Magnesium and Rodney Dangerfield

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

September 2009

Magnesium, like Rodney, don't get no respect. Every cell in the body requires this mineral but few people know much about it. Magnesium deficiency would have been nonexistent in the Stone Age but modern life has changed that. The emergence of obesity and type 2 diabetes and the aging of our population have raised its profile in medical circles.

Government-sponsored surveys reveal that about two-thirds of Americans take in less than the recommended daily amount of magnesium. Deficiency of this important nutrient contributes to inflammation of the heart and blood vessels, poor immunity, low resistance to infection and to osteoporosis. Older persons become deficient in magnesium because they often have a poor diet, are more likely to be overweight, have type 2 diabetes, and to be on prescription medications. Each of these factors contributes to low magnesium levels.

Magnesium deficiency should be rare, considering that it's abundant in foods such as whole grains, nuts, beans and green, leafy vegetables as well as in over-the counter medications such as antacids and laxatives. It's a good example of the interaction of diet, lifestyle and disease.

The typical American diet is awful, high in refined sugar and flour and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The inappropriate diet leads to obesity and type 2 diabetes and both conditions are associated with magnesium deficiency. Lack of magnesium may actually increase the severity of type 2 diabetes.

Saturated fat doesn't just contribute to obesity; it makes it even harder for the body to absorb what little magnesium is in the diet. It's no wonder that the last years of life are burdened by chronic diseases that didn't exist a few decades ago. Magnesium isn't the only factor but it's an important one.

It doesn't take much to boost dietary magnesium. Replace refined flour and sugar with whole grains. Increase your intake of green leafy vegetables and enjoy an occasional avocado and a handful of nuts. Instead of several servings of rice, potatoes or pasta each week, try beans or spinach. A couple of ounces of dark chocolate provide nearly a quarter of the daily requirement. Isn't that good news!

They didn't have chocolate back in the Stone Age but they didn't have junk food, either. And it's a good bet that none of those ancestors of yours were deficient in magnesium. Following their example isn't so hard.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.