Thursday, September 30, 2010


I'll get back to Alzheimer's Dementia and fats. But I'm left-handed, and it is more interesting for me to multitask than to stay on one topic in a particularly organized fashion. I have a right-handed accountant for that sort of thing. Ooh, a butterfly fluttered by the window! Pretty!

Ahem. Magnesium is another one of those minerals that our ancestors got lots of, but now we don't. Eaton, Eaton, and Konner figure that an average hunter-gatherer intake is 700mg daily. The RDA is 350mg, and the average US intake is 250mg (Update - these numbers are from "Primal Body, Primal Mind" page 42 - paperback version, and Gedgaudas cites the following paper as the source, but as MM rightly points out, there is no magnesium in this paper!  Sorry to mislead - I had double checked the same source for my zinc posts a few months ago and the numbers were correct, right from the paper, so I didn't bother to double check the magnesium numbers.  Oops!  Fortunately in the internet age everything is double-checked for me.  I have no clue where Nora Gedgaudas obtained the magnesium numbers for her table in the book)(1)(This is an Eaton paper before the addition of the marrow and all the organ meats into the equation, looks like, so one might think the magnesium would be even higher). Who cares? Well, your cells, for one. Magnesium is involved in a lot of cell transport activities, in addition to making energy aerobically or anaerobically. Your bones are a major reservoir for magnesium, and magnesium is the counter-ion for calcium and potassium in muscle cells, including the heart. If your magnesium is too low, your heart could go pitter-patter in some unfortunate ways (2). Ion regulation is everything with respect to how muscles contract and nerves send signals. In the brain, potassium and sodium balance each other. In the heart and other muscles, magnesium pulls some of the load.

That doesn't mean that magnesium is entirely unimportant in the brain. Au contraire! In fact, there is an intriguing article entitled Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment, published in Medical Hypothesis in 2006. Medical Hypothesis seems like a great way to get rampant speculation into the PubMed database. Fortunately, I don't need to publish in Medical Hypothesis, as I can engage in rampant speculation in my blog, readily accessible to Google. Anyway, this article was written by George and Karen Eby, who seem to run a nutrition research facility out of an office warehouse in Austin, Texas. They might sell zinc supplements for the common cold, but I haven't looked closely enough to say for sure. I must admit to being a zinc fan.

But back to magnesium! Magnesium is an old home remedy for all that ails you, including anxiety, apathy, depression, headaches, insecurity, irritability, restlessness, talkativeness, and sulkiness. In 1968, Wacker and Parisi reported that magnesium deficiency could cause depression, behavioral disturbances, headaches, muscle cramps, seizures, ataxia, psychosis, and irritability - reversible with magnesium repletion.

Stress is the bad guy here, in addition to our woeful diets. As is the case with zinc, stress causes us to waste our magnesium like crazy.

Let's look at Eby's case studies from his paper:

A 59 y/o "hypomanic-depressive male", with a long history of treatable mild depression, developed anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and insomnia after a year of extreme personal stress and crappy diet ("fast food"). Lithium and a number of antidepressants did nothing for him. 300mg magnesium glycinate (and later taurinate) was given with every meal. His sleep was immediately restored, and his anxiety and depression were greatly reduced, though he sometimes needed to wake up in the middle of the night to take a magnesium pill to keep his "feeling of wellness." A 500mg calcium pill would cause depression within one hour, extinguished by the ingestion of 400mg magnesium.

A 23 year-old woman with a previous traumatic brain injury became depressed after extreme stress with work, a diet of fast food, "constant noise," and poor academic performance. After one week of magnesium treatment, she became free of depression, and her short term memory and IQ returned.

A 35 year-old woman with a history of post-partum depression was pregnant with her fourth child. She took 200mg magnesium glycinate with each meal. She did not develop any complications of pregnancy and did not have depression with her fourth child, who was "healthy, full weight, and quiet."

A 40 year-old "irritable, anxious, extremely talkative, moderately depressed" smoking, alchohol-drinking, cocaine using male took 125mg magnesium taurinate at each meal and bedtime, and found his symptoms were gone within a week, and his cravings for tobacco, cocaine, and alcohol disappeared. His "ravenous appetite was supressed, and ... beneficial weight loss ensued."

Interesting, anyway. No one mentioned magnesium (or zinc) during my psychiatry residency, that I recall. Eby has the same questions I do - why is depression increasing? His answer is magnesium deficiency. Prior to the development of widespread grain refining capability, whole grains were a decent source of magnesium (minus all that phytic acid, of course). Average American intake in 1905 was 400mg daily, and only 1% of Americans had depression prior to the age of 75. In 1955, white bread (nearly devoid of magnesium) was the norm, and 6% of Americans had depression before the age of 24. In addition, eating too much calcium interferes with the absorption of magnesium, setting the stage for magnesium deficiency. In Paleolithic times, we drank a lot of magnesium with our natural mineral water, but modern water treatment systems tend to remove the magnesium. Go San Pellegrino!

Magnesium is not readily available in a normal multivitamin, as it is too bulky to fit into the small pills. Therefore you have to go a little out of your way to supplement. Most supplements are also magnesium oxide, which isn't biologically available to the human body. Magnesium glutamate and aspartate can worsen depression (recall that glutamate and aspartate are thought to be neurotoxic in excess). I know, nutrition can be a tricky business.

Next up will be more about the different magnesium supplements, more about magnesium and the brain, and the side effects of robust magnesium supplementation! Yee haw!


  1. Fascinating thank-you. Interesting with regards to aspartate as in the fitness industry ZMA is considered the best thing to take - Zinc and Magnesium aspartate.
    Will you be commenting on other forms in your next article, besides the ones above such as Citrate, Orotate, phosphate, Amino acid chelate etc? I'm confused about the best to both take and recommend, although Citrate is the one I like.

  2. Robb Wolf talks a little about calcium in his new book, I believe that Magnesium Oxide was the form he recommended, but I'm not 100% on that.

  3. Yes, the different formulations available for magnesium are enough to drive anyone to visit a psychiatrist. I hope to clarify it all in the next couple of posts.

  4. Interesting! I will be hanging out for the next article.

  5. Mmmm.... Magnesium - my favourite supplemental mineral! Contributor to a good nights kip, allows you to fully utilise your vitamin D, and without it - no ATP... seriously not cool when trying to power a bike through the hills for bragging rights.

    I take supplemental Mg oxide whilst Mg citrate is favoured for relief from constipation. Really looking forward to reading the next installments Emily... even if you are a bit of a left hander/right brainer! :)

  6. Awesome Post Emily! Magnesium is so important for so many bodily functions.

    People should steer clear of Magnesium Oxide because it is essentially unabsorbed by the body.[1] A chelated form, like Magnesium Citrate is much better (Natural Calm!)

    Also people should try to space there magnesium/zinc/calcium intake as all these minerals fight for absorption if taken at the same time.[2]



  7. I blogged about magnesium because it was said to help insulin sensitivity and metabolic control.

    Didn't know it would help me bridge to a break.

  8. I've been a big fan of Natural Calm every since hearing about it through one of Robb Wolf's podcasts. The Drs. Eades also devote a whole chapter of Protein Power Lifeplan to the mineral. It's that important!

  9. interesting topic for sure!
    the most effective form i know is orotate. a tiny tablet of only 25mg elementary Mg knocks me out before bed like woah! it actually states "sedative" on the bottle. the orotate part of the molecule apparently is able to transport the Mg directly onto the cell, or something like that, in contrast to other forms.
    but it's rather costly. so i usually take glycinate to keep my Mg tank full.
    btw, what are your thoughts on Mg Chloride? apparently this ought to be the most "natural" form of Mg, as this is how it appears in sea water or something? the tablet almost burns a hole into your tong tho, and it tastes like salt. good thing is, i can take it with meals without it making me sleepy.

  10. Interesting topic - hopefully you can de-mystify magnesium for those of us without an advanced degree of some sort. ;-)

    Lefties are the coolest! Everyone else is just jealous. :-) (gotta run - just saw a bird outside my window!)

  11. cool post.
    one of the things that has fascinated me since almost my first day in the hospital as a student is the phenomenon of patients having serum deficiencies of potassium and magnesium within 24 hours of hospitalization or not eating. one would think that with total body sufficiency, we would easily regulate these things. i think my residents are often more impressed by just how much supplementation is required to bring people back toward the normal range, reflecting severe deficiency (i think).
    it is pretty cool to knock out some pesky rapid afib with a slug of k or mag though.
    keep up the good work there Dr. Deans.

  12. Michael - I am sure the combination of over-using untrained type II fibres in a race and widespread magnesium deficiency is a cause of cramps in many riders.

    From Wiki...
    ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the main source of energy in cells, must be bound to a magnesium ion in order to be biologically active. What is called ATP is often actually Mg-ATP.

    No spare Mg, no active ATP. No active ATP, no release of the myofilaments during muscle contract (they require ATP to disengage, not engage for contraction). No release of the filaments = cramp!

  13. One of the major sources of minerals in the past was water. Also, since we migrated along the ocean, I wonder how much gets absorbed while swimming in the ocean? After a long afternoon in the ocean, my skin always feels incredible, and I sleep very well. I wonder if it is, in part, magnesium?

  14. off topic: hoooly crap: "Recently, other groups have reported elevated production of zonulin affecting the permeability of the blood brain barrier" combine with this: and we get the molecular explanation why gluten sensitive peeps apparently also very often have a leaky blood-brain barrier and therefore are sensitive to GABA as well.
    -> "Zonulin, with its functions in health and disease, could be the molecule of the century" *wow*

  15. That is really cool, qualia! I love finding more pieces in the big puzzle!

  16. About San pellegrino, it doesn't rank very high on the list of bottled mineral waters in terms of magnesium. Appollinaris is one of the higher ranked ones which is commonly available. I can't remember wher I saw the list, may one of the Eades books?

    About the effect of sea water...maybe there is a physiological benefit to those epsom salt bath salts?

  17. Adriana - San Pellegrino is the only mineral water at my grocery store! Dr. Eades has a post about magnesium where he mentions Appollinaris as the best. Gerolsteiner also has 2-3 times as much magnesium as San Pellegrino, but also maybe 3-4 times as much calcium (you can look on the wikipedia pages for each of them to see the actual mineral content). If I spy some Appollinaris, I will definitely snatch it up.

    I do think about Epsom salts as an interesting alternative too.

  18. Here's an article on 11 different types of magnesium:

  19. Hi Emily.

    I just discovered your blog recently, and so I know I am very late to the party. You said at the beginning of this post, "Eaton, Eaton, and Konner figure that an average hunter-gatherer intake is 700mg daily." Do you have the title of the paper? I really don't understand how they could come up with such a high number unless they think the hunter-gatherers were eating lots of nuts and beans. Maybe they just figured vast quantities of meat, or is the main source mineral water?

    I find your blog very interesting, and thanks for all the great info.

  20. Hi MM - if you click on the (1) in the post it should take you right to the full text of the Eaton paper. Main thing to remember is HGs eat a lot (3000 calories a day on average) of whole, real food, and drink, in general, only mineral water, so that adds up. Their methods are in the paper. I'm not 100% sure I would believe it right down to the last miligram, but it seems prudent to at least make the RDA of magnesium anyway.

  21. Thanks Emily. I didn't notice the (1) was actually a link. So, I downloaded the paper and searched through it. I can't find the word magnesium anywhere in the paper. It is only mentioned in this reference at the end.
    Hunt JR, Gallagher SK, Johnson LK & Lykken GI (1995): High- versus
    low-meat diets: effects on zinc absorption, iron status, and calcium,
    copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, nitrogen, phosphorus, and zinc
    balance in post menopausal women. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 62, 621±632.
    I have university access, but this paper isn't available. I understand what you're saying about whole food, and obviously the more calories one eats, the more nutrients one gets. I keep hearing that we're supposed to be consuming what seems to me a large quantity of magnesium every day, and I'm just having a hard time doing it without taking a supplement.

  22. The mg number I wrote in this post is from "primal body, primal mind" which claims it references that eaton paper - I had double checked the zinc number for an earlier post, but had not bothered to double check the magnesium. But let me look at the book again. Perhaps I missed a second reference in the book?

  23. MM - no second reference in the book. I updated my post to reflect this.

  24. I looked for a bottled water that would supply mag, but found only a few with very much and then they were difficult to get or expensive or both.

    I found a nice DIY solution (sorry for pun) that Dr. Wm. Davis (heart scan blog, track your plaque program) recommended, and others support. My version of mag water: Chill a 2 litre bottle of seltzer water (89 cents locally for store brand). Open it, pour in 4 tablespoons of milk of magnesia (mg hydroxide is the mag in it; cost of 4 tbs is about 80 cents). Close bottle and shake. 5 or 10 minutes later give it another good shake. 5 minutes later it should be clear, not cloudy, with all of the white stuff absorbed. (If the fizz was not too good in the seltzer, it may take longer to absorb or not do it completely. No real problem.) You now have magnesium bicarbonate. I mix a bit of OJ in when I drink it, looking for around 10 oz mag water a day. The liter contains 2000 mg of magnesium (4800 mg of magnesium hydroxide went in), so 10 oz should be in the area of 300mg.

    It has a very pronounced calming effect; keeps the black dog of depression far far away. Gives a nice cool, calm and collected feeling --I am not invincible, just unflappable. Performance in sports and other physical endeavors is improved (I had lots of leg cramping issues, since 1973, brought on by exercise; not entirely gone, but way better with mag water).

    There may be a placebo effect going on, a possibility I have to concede (the effect is so pronounced in anti-depressant medication studies, we should not ignore it). Indeed, the DIY aspect may bolster the placebo effect. I think the effect is real, however.

    Cost per day is 28 cents.