Prescription for Bad Times

Magnesium: Survival Mineral for a Stress-Filled World

by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi


These are troubling times economically. Some people may find they withstand the stress that comes with financial pressures while others have difficulty coping. But just how do you handle the news that $14.8 trillion in U.S. home mortgages are outstanding — 40% more than the entire national debt?! This is an unavoidable economic nightmare.

According to a recently published survey of 1137 employed U.S. adults (ComPsych Corp-Reuters Oct. 27, 2008), most Americans are losing sleep over news of a declining economy, increased cost of food and energy, rising unemployment, mortgage foreclosures and plunging home values. The study said 9 of 10 respondents were losing sleep over economic turmoil.

Based upon evidence published over many years, it is not surprising to learn that prolonged economic prosperity and declining unemployment, over at least a decade, is a fundamental feature of declining mortality rates. This has been the experience of most the Baby Boomers who were born after the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

The nightmare that may not go away

The opposite is true in more stressful economic times. A prolonged economic decline raises mortality rates. We may not wake up from this economic nightmare anytime soon. Professor Andrew Clare of the Cass Business School in Britain says home prices are not likely to return to peak levels till 2023. [ Oct. 15, 2008]

Regardless of whether Professor Clare is correct in his estimation of when home values will rebound, it appears many people are in for a prolonged period of economic stress. Will chronic worry induce health problems which then impair the ability to survive, economically and physically?

People often attribute a prolonged illness to a period of emotional or financial stress. There is some truth to this belief. There are physiological linkages to economic stress and unemployment evidenced by weakened immunity, sleep disturbance, and even sudden-death heart attacks.

One study shows that chronically unemployed workers exhibited lower NK (natural-killer) cell counts (a type of white blood cell that kills invading germs and cancer cells) compared to testing periods after they were employed. Employment brought about a 44—72% recovery of immune function. [Psychosomatic Medicine 69: 225—34, 2007]

In 1971 researcher M. Harvey Brenner PhD unequivocally showed declining rates of employment were followed by striking increases in heart disease mortality rates. The following chart shows declining employment produced up to a 10-fold relative increase in heart disease mortality. [Journal American Public Health Assn 61: 606—11, 1971; International Journal Epidemiology 34: 1214—21, 2005]

Dr. Brenner has also conducted studies showing that in a declining economy where unemployment rates are high, a segment of people may reach for alcoholic spirits to deal with anxiety. In good economic times, wine and beer consumption is higher. [The American Journal of Public Health December 1975, Vol. 65. No. 12]

To make matters worse, not only do people under economic stress sometimes turn to over-consumption of alcohol, alcohol itself depletes the body of magnesium, an essential mineral the body needs to deal with mental or emotional stress. [Magnesium Trace Elements 10: 263—68, 1991—92]

A circuitous syndrome

The vicious circle of economic stress, lack of sleep, diminished immunity and magnesium depletion is evident upon an examination of the medical literature.

  • Animals placed on a magnesium deficient diet will commonly develop disorganized sleep and periods of wakefulness. [Neuropsychobiology 27: 237—45, 1993]
  • Sleep problems occur more frequently as adults age, making it increasingly difficult to deal with stress. Studies show magnesium supplementation partially reverses age-related sleep abnormalities. [Pharmacopsychiatry 35: 135—43, 2002]
  • Chronic mental or physical stress may serve as a trigger for a heart attack or a stroke. A study of college students who were sleep deprived while studying for final exams found that stress cut the concentration of magnesium in red blood cells in half and impaired the ability of blood vessels to widen (dilate) to control blood pressure. [Clinical Cardiology 27: 223—27, 2004]
  • Lack of sleep can lead to chronic fatigue which is associated with sudden-death heart attack. Chronically sleep-deprived adults commonly develop magnesium shortages which are also associated with a tendency for blood cells to clot, which is what causes strokes and heart attacks. [Clinical Cardiology 20: 265—68, 1997]

Magnesium to the rescue

Magnesium levels can often define how the human body responds to stress. Over a decade ago Dr. Mildred Seelig described how stress triggers release of hormones from the adrenal glands that liberate stored fats and sugars into the blood circulation. Higher-than-normal circulating levels of cholesterol and blood sugar are characteristic of chronically-stressed modern humans.

Dr. Seelig noted that high intake of fat and calcium (western diets are rich in dairy calcium) intensifies magnesium deficiency, especially under stress. Ditto for birth control pills, estrogen replacement or water pills (diuretics). A high calcium/low magnesium state increases the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands, which further depletes magnesium from the heart muscle and favors the development of blood clots which cause sudden mortal heart attacks. [Journal American College Nutrition 13: 429—46, 1994]

Americans typically consume 3-to-5 times more calcium (800—1200 milligrams) than magnesium (175—250 milligrams). While green leafy vegetables, chocolate and nuts provide magnesium, the diet cannot easily make up for this shortage.

Magnesium supplementation in humans has been reported to reduce the occurrence of irregular heart beat, heart pain, nervousness, sleep disorders and irritability. [Annals Academy Medicine Stetin (Poland) 2002; 48:85—97]

Magnesium supplementation in the form of magnesium taurate or glycinate has been shown to improve cases of anxiety, insomnia, fatigue and even mental depression. [Medical Hypotheses 67: 362—70, 2006]

Which form of magnesium is best?

Magnesium oxide is the most common and economical form of magnesium sold as a dietary supplement but only about 4% of magnesium oxide is absorbed and it will not raise blood levels. [Magnesium Research 14: 257—62] It is a wonder why mag oxide is even sold in stores. Magnesium taurate, glycinate, citrate, gluconate are better absorbed forms. [Magnesium Research 18: 215—23, 2005] Magnesium citrate does not need stomach acid for absorption and therefore can be taken in between meals or at bedtime and serves as an excellent alkalinizer for adults who experience acid heartburn at bedtime. [Magnesium Research 16:183—91, 2003]

Common magnesium dosage for adults is 200—400 milligrams per day. Taking too much magnesium will induce loose stool. Vitamin C, vitamin B5, folic acid, fish oil and the amino acid taurine are other good anti-stress companions with magnesium. Vitamin D and vitamin B6 improve utilization of magnesium.

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