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Doctor’s Health Advice

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Magnesium is important for cardiovascular health

Magnesium is an essential element (mineral) that is necessary for health. We cannot live without magnesium, and unfortunately it is estimated that many people are not consuming enough magnesium to maintain a healthy level.  In fact, the recommended daily intake is 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women.  Because the soil where food is grown has become increasingly depleted of minerals and the processing of food further reduces the amount of nutritional content in food, particularly magnesium, a high-quality dietary supplement is likely warranted for many people, especially if they are already faced with a health challenge.

While you may know that magnesium is particularly important for the brain, bones, and muscles, we are going to focus on its importance for cardiovascular health in this article. Cardiovascular disease continues to be the number one worldwide killer, and a state of magnesium deficiency is likely a contributor to this statistic.  We will take a look at several roles that magnesium plays in keeping us heart healthy, so that you are clear about its importance in avoiding an early death or disability due to at least partially lacking enough magnesium in the diet.

At a very basic level, magnesium is intimately involved in the synthesis and repair of our DNA, in the synthesis of protein, in the regulation of the sodium-potassium pump, which is like the electrical spark for each of our cells, in over 600 enzymatic processes, and in creating ATP, or cellular energy, within our cells. Thus, magnesium plays a role in every cell.  As you move up the line from our DNA to our cells to our organs, magnesium is intimately vital.

Specifically related to the heart, magnesium is involved in metabolic activity of the myocardium (heart muscle), cardiac output, homeostasis of calcium, vascular tone, and peripheral vascular resistance. Magnesium is able to influence all of these functions through its anti-inflammatory and vasodilatory effects, by regulating the electrical status of the myocardium through ion channels in the heart’s cells, and by modulating calcium’s movement through cells to normalize the contractility of the heart muscle.

Scientists have shown in both human and animal studies that magnesium has a significant vasodilatory effect, meaning that it promotes blood flow. Although the animal studies show that magnesium affects nitric oxide (another vasodilator) synthesis, this does not appear to be the case in humans.  A shortage of magnesium is known to be related to greater oxidative stress in our endothelium, which is the very thin lining in all of our blood vessels.  Keeping the endothelium healthy is crucial to our overall health, as blood needs to pass through the vessels without blockage or resistance.  Oxidative stress, with a subsequent increase in reactive oxygen species, can be problematic for and damaging to the endothelium over time.  Low magnesium combined with more oxidative stress results in permanent inflammation, which activates all types of proteins and genes that may ultimately lead to atherosclerosis, vascular resistance, and thrombosis.  Thus, magnesium plays a crucial role in keeping our vascular system free from oxidative stress and ultimately inflammation that may lead to larger consequences over time that we eventually recognize clinically as cardiovascular disease.

For persons who already have a problem, like coronary artery disease, some research suggests that increasing the consumption of magnesium can help to reverse some of the biomarkers of this disease. For example, magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve the lipid profile, lessen the number of free oxygen radicals, enhance endothelial function, prevent blood clotting and thrombosis by decreasing platelet aggregation, and increase maximal oxygen uptake and left ventricular ejection fraction.  Thus, all of these improvements suggest that magnesium supplementation is vital for cardiac and vascular functioning in persons already suffering from cardiovascular disease, and its judicious use would be highly warranted.  For patients suffering from acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) or high blood pressure, the data are less consistent as compared to coronary artery disease.  Nonetheless, some data are suggestive that low magnesium levels are related to increased risks of both heart attack and hypertension, and the use of magnesium may help to decrease mortality and lower blood pressure values, respectively.

In summary, magnesium is essential to proper functioning of every cell and organ in the body. Likewise, a deficiency in magnesium is related to many different diseases and disorders, particularly those involving the heart and our blood vessels.  Although not entirely consistent across studies, a large body of research suggests that if you already have coronary artery disease, then you would be wise to take a magnesium supplement, given that it helps to restore functioning to many different processes.  If you have hypertension or have suffered from a heart attack, then magnesium may not be as helpful, but its thoughtful use may be worthwhile.  Given that magnesium has a significant role in keeping oxidative stress and inflammation at a minimum, it is important to consider where and how often you are getting magnesium in your diet.  While magnesium is found in many different foods, the variation in growing conditions, mineral quality of soils, and food processing techniques render the amount of magnesium utilizable for the human system to be quite low.  On top of that, studies show that the average person gets less daily magnesium than the standard recommended value.  Thus, taking a high-quality dietary supplement that contains magnesium is recommended to prevent deficiency status and to help reduce the risk of chronic disease.


John E. Lewis, Ph.D.

John E. Lewis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, University of Miami

Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Director of Research for the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Advisor, Diplomat, and Faculty member of the Medical Wellness Association

1990 B.S., Business Administration, University of Tennessee
1992 M.S., Exercise Physiology, University of Tennessee
1995 Ph.D., Education and Psychological Studies, University of Miami

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