Magnesium and Long Life: Insights for Atrial Fibrillation Patients
by Steve S. Ryan, PhD, August 2014
If someone told you there was a magic pill you could take which would improve by 34% your chances of living a long, healthy life, wouldn’t you check it out? It’s not a pill or medication. It’s magnesium—a mineral naturally present in many foods. Magnesium is important for anyone with a high cardiovascular risk (including patients with Atrial Fibrillation).
A recently published study gives us new insights. Researchers in Spain carefully monitored the diets of 7,216 men and women between the ages of 55-80 (an age range more likely to develop A-Fib). The people in the highest third of magnesium intake (442 mg/day) were 34% less likely to have died from any cause over a five-year period. And they had a 59% reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, plus a 37% reduction in cancer mortality.
Magnesium is important for anyone with a high cardiovascular risk (including patients with Atrial Fibrillation).
Most US adults ingest only about 270 mg of magnesium a day, well below the modest magnesium RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowance) of 420 mg for adult males and 320 mg for adult female. This creates a substantial cumulative deficiency over months and years. In the above Spanish study, the highest average intake of magnesium (442 mg) was barely above the minimum RDA level for adult males. But a recommended daily dosage of magnesium is a minimum 600 mg/day, preferably 800 mg.
Minimum vs. Preferred magnesium dosage
I have written the authors of this study to see if any of their study participants were ingesting higher levels of magnesium than 442 mg/day which is barely above the US RDA. One would expect that the results for people taking more than the bare minimum of magnesium would be even better. Here’s what I asked them:
• “In the US, 442 mg/day is barely above the minimum Recommended Daily Allowance, RDA. Was any subgroup in your study ingesting 600-800 mg/day of magnesium, which is a more recommended dosage?
• Were you able to break out the results for males vs. females? The US RDA for females is 370 mg/day.”
Marta Guasch-Ferré wrote me that many individuals in her study (289) consumed more than 600 mg of magnesium/day. In this Spanish Mediterranean population, the intake of magnesium was relatively high. They ate a lot of fruits, vegetables and nuts. However, the mean intake for the whole population (men and women together) was 442 mg/d.
They also didn’t find any interactions between magnesium intake, mortality and gender.
Benefits of magnesium
The authors of this study discussed why the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) was lowered by ingesting more magnesium. “Hypertension is a strong risk factor for CVD, and it is known that magnesium can lower blood pressure. Also, magnesium intake may inhibit platelet aggregation, modulate inflammation, and improve endothelial function.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the benefits of magnesium as keeping heart rhythm steady (like antiarrhythmic A-Fib meds), maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, supporting a healthy immune system, and keeping bones strong. It’s also needed for healthy blood pressure and blood sugar management.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated that magnesium is important in the maintenance of normal bone, teeth, and protein synthesis; the reduction of tiredness and fatigue; electrolyte balance; normal energy-yielding metabolism; neurotransmission, and muscle contraction. Other studies support magnesium’s benefits for metabolic pathways, blood pressure, reducing the risk of stroke, and reducing the risk of colon cancer.
A Harvard study indicated that higher intakes of magnesium were linked with a 22% reduction in the risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD—clots, stroke).
Almost anyone reading this article should probably be taking more magnesium. Ideally you should get the magnesium you need from the food you eat. But the reality is magnesium has been depleted from our soil by over farming. You probably need some form of oral magnesium supplement.
Aim for more than the bare minimum RDA (420 mg for men, 370 mg for women). A recommended dosage is 600 mg-800 mg/day. (For example, 200 mg three times a day and 200 mg at bedtime.) But start off with very low dosages. Excess magnesium or magnesium sensitivity can cause loose stools and diarrhea which is counterproductive, because of the loss of electrolytes. It may take as long as six months to replenish your intracellular magnesium levels. (Check with your doctor. But because magnesium is a natural substance and not a medication, some US doctors won’t consider magnesium as a viable therapy.)
US consumers are waking up to the benefits of magnesium. US sales of magnesium supplements grew by 15% from 2010 to 2011.
Your doctor should be able to test you for intracellular magnesium. (Serum tests are misleading. They remain relatively stable [at about 1%], even though working intracellular magnesium levels may be low.)
A faster way to improve your magnesium levels is with a magnesium IV. Magnesium IVs are used in Europe in the ER to restore normal heart rhythm in patients with A-Fib, but not generally in the US. Dr. Julian Whitaker in Newport Beach, CA performs this therapy (www.drwhitaker.com).
Even if you don’t have A-Fib or you have been made A-Fib free by a catheter ablation, you should still probably consider increasing the amount of magnesium you are taking, through food and/or supplements.
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Last updated: Sunday, February 15, 2015