Researchers have discovered new functions of magnesium in human health, writes dietician Dr Ingrid van Heerden. People using magnesium supplements have lower blood pressure, “safer” blood cholesterol levels thus a lower risk for heart disease.
In the first of this series of articles we discussed some of the important roles that magnesium plays in health, disease prevention, and possibly in boosting athletic performance. Magnesium deficiencies may be more common than we think, because South Africa has many regions where the magnesium content of the soil and drinking water is very low.
A research study conducted in Japan showed that when healthy older people were either given magnesium supplements (400 to 550 mg per day) or no supplement, the group receiving the magnesium had:
- significantly lower blood pressure levels
- improved removal of sodium via the kidneys
- lowered ‘bad’ blood cholesterol levels and raised ‘good’ blood cholesterol levels
The group of subjects who did not receive any additional magnesium did not experience any of these positive results.
A new solution for hypertension
High blood pressure or hypertension is one of the most common diseases in the modern world and it is especially common in South Africa among our black population. Until now, we could only advise patients with hypertension to cut down on their salt intake, but now with these new findings, we can also prescribe additional magnesium for the treatment of hypertension.
Not only will the extra magnesium lower blood pressure, but it also seems to help the body get rid of excess sodium through the kidneys.
Magnesium and blood cholesterol
The news that magnesium can lower ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol and increase ‘good’ or HDL cholesterol in the blood, is also good.
People who tend to develop heart attacks have higher levels of so-called LDL cholesterol and lower levels of HDL cholesterol in their blood.
If magnesium is able to lower the ‘bad’ and increase the ‘good’ cholesterol fractions in the blood, then magnesium is similar to many of the cholesterol-lowering drugs that are prescribed to heart patients. Magnesium is, however, a much cheaper option and may also have fewer side-effects.
How much Magnesium do we need?
In view of these research results and the fact that South Africa has many regions which are magnesium deficient, I would suggest that anyone with high blood pressure or increased blood cholesterol levels should consider increasing their intake of magnesium.
Try taking a supplement of 400 mg a day, but always discuss this with your doctor first.
Remember what I said last week: People who take so-called ACE-inhibitors for the treatment of high blood pressure should not take magnesium supplements. ACE-inhibitor medications tend to concentrate magnesium in the body and by taking additional magnesium you could develop problems. Discuss taking magnesium supplements with your doctor if you are in any doubt.
The solution to SA’s hypertension crisis?
Magnesium may well be the solution to South Africa’s ever increasing hypertension crisis.
As more and more rural people move to our cities and adopt a western lifestyle, their intake of magnesium is decreasing drastically. In rural areas the basic diet is rich in magnesium because rural people tend to eat mainly plant foods (cereals, vegetables, roots and fruit). When they become urbanised, this basically healthy diet is exchanged for fast fatty foods with the emphasis on meat, fat and salt-rich dishes, which are not good sources of magnesium.
I am convinced that this changeover from a rural, magnesium-rich diet to a westernised, low-magnesium diet which also have a high sodium content, is one of the reasons why our black population is so susceptible to hypertension.
On the one hand we need to encourage everyone in this country to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and unprocessed cereals (these foods are still the best sources of magnesium and other protective nutrients like antioxidants and bioflavonoids) and on the other hand, it may be a good idea for people with hypertension to take a magnesium supplement (provided they have their doctor’s approval). - (Dr I V van Heerden, DietDoc, February 2007)
Any questions? Ask DietDoc