an accompaniment to this disease, muscle content and exchange levels of magnesium were reduced to two-thirds of the normal figure, although bone content was unchanged. This may mean that bone cells conserve magnesium at the expense of other tissues, or perhaps that magnesium-containing bone is so tough it cannot readily be broken down.

In steatorrhea, the magnesium deficiency is primarily due to fecal loss of the mineral. The researchers, however, also noted that a high calcium intake aggravated the deficiency. A number of other studies have also noted this effect of calcium. Magnesium and calcium have a great affinity for each other. If one is deficient, however, an excess of the other creates the danger that still more of the deficient element will be carried out of the body.

Additionally, when magnesium is absent from the diet, calcium is not absorbed, but instead forms deposits upon vital tissues, including, skeletal, heart, and stomach muscle, lungs, kidneys, and trachea. The obvious solution is to make certain you consume enough of both these essential minerals.


Antagonistic Drugs

Some hormones used as drugs can upset magnesium metabolism and produce a local deficiency. Cortisone, claimed to reduce inflammation caused by arthritis and allergies, has also been found to have the side effect of producing diabetes. And in some studies it has been shown to reduce magnesium concentrations in the blood.

In his well-documented book, The Role of Magnesium in Biologic Processes, J. K. Aikawa, M.D., of the University of Colorado, writes that cortisone also increases magnesium uptake by the appendix, heart, and muscle. He states: "These results suggest that cortisone produces subtle changes in the distribution of magnesium in the body, which cannot be attributed to its diabetogenic or anti-inflammatory effect."

Dr. Aikawa mentions that tetracycline, an antibiotic, also interferes with magnesium metabolism by disrupting the chain of events in which energy is released in mitochondria. Testosterone, thyroxin and digitoxin suppress magnesium activity, but one of the more dangerous therapeutic tools seems to be the X-ray.

Suspecting that irradiation would destroy certain cellular processes, Dr. Aikawa subjected male rabbits to total X-ray exposure to note the effect on magnesium. He found that "the bone cortex, kidney, and heart-tissues previously considered radioresistant- are as radiosensitive as the appendix, stomach, and testis." After six days, he found a "significantly decreased turnover of stable magnesium."

Certainly, it is apparent that without magnesium the system can hardly be expected to carry on the processes that are necessary to good health. Currently, magnesium deficiency is suspected to be a factor in causing heart trouble, thyroid disorders, tooth decay, and eosinophilia, a condition in which there is an abnormal increase in the amount of microorganisms circulating in the blood.

We still need to dispel the fallacy that says we can get enough magnesium from ordinary food and that it is dangerous to take in too much magnesium. Both claims have now been disproved. Indeed, the American habits of eating such high amounts of refined and processed foods would make a sufficiency of magnesium extremely rare.

We can be sure that the sooner these widespread fallacies are eliminated, the sooner will the fantastically poor health level of our country be improved. Now that science has proved that magnesium deficiency is a reality, perhaps the goal of achieving better health will become a reality, too.

Chapter 19. Suicide and the Magnesium Deficit

Table of Contents

This page was first uploaded to The Magnesium Web Site on January 3, 2001