A Magnesium Primer – Part 1

Posted on February 20, 2013 by Morley Robbins

“Living without adequate levels of Magnesium is like trying to operate a machine with the power off.” ~ Christiane Northrup, MD

“Without enough Magnesium, cells simply don’t work.” ~ Lawrence M. Resnick, MD (Former Prof. of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical School)

Given the quotations above, as well as the many studies that prove how central Magnesium (Mg) is to our health and well-being, you’d think that all doctors would be telling their patients about this amazing nutrient, as well as testing them to determine if they are Magnesium-deficient. If they did, they would soon find that nearly all of their patients are, because Magnesium deficiency is epidemic today, and a root cause of so many of the serious diseases that comprise our nation’s health crisis. Sadly, very few doctors have been trained in Magnesium metabolism and you won’t hear about Magnesium on the news, either.
I’m on a mission to change that.

Let’s take a look at what Magnesium is and why I consider it to be the key to solving our most serious health problems. First, a few facts:

  • Magnesium is named after the ancient Greek city Magnesia, which was famed for its fertile cropland. It was later discovered that the cropland contained large deposits of Magnesium carbonate which were responsible for the highly regarded produce it yielded year after year.
  • Magnesium is sometimes referred to as the “iron of the plant world,” for just as iron is found in hemoglobin, a primary component of human blood, Magnesium is a primary element of the central atom that makes up chlorophyll, the “blood” of plants. In fact the only chemical difference between human blood and chlorophyll is that blood contains iron, while chlorophyll contains Magnesium. All of the other elements that comprise both substances are essentially the same.
  • Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, but the second most abundant mineral inside each of our cells.
  • For the past four decades, an average of 2,000 scientific studies per year about the health benefits of Magnesium have been published in medical journals around the globe. Sadly, however, for the most part, these studies continue to go unnoticed by the medical community, given their primary focus on the use of pharmaceutical drugs to manage their patients’ symptoms.
  • Most recently, a breakthrough study published at the end of 2012 reported that Magnesium binding sites have been detected on 3,751 human proteins. This finding proves that Magnesium’s role in maintaining health and preventing disease is far greater than previously thought. (1)
  • Yet, despite its metabolic and regulatory importance, at least 80 percent of all Americans unknowingly suffer from chronic Magnesium deficiency. (And that’s a conservative estimate, in my opinion!)
    Now let’s look at some of the numerous important roles Magnesium plays in the body.

This mighty mineral, primarily acting within our cells, is responsible for the proper functioning of approximately 80 percent of the body’s metabolic processes. It does this by activating more than a thousand (at least 1,300 and very likely many more) metabolic pathways in the body, including those responsible for protein, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism. Magnesium also plays a vital role in energy metabolism because it is essential for the production and functioning of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the cells. Magnesium is essential for the production and storage of energy inside each of our 100 trillion cells. That’s a lot of ATP, which requires a lot of Magnesium, as well.

Mg-ATP is the primary fuel for your cells’ mitochondria, which the energy factories inside our body’s cells. Magnesium is also the essential nutrient for muscles, playing a vital role in their proper functioning and, most importantly, their relaxation. As Mildred S. Seelig, MD, the worlds authority on Magnesium once noted, “Magnesium is the mineral of motion,” meaning that without it your muscles literally could not operate the way nature intended.

Given the above roles and Mg-related activities, it may come as no surprise that Magnesium is also absolutely vital for proper heart function. It plays a recognized role in protecting against heart disease, including heart attacks, stroke and hypertension (high blood pressure), which is clearly documented in hundreds of research studies each and every year. This fact seems to be completely unknown to cardiologists, much to the detriment of their patients, and helps to explain why heart disease remains so prevalent in our society—the number one cause of death in America for the past 90 years. A comprehensive meta-analysis published in 2012 by the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition brought this point home. The analysis examined previous studies involving more than 241,000 participants and found a “statistically significant inverse association between Magnesium intake and risk of stroke.” In other words, the less Magnesium in our body, the greater the risk for stroke. (2)

Additional research has also shown that patients with low Magnesium levels have a higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to patients with higher Magnesium levels. Such studies are hardly surprising once you begin to read through the extensive database of research on Magnesium, as I continue to do. For example, researchers in Finland reported more than 20 years ago that low Magnesium levels was predictive of death by heart attack, as well as overall mortality, up to five years before the deaths occurred. (3)

The potential life-saving benefits that Magnesium offers the heart are a result of its multiple mechanisms of action. Research shows that it acts as a natural calcium channel blocker, but without any of the health risks posed by calcium channel blocker drugs (4), and also helps to prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots (5). Adequate levels of Magnesium also help to regulate blood pressure levels and prevent high blood pressure (6), and to protect against spasms in the arteries. And, of course, its role in Mg-ATP production is also essential for protecting the heart, since heart muscle cells contain very high concentrations of mitochondria that depend on ATP to do their extraordinary work of the Heart.
What follows are some of the other important functions Magnesium performs:

  • Dilates blood vessels, making it easier for the heart to pump blood and more effectively transmit nutrients and oxygen to the body’s cells, tissues and organs.
  • Acts as a “gatekeeper” for the cells by modulating the electrical potential across cell membranes, allowing nutrients to enter into cells and cellular waste products to be excreted. One of the important ways in which Magnesium helps to accomplish this task is by regulating the cells’ sodium/potassium pump, an active transport system that is responsible for ensuring that cells contain relatively high concentrations of potassium ions but low concentrations of sodium ions. (When this ratio of high potassium to low sodium ions within the cells, and high sodium to low potassium ions outside the cells is disturbed, the stage is set for disease to occur at the cellular level of the body.)
  • Enhances immune function and helps protect against infection.
  • Copies and repairs DNA (lack of Magnesium can cause genetic errors, thereby increasing the risk of cancer), and aids in proper cell division, cell maintenance and cell repair.
  • Aids in detoxification and protects against the accumulation of environmental toxins in the cells and tissues, including heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Also plays a vital role in the synthesis of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that protects against free radical damage and toxicity.
  • Helps to activate and regulate hormones, including helping to maintain proper functioning of the thyroid gland and other endocrine organs. www.ithyroid.com/magnesium.htm
  • Regulates nerve function.
  • Essential for healthy bones and teeth.
  • Prevents unhealthy calcium buildup (calcification), including inside the kidneys, thus helping to prevent the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones (the most common type).
  • Regulates blood sugar levels, helping to prevent both hypo- and hyperglycemia (low and high blood sugar).

Impressive as all of these benefits are, this article barely scratches the surface of all the important reasons why you not only need to know more about Magnesium, but, far more importantly, need to ensure that you are obtaining enough of it daily so that your body has an optimal supply of it to maintain optimal health in our ever increasingly toxic world. The first step to this, end, is to regularly consume Magnesium-rich foods, but unfortunately that is not enough. Taking a daily Magnesium supplement is also vitally important.
Next time, I’ll share with you some of the best Magnesium-rich foods you can incorporate into your diet, examine why you are almost certainly deficient in Magnesium, and discuss why neither our doctors nor our media is talking about the powerful difference Magnesium can make in your health. Stay tuned.
To your good health!
– Morley


  1. Piovesan D, et al. 3,751 Magnesium binding sites have been detected on human protein. BMC Bioinformatics. 2012; 13 Suppl 14:S10 Epub 2012 Sep 7. PMID: 23095498.
  2. Larsson S, et al. Dietary Magnesium intake and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95(2): 269-270.)
  3. Reffellman T, Ittermann T, et al. Low serum Magnesium concentrations predict cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Atherosclerosis 2011 Nov; 219(1): 280-284.
  4. Rosanoff A, Seelig MS. Comparison of mechanism and functional effects of Magnesium and statin pharmaceuticals. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):501S-505S. PMID: 15466951
  5. Sheu JR, Hsiao G, et al. Antithrombotic effects of Magnesium sulfate in in vivo experiments. Int J Hematol. 2003 May;77(4):414-9. PMID: 12774935
  6. Guerrero-Romero F, Rodríguez-Morán M. Oral Magnesium supplementation with MgCl significantly reduces blood pressure in diabetic hypertensive adults with hypomagnesaemia. J Hum Hypertens. 2009 Apr;23(4):245-51. Epub 2008 Nov 20. PMID: 19020533