Stress, Chronic Disease and Magnesium Deficiency

By: Larry McCuaig PhD.

Almost all chronic, and many acute, health problems ranging from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and syndrome X, to heart disease, diabetes and cancer have stress as a predisposing factor. Many chronic diseases, and some acute conditions also are related to low dietary or bodily magnesium status. And, although the connection between stress and magnesium deficiency has been known and demonstrated by nutritionists for several decades, this information has yet to be put into common practice in mainstream medicine. (Or cookbooks, author's addition.)

chronic stress

Years ago Dr. Hans Selye showed that chronic stress of any kind: physical, chemical, emotional, social, etc. caused a generalised adaptation response in the hormonal and other systems of the body, which effectively 'geared up' the individual to deal with the stress over a prolonged time period. Overly severe or continued stress would eventually overcome these defences and the individual would then deteriorate quickly.

Even before Selye's work it was shown that all forms of stress also cause a loss of magnesium from the body. Even loud noise can increase the urinary excretion of this essential mineral. Unfortunately Magnesium deficiency is not easy to rectify by diet alone, especially in the presence of continuing stress.

We now know that Magnesium is a cofactor in over 350 enzyme systems (far more than any other nutrient) and is necessary for every bodily function, including the heart and brain, immune system, digestion, energy production, muscular activity, etc. So it is no wonder that many things can go wrong when Magnesium is in short supply.

It is my contention (and not mine alone) that much, or all, of the destructive effect of severe or prolonged stress is due to Magnesium deficiency induced by stress. One of the effects of stress is the increased production of adrenaline, which promotes the urinary loss of Magnesium. Low serum Magnesium, in turn, accelerates the release of adrenaline, resulting in a vicious cycle of Magnesium loss. These losses can easily outweigh the Magnesium absorbed from the average diet, which contains about 250 mg of the mineral.

One of the reasons 'modern' medicine does not recognize Magnesium deficiency more often is because the average doctor relies on the out-dated serum Magnesium test, which will not show a cellular deficiency of the mineral (99% of Magnesium is intracellular, only 1% is in the blood). While Red Blood Cell Magnesium and Plasma Ionized Magnesium are better tests, they are not often employed. A new test, measuring the Magnesium in cells scraped from under the tongue, has shown promise for indicating current cellular Magnesium status.

In my practice I utilize the Hair Mineral Analysis procedure to show the long-term (two to four months) status of, not just cellular Magnesium, but of 40 minerals (see my article in March 2002 Tone, p. 24). Over the last 25 years of such testing I have found that 75-90% of my patients have low magnesium levels. When these levels are brought back to normal there is usually an improvement, or disappearance, of their high blood pressure, diabetes, fatigue, heartbeat irregularities, insomnia, or whatever.

I suffer from fibromyalgia, and I have found that an intensive Magnesium supplementation program has helped relieve my pain, muscle stiffness, cramps and spasms, and fatigue, and has improved to some extent my tendonitis. Muscle strength and recovery time after workouts has also improved. Concomitantly, my hair Magnesium reading, which has been low over the last 20 years, is now normal.

When body stores of Magnesium have been low for an extended period even dietary supplements, as usually applied, may not bring them back to the healthy range. Although a supplement of 200-500 mg per day is good insurance for anyone facing stress (and who isn't?), even 1000 mg may not replenish the body stores, if depleted, and more than this usually causes diarrhea. The solution to this conundrum, short of getting Magnesium injections, is to utilize a well-absorbed form of the mineral (I recommend the citrate form) and take it in small amounts (say 100 mg) ten times a day. Some patients can only absorb enough if it is also dissolved in hot water or lemon juice.

Related Links