Essential element for heart health

Why do elderly, fit joggers suddenly drop dead from a heart attack? Why do others who take diuretics (water pills) suffer the same fate? Or alcoholics and those with a previous myocardial infarction? Ask anyone that question and most will answer it’s due to high cholesterol and coronary attack.

But increasing evidence shows that too little magnesium (hypomagnesemia) causes cardiovascular problems in some people, while others develop hypertension. It can even precipitate irregular fluttering of the heart and sudden death.

Magnesium, the fourth most abundant of the body’s minerals, is essential to more than 300 internal processes, including heart, nerve and muscle function. Yet researchers say a low level of magnesium is the most under-diagnosed mineral deficiency in medicine.

Recommended daily allowance
The recommended daily allowance of magnesium is 350 mg (milligrams). Today, Irish people living in rural areas have the greatest consumption of magnesium, 472 mg/day. The lowest intake -in Newfoundland (189 mg/day) and in Japan (186 mg/day) – is primarily the result of decreased consumption of grain products.

But there’s also a wide sparity in the consumption of magnesium in various parts of the U.S. For instance:
· A Boston study of 955 males revealed the average daily intake of magnesium was only 262 mg.
· In Seattle, 40 women were found to consume less than 200-mg magnesium a day.
· The same low levels were found in Kentucky, Indiana and Fairbanks, Alaska.
· And researchers studying 2,300 patients at a Veterans Administration Medical Center over one year found 13 per cent had low magnesium levels.
· Other reports show that over 60 per cent of patients taking water pills have low magnesium levels.
· Another larger study, this time conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, surveyed 37,000 individuals in 48 states. It indicated only 25 per cent, many of them teenagers, had satisfactory levels of magnesium.

Athletes have low levels
Low magnesium levels are often seen in people involved in strenuous sports. For instance, U.S. gymnasts, football players, college wrestlers and female basketball players often have hypomagnesemia.

This deficiency can have an effect on athletic performance. For instance:
· Drs. L. Liu and G. Borowski reported in Sports Medicine that symptoms of spontaneous cramps and carpopedal spasms disappeared after magnesium supplementation.

The greater worry, however, is how hypomagnesemia affects the cardiovascular system.
· Researchers at New York Medical College claim that transient ischemic cerebral attacks (blackouts that last a few seconds) might be intensified by magnesium deficiency.

It’s amazing that these and other studies have largely gone unnoticed by physicians.

How it works
Low magnesium affects the vascular system in several ways. Magnesium adds oil to the cardiovascular system and, without adequate amounts of this mineral, platelets become too sticky, initiating a blood clot in coronary arteries.

But it’s the effect of low magnesium on the heart’s rhythm that can be lethal. The heart’s normal rhythm is controlled by an extremely complex enzymatic and electrical mechanism. For instance, physicians for years have been aware that patients on diuretics had to have potassium levels carefully monitored.

Doctors now know that a normal blood level of magnesium is vital to maintaining the heart’s normal beat, and that hypomagnesemia can throw the heart’s electrical system into convulsions. Doctors call this sudden spasm of the heart ventricular fibrillation, and death can strike with the speed of lightning.

Hypomagnesemia is another example of North Americans being the architects of their own misfortune. To rephrase Pogo: “We have identified the enemy and the enemy is us.”

The basic nutritional problem today is that people have been programmed to eat too many processed foods. Consider that 98.8 per cent of magnesium is lost in refining white sugar!

So how can we consume as much magnesium as the Irish? Head back to the farm. Nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, raisins, corn, potatoes, cheese, meats and dairy products are all loaded with magnesium.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker, M.D., who practises medicine at King’s College Health Centre in Toronto. He is author of the best selling book, The Healthy Barmaid.