By Jason Sebeslav
Dr. Zoltan Rona is a graduate of McGill University Medical School and has a Masters Degree in Biochemistry and Clinical Nutrition. He is the author of three Canadian bestselling health books, and the medical editor of the Benjamin Franklin Award-winning Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. Dr. Rona has had a private medical practice in Toronto for the past 38 years, has appeared on radio and TV, and has lectured extensively in Canada and the US.
Jason Sebeslav: Dr. Rona, magnesium is vital for health on so many levels, yet it seems to be undervalued by the public as well as mainstream healthcare professionals.
Zoltan Rona: Yes – I often refer to magnesium as calcium’s neglected cousin. Its under-utilization in clinical medicine is nothing short of scandalous, especially with regard to its use as a life-saving cardiovascular tonic. It really is one of the most important minerals and is a catalyst for most chemical reactions in the body. It’s been suggested that magnesium is a cofactor for about 300 enzymes. But that number is now thought to be closer to 700! Unfortunately, most people are deficient in magnesium.
JS: Why is it that so many of us are deficient in magnesium?
ZR: Years of pesticide use, modern farming practises and pollution has depleted our soils of minerals, including magnesium. So the food grown in them is mineral-poor, too. That means that foods we generally think of as “magnesium-rich,” like leafy greens, nuts, seeds and whole grains, aren’t quite so rich anymore. Food processing can further strip away vital minerals and other nutrients.
JS: So even if they’re not what they used to be, are there still magnesium-rich foods you’d recommend we try to consume regularly?
ZR: Magnesium is found in legumes, whole grains, vegetables (especially broccoli, squash and green leafy vegetables), seeds and nuts – especially almonds. It’s the central element of chlorophyll, which gives plants their green colour. So if it’s green, it’s probably a good magnesium source.
JS: What are some of the main signs or symptoms that might indicate a magnesium deficiency?
ZR: Some tell-tale signs include eyelid or muscle twitching, muscle cramps, menstrual cramps, high blood pressure and fatigue, to name just a few. Chronic low intake and impaired absorption of magnesium are associated with diseases such as osteoporosis, hypertension, atherosclerotic vascular disease, cardiomyopathy, diabetes and stroke.
JS: What would you say are the main benefits of increasing our magnesium intake?
ZR: Again, because magnesium is involved in so many bodily functions and systems, there are literally hundreds of potential benefits to getting optimal amounts. Some of the most important to mention might be improvements for anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, leg cramps, kidney stones, migraine headaches, osteoporosis, PMS, restless leg syndrome and the prevention for hearing loss.
JS: What about bone health along with calcium?
ZR: Absolutely. Magnesium is required in order to activate vitamin D, which allows the intestines to properly absorb calcium.
JS: It’s difficult to get therapeutic doses of magnesium from food alone, so what should we be looking for in a magnesium supplement?
ZR: That’s a hard question to answer, because there are many forms now available on the shelves of natural food stores, and each has its purpose. Magnesium citrate is generally well absorbed, but may have some laxative effect at higher doses. Magnesium glycinate or bisglycinate, on the other hand, is even better absorbed for most magnesium benefits and produces a minimal laxative effect. Magnesium malate works well for people with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue. Just recently there’s a new form on the market called magnesium L-threonate, which is being studied for protecting the aging brain. I recommend the Naka Pro brand.
JS: Do you mean protection from Alzheimer’s and dementia?
ZR: Maybe. Researchers at MIT have determined that magnesium plays a vital role in protecting the aging brain’s structure and function. It’s actually been found to help repair damaged synapses. If synapses are damaged, information cannot be transmitted and memory and other nerve functions are interrupted. This is one way memory loss occurs in Alzheimer’s disease and other brain diseases. Most magnesium supplements don’t deliver enough of the mineral to the brain. But magnesium L-threonate not only absorbs very well from the GI tract, it’s also able to concentrate in high levels in the brain.
JS: This sounds very promising!
ZR: These first findings were with animals and human studies are now underway. Magnesium L-threonate improved memory in both young and old animals, but the improvement was significantly more pronounced in the older animals.
JS: It sounds as though we should all be getting more magnesium. But is there anyone who shouldn’t be supplementing?
ZR: Magnesium is very safe and typical daily doses range from 150 to 300 milligrams. It can interfere with some prescription medications, so it’s best to check with a pharmacist for guidance and, as a general rule, separate doses of drugs from other supplements by at least a few hours.