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The Essential Nutrient Magnesium – Key to Mitochondrial ATP Production and Much More

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"While it was estimated in 1968 that magnesium was a required cofactor for over 300 enzyme systems, that number is now more reliably estimated at 700 to 800.”

Magnesium is an essential nutrient for all living things.

• In plants it holds the central position in the all-important chlorophyll molecule which transforms sunlight’s energy into life’s form of chemical-energy, ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

• Along with calcium and phosphorus, magnesium (Mg) is considered a major element in human nutrition, as opposed to the trace elements such as iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), chromium (Cr), selenium (Se), etc., and is one of the four electrolytes along with calcium (Ca), sodium (Na), and potassium (K). [Electrolytes are minerals in body fluids that carry an electrical charge and conduct electrical impulses in the body. A balance is essential to control the amount of water in the body, blood acidity, muscle action, and more.]

Biochemically, a large part of magnesium’s essentiality comes from its combination with ATP – life’s high energy chemical battery.

This Mg-ATP complex is required for the cells’ energy-producing structures (mitochondria) to produce ATP; the breakdown of food energy (glucose and fat) into water, carbon dioxide and energy as ATP.

When glucose and/or fatty acids are metabolized, the end products are ATP, water, and carbon dioxide. We breathe out the carbon dioxide. The water goes into our system, as we are 90+% water.

The metabolism requires oxygen, which we breathe in; protein synthesis for growth and enzyme production; DNA replication, and RNA synthesis. While it was estimated in 1968 that magnesium was a required cofactor for over 300 enzyme systems, that number is now more reliably estimated at 700 to 800.

At the cellular level, magnesium joins with the other electrolyte ions in a cell-controlling dance.

These ions are carefully and meticulously separated in living cells:

• Calcium and sodium ions, for the most part, are kept outside cells,

• While magnesium and potassium ions are kept mainly inside cells.

Energy in the form of the Mg-ATP complex is necessary to maintain this ionic “packaging” as well as to alter it in a regulated way when warranted. Magnesium has been called “nature’s physiological calcium channel blocker.” [Blocking calcium from getting inside cells.]

When this “blocker” function is breached or when magnesium becomes depleted within the cell from its normal level, calcium rises inside the cell. This altered state results in a change in the intracellular Mg:Ca ratio, which appears to have an impact on cell function.

For example, a lower-than-normal Mg:Ca ratio:

• In blood vessel smooth muscle cells – causes vasoconstriction, arterial stiffness, and/or hypertension;

• In heart cells – causes enlargement (hypertrophy);

• In blood platelet cells – causes increased aggregation, stickiness and clotting;

• Makes fat and skeletal muscle cells less able to respond to insulin (insulin resistance);

• Causes pancreatic beta cells to produce more insulin, causing hyperinsulinemia [which may lead to hypoglycemia and sodium retention/hypertension];

• Increases nerve cell activity as well as the response of endocrine tissues.

In a life-threatening crisis, such reactions are warranted, necessary, and can be life-saving as they allow an animal to perform with unusual strength and speed. Indeed, all these cellular responses to a low Mg:Ca cellular ratio can be aspects of the stress response or “fight-or-flight” reaction.

In healthy individuals, when the stress or crisis is over, magnesium increases inside cells to its normal level, its calcium blocker function is restored, calcium moves back outside cells, reestablishing normal electrolyte “packaging,” and the stress response subsides.

However, when these responses to a lower-than-normal Mg:Ca ratio are a result of a magnesium nutritional deficiency state, some predictable disease states can occur.

These include:

1. Cardiovascular Diseases. All the usual markers (or risk factors) for heart disease such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high total cholesterol, low HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, high LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, high homocysteine, and high C-reactive protein, can be the result of low magnesium status.

Recent studies show that high anxiety and depression (symptoms of human magnesium deficiency) can predict heart disease even more than the traditional risk factors.

2. Hypertension. Chronic high blood pressure (essential hypertension) can be caused both directly and indirectly by a magnesium deficiency.

• Low magnesium:high calcium in blood vessel muscle cells cause them to contract, which results in a hypertensive state.

• In addition, a low cellular magnesium impedes a healthy sodium to potassium ratio, which is necessary for normal blood pressure.

3. Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is seen as part of a syndrome, Syndrome X or metabolic syndrome, which includes hypertension, obesity, unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, and high blood sugar coupled with cells’ inability to properly respond to insulin (insulin resistance).

These, with the exception of obesity, have been linked to low Mg:Ca cellular ratio, and the type of obesity most predictive of this syndrome, abdominal obesity, has been shown to be assuaged with a long term diet containing high magnesium foods and a regime of regular exercise.

4. Osteoporosis. Many people take calcium supplements to prevent depletion of minerals from bone that can lead to osteoporosis. To properly use this extra calcium, a body needs to have a healthy magnesium status.

If magnesium is low, extra calcium can increase the severity of the magnesium deficiency, which causes improper calcium metabolism as one of its symptoms. One of the first signs of a magnesium deficit can be low blood calcium.

Other disease states that may be associated with a magnesium deficiency include:

• Asthma,

• PMS,

• Pregnancy induced hypertension,

• Migraine headache due to constriction of blood vessels in the head,

• Depression,

• High anxiety.

Some of the initial problems seen in people who have or are developing magnesium deficiency are neuromuscular.

These are presumably due to the abnormal muscular contraction-nerve firing states brought on by a low Mg:Ca cellular ratio, which can be a result of:

• Chronic low magnesium intake,

• Very high calcium intake,

• Or a combination of the two.

Quantifying human magnesium status and the degree of magnesium deficiency in populations of the industrialized world is difficult given the current lack of a widespread biomarker. Commonly available tests of serum and red blood cell magnesium have not reliably been associated with overall nutritional magnesium status. [As Dr. Paul Cheney has suggested, blood tests don't tell the whole Mg story, because they are not sensitive to intra-cellular magnesium.]

Most health professionals are taught and many believe that magnesium deficiency is rare, occurring mainly in alcoholism or with general malnutrition, and that most diets give a person enough magnesium given that magnesium is widespread in foods.

The research does not support this widespread view.

Diets of the industrialized world can be quite low in magnesium. [The large majority of Americans (65%) get much less magnesium than is required for health, according to a national USDA survey.]

Refined grains and refined sugar are among the lowest foods in Mg content, so when these are high in the diet, Mg intake can be quite low. (See chart indicating the magnesium content of common foods – from cocoa, highest, to white flour products & sugar, lowest.)

Given the wide use of refined sugar and flour in processed foods, the widespread use of calcium supplements, and the increased practice of fortifying foods with calcium, daily magnesium supplements can be protective. Magnesium supplements can be found in various forms such as inorganic MgO and MgCl2, in tablets and capsules and in a better-absorbed organic form such as water soluble Magnesium Citrate.

Note: Individuals with kidney disease (renal failure) must not take any magnesium supplements.

* This article is reproduced with kind permission from Peter Gillham’s Natural Vitality website. Peter Gillham is a clinical nutritionist, chemist, and pioneer in magnesium research. Dr. Andrea Rosanoff is directing scholar for the Hawaii-based Center for Magnesium Education & Research, and coauthor of the book titled The Magnesium Factor.

Note: this information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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