Magnesium: The Smart Nutrient

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Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN

Asthma is the epidemic in our time. Over fifteen million Americans, for example, now suffer from this devastating condition, and it is the primary cause of hospitalisation in children. We spend more than US$6 billion a year on asthma treatment and our solution so far has been the use of potent and sometimes harmful drugs, along with minimal exposure to allergens when possible.

Several studies show that magnesium is a key mineral in treating asthma. A European study found that magnesium diminishes the ‘bursting’ of inflammatory white blood cells [WBCs] that often occurs in asthma and begins a cascade of reactions that result in wheezing and rawness. A study of asthmatic children treated with intravenous [IV] magnesium showed that this mineral alone improved lung function; another study of IV magnesium in adults found that the mineral dramatically reduced hospitalisations.

Is it really possible that something as simple and abundant as magnesium might arrest devastating asthma symptoms? I take it myself for my own asthma, and it has helped tremendously. I’ve also seen it work in my practice again and again. Magnesium, along with fish oils and other herbs and nutrients, is a mainstay of my natural approach to reversing asthma. Every asthmatic patient of mine takes oral magnesium.

How Does It Work? 

Magnesium relaxes the bronchial muscles and prevents them from overreacting to allergic stimuli. It also seems to quench or calm the allergic response. In a sense, magnesium’s effect is not that different than bronchodilators and steroids, but instead of causing side-effects, like dry mouth and nervousness, magnesium leaves the patient in a calm state of well-being.

Andrew Jenkins was an irrepressibly buoyant 6-year-old boy when he first came to see me. He had been to the emergency room [ER] four times in the past year because of his asthma. Like most kids, his favourite foods were pizza, hamburgers, and ice-cream. He was an extremely finicky eater who wouldn’t go near a vegetable. Andrew was a smart young boy, however, and his condition was causing him great misery. Medications made him shaky; days came when he couldn’t play with his friends, and, worse yet, there were the constant visits to the ER with the dreaded injections, poking, and prodding that both parents and child hated.

Although it’s true that children who don’t like vegetables usually have a higher aversion to pills than normal, we were able to start him on 90mg of magnesium, 200mg of vitamin C [a natural antihistamine and free radical quencher], one teaspoon of flaxseed oil [to provide important fatty acids that most asthmatics lack], and 50mcg of selenium [a building block for glutathione reductase, the body’s premier detoxifying enzyme], all to be taken twice a day. You may be surprised that a young boy may need help in detoxifying, but any chronic disease creates free radical damage and inflammation that stresses the body’s detoxification system.

I gave Andrew a pulmonary function test, which was critical to see if his airways were obstructed.  Another common way for testing breathing capacity is for patients to blow into a tube called a peak flow meter, which registers how forcefully the air is blown out of their lungs. Good lung function should register at least 80 per cent on a pulmonary function test, but Andrew’s numbers were astonishingly low. One test registered below 50 per cent of normal function. He began his nutritional and medical treatments, and when he returned, we redid the tests. The percentages had doubled. His symptoms improved, but on questioning his mother, I learned she had only been able to keep him on the magnesium [180mg a day] and the diet. It took some extra coaxing to get him to comply with the entire programme.

In the three years that I’ve treated him, he’s had only one visit to the emergency room, compared with the four hospitalisations the year before he came to see me. Today, he’s a healthy young boy coping with his asthma. Although his improvement may seem hard to believe, research studies confirm my experience with children. In a study conducted at the University of Florida, six severely asthmatic children who were given an infusion of magnesium sulphate all showed sustained clinical improvement afterward. These children had not responded to steroids, bronchodilator therapy, or other drugs.

Whether magnesium is given to children, or adults, suffering from asthma, it is one of the most effective and natural aids available.

Can Magnesium Keep Diabetes Under Control? 

A Gallup survey of five hundred adults with diabetes reported that 83 per cent consumed insufficient magnesium from foods. Both type-1 and type-2 diabetics are susceptible to magnesium depletion, but type-2 patients are at a greater risk. Magnesium depletion is a common but sometimes unnoticed problem in diabetic patients, damaging their heart function and glucose control.

Magnesium deficiency is the most common disturbance in mineral metabolism observed in insulin-dependent diabetics. The body needs magnesium to create insulin naturally, and studies have shown that insulin resistance is definitely connected with magnesium depletion. A Viennese study found that low magnesium actually contributes to insulin resistance, and there was a marked improvement in the control of diabetes when magnesium was added to the diet.

Research indicates that raising the low magnesium levels in diabetic patients improves cardiovascular function and glucose control. Another example: the health of my patient George, who suffered from hypertension and diabetes, improved markedly with the addition of magnesium. Although magnesium cannot ‘eliminate’ diabetes, it can help enhance insulin function, thereby preventing, or warding off, many of the serious complications associated with this illness, such as blood vessel damage.

Magnesium & You

Magnesium is one of the most important healing minerals in the body. It can help prevent some of the most serious ailments we face: heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. It can also treat less serious but nonetheless frustrating chronic conditions such as fatigue, mitral valve prolapse, muscle aches and spasms.

Now that you know that magnesium is just as important as vitamin C or vitamin E, you can add it to your diet, through foods and supplements.

Magnesium-rich foods are available at your local health food store and at the corner grocery. Rich food sources of magnesium include wheat germ, wheat bran, nuts, soybeans, whole grain oats, barley, corn, fish, and various green leafy vegetables. Bottled mineral water also contains magnesium. And, for those of us who need extra magnesium in addition to our diet — perhaps, because of an inherited risk for heart disease, or diabetes — magnesium supplements are easily available at your health food store. I recommend magnesium aspartate, which is easily absorbed, or citrate, which is the least expensive type of magnesium available. For the average individual, I would recommend between 300mg-500mg daily. For serious conditions like heart disease, or diabetes, higher doses may be recommended; however, magnesium can trigger diarrhoea. Higher doses should be monitored by a knowledgeable physician.

Even after all my experience with magnesium’s healing powers and the several patients I’ve seen it help, I sometimes find myself amazed to think that such a simple mineral could help in such a wide range of health problems. Sometimes, the simplest cures are the best.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEIN, DO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing Asthma, Your Asthma-Free Child, The Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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