The Heart Disease Danger You’ve Never Heard Of

The connection between low magnesium and heart disease is one of the best-kept secrets in health research.

It was way back in 1957 that a study gave us evidence that low levels might cause cardiovascular problems, and research has percolated ever since. We now know that not having enough of this mineral can cause:

-       high cholesterol

-       plaque build-up in the arteries

-       thickening of artery walls

-       type 2 diabetes

-       high blood pressure

There’s no dispute about any of this — and any researcher would say that all of the above raise the risk of heart disease. But over the last many years, the focus in heart disease prevention has been on everything but low magnesium. It’s time for that to change.

Last year, the Japanese Collaborative Cohort Study published data collected over the course of almost 15 years on more than 58,000 Japanese between the ages of 40 and 79. The scientists found that people with high levels of magnesium were 50% less likely to have a fatal heart attack than the people in the study whose levels were low. This adds to the data that supports the important connection between magnesium and heart health.

There’s another reason for us to get more magnesium: Our health depends on magnesium and calcium being in balance in our bodies. We should consume these in a 1:1 ratio, but public-health recommendations to get calcium for our bones has generally ignored the need for magnesium. That may be why an increased intake of calcium has been found to increase the risk of heart disease.

Unfortunately, most of us get way too little magnesium in our diets. One reason: Processed foods contain little to none! The recommended daily intake of magnesium is 400 mgs. Good sources include nuts, seeds, beans and organically grown vegetables. (A Mediterranean diet provides plenty of magnesium in heart-healthy whole foods.) It is always best to get it from food, but if you cannot get enough in your diet, you may need to take a magnesium supplement.

The data on the need for adequate magnesium is compelling. But whether you are convinced by the data or not, the key for health is to eat a balanced diet. I suggest that in addition to lean protein, fruit and whole grains, you eat plenty of vegetables (preferably organic), healthy nuts in moderation (almonds are the nuts with the most magnesium) and beans. It just makes sense! You might find that your blood pressure as well as your cholesterol goes down and that you feel better overall.

Magnesium seems like such a small thing, but as basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”



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Robin Miller

Dr. Robin Miller, Sharecare Editorial Advisory Board Member, currently practices Internal Medicine and serves as the medical director of Triune Integrative Medicine, a highly innovative Integrative Medicine clinic in Medford, Oregon. She has produced the award-winning health series, “Is there a Doctor in the House,” which is shown nationwide on the GE-sponsored Patient Channel, and is the author of "Kids Ask the Doctor" and the co-author of “The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife and Beyond: A No-Nonsense Approach to Staying Healthy after 50".

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