By Duane Graveline, MD, MPH
The average American consumes only 40 percent of the recommended daily allowance of magnesium. This has serious consequences for many people.
Magnesium activates 76 percent of the enzymes in the body and many of these enzymes are in the mitochondrial energy equation.
But the problem arises when the cell is low in magnesium, relative to calcium. Both are vital to cellular function. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) the "energy currency" of the cell, is magnesium dependent.
Without enough "biologically available" magnesium, the cellular calcium pump slows down. Thus, low levels of available magnesium inhibit the generation of energy. The end result is that the mitochondrion, the powerhouse of the cell and the entire body, degenerates.
Magnesium supplementation may be indicated when a specific health problem or condition causes an excessive loss of magnesium or limits magnesium absorption. It is well-known that some medicines may result in magnesium deficiency, including certain diuretics, antibiotics, and cancer drugs.
The polyuria ( passing large volumes of urine ) of poorly controlled diabetes may flush out excess magnesium. Alcoholism is often accompanied by low magnesium levels.
Studies have shown that some 50% of chronic alcoholics have low blood levels of magnesium, particularly if associated with poor nutrition and weight loss.
Calcium and potassium deficiencies are often associated with low blood levels of magnesium due to progressively altered metabolism and subtle malabsorption and enteropathy ( intestinal disease.)
Aging itself constitutes a risk factor for magnesium deficit. The 1999-2000 and 1988-94 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys suggest that older adults have lower dietary intakes of magnesium than younger adults. In addition, magnesium absorption decreases and renal excretion of magnesium increases in older adults.
Seniors are also more likely to be taking drugs that interact with magnesium. This combination of factors places older adults at risk for magnesium deficiency. It is very important for older adults to consume recommended amounts of dietary magnesium.
Dietary surveys suggest that many Americans do not consume recommended amounts of magnesium however, and there is concern about the prevalence of sub-optimal magnesium stores in the body.
For many people, dietary intake may not be high enough to maintain the ideal magnesium levels for prevention of cardiovascular, immune system and neurophysiological disorders.
Experimental and clinical electrophysiological procedures have demonstrated curious effects of magnesium deficiency on brain wave activity. The pattern is one of "diffuse irritative tracings" without focal lesions or paroxysmal discharges.
These findings have led to numerous animal studies which have confirmed that Magnesium deficiency induces comparable electrocorticographic alterations.
This effect of magnesium on brain irritation has suggested the possible relationship of blood levels of magnesium to behavioral disorders, mood changes, dementia and other cognitive dysfunction in the elderly.
It is of interest that violent, institutionalized juveniles and inmates often respond to supplemental magnesium, an observation that corresponds closely to the findings of brain excitability in magnesium deficient elderly people.
Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor
Updated December 2015