For reasons that elude me (perhaps it's because calcium is the most common mineral in the human body) calcium has historically been the primary dietary mineral that has received the most attention in both medical research and the mainstream media. Over the last couple of years however the mineral magnesium has quickly been the focus of intense scientific study recently culminating with the latest report that suggests that magnesium may be just as important if not more so to children's bone health than calcium.
While magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body it is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions. It is involved in supporting proper nerve function and a healthy immune system. It helps keep heart rhythm steady and bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels promotes normal blood pressure and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.
The metabolism of carbohydrates and fats to produce energy (which includes ATP production) requires numerous magnesium-dependent chemical reactions. Magnesium is also required for a number of steps during DNA and RNA synthesis. Glutathione an important antioxidant requires magnesium for its production.
Only 1% of magnesium is found in the blood the rest being bound in the tissues and bones. Therefore the mineral is hard to test for and as a result magnesium deficiency can be difficult to detect. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency can be varied and potentially fool even the best clinician. Insomnia irritability nervousness fatigue anorexia muscle twitching abnormal heart beat and poor memory are some of the signs. When you take into consideration the myriad functions magnesium performs and the multiple systems the mineral affects a magnesium deficiency can affect virtually every system of the body. Magnesium deficiency has even been associated with epilepsy and M.S.
Magnesium deficiency has also been shown to be a predictor of both diabetes and heart disease providing some direct evidence that greater intake of dietary magnesium may have a long-term protective effect on lowering risk in both conditions or in the case of its long term chronic depletion/deficiency directly participate in the development of both conditions.
In the case of diabetes it is suggested that insulin resistance can be directly related to long-term magnesium exhaustion while in cardiovascular heath hypertension and endothelial dysfunction appear to be associated with chronic decline as well.
Finally several studies have shown an increased cancer rate in regions with low magnesium levels in soil and drinking water (the same for selenium). In Egypt the cancer rate was only about 10% of that in Europe and America. The main difference was an extremely high magnesium intake of 2.5 to 3g in these cancer-free populations ten times more than in most western countries.
In the face of magnesium's incredible importance in human health it goes without saying that the possible deficiency of this mineral in the clinical setting may need to be more closely scrutinized as the consequences could be quite impactful.
Michael Fuhrman D. C.
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