By Katherine Czapp -
Unfortunately, it is difficult to reliably supply our bodies with sufficient magnesium, even from a good, balanced whole foods diet. First of all, modern agricultural methods favor the universal use of NPK fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Both potassium and phosphorus are antagonists of magnesium in the soil, and on calcareous soils (relatively alkaline) create a relative magnesium deficiency (the magnesium present is bound and therefore unavailable to the crop). On sandy or loamy soils that are slightly acid, an actual magnesium deficiency often exists, as the magnesium leaches from the soil and is also unavailable to the crop. This leaching also occurs in response to acid rain. Magnesium, in fact, is one of the most depleted minerals in farm soils. To add insult to injury, new plant hybrids are continually introduced that have been bred to survive on these mineral-depleted soils. Of course, when mineral-depleted crops are eaten by animals or by us, they will sooner or later cause disease. Even though organically raised crops should be a better bet nutritionally, this isn’t always the case, and it pays in terms of your health to learn how your farmer replenishes the minerals in his fields.
“Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies which cannot be remedied until depleted soils from which our food comes are brought back into proper mineral balance? The alarming fact is that foods (fruits, vegetables, grains) now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us—no matter how much of them we eat. The truth is that our foods vary enormously in value, and some of them aren’t worth eating as food.” These words of warning are from the 74th Congress, 2nd session, Senate document number 264, of 1936. It is truly sobering to learn that the decline in soil mineral balance was a topic of serious national concern more than seventy years ago, and the deficit has been affecting us—while steadily getting worse— since our grandparents’ generation.
Magnesium and other nutrients are diminished or lost in produce after harvest, through handling, refrigeration, transport and storage, even if all these steps were done “properly.” Buying produce and then storing it for days in your own refrigerator continues the nutrient loss, whether the produce is from the supermarket or your local farmers’ market.
Food processing causes enormous loss of magnesium in foods that are commonly fairly good sources of it, such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Most of the magnesium in grain— found in the bran and germ—is lost in milling whole grains for white flour, which is used nearly exclusively for hundreds of devitalized processed food items. When nuts and seeds are roasted or their oils extracted, magnesium is lost. Cooking greens causes whatever magnesium they might contain to leach into the cooking water. Foods tend to lose less calcium than magnesium through these processes, adding to a troublesome dietary calcium overload that we will discuss shortly.
Fluoride in drinking water binds with magnesium, creating a nearly insoluble mineral compound that ends up deposited in the bones, where its brittleness increases the risk of fractures. Water, in fact, could be an excellent source of magnesium—if it comes from deep wells that have magnesium at their source, or from mineral-rich glacial runoff. Urban sources of drinking water are usually from surface water, such as rivers and streams, which are low in magnesium. Even many bottled mineral waters are quite low in magnesium, or have a very high concentration of calcium, or both.
A diet of processed, synthetic foods, high sugar content, alcohol and soda drinks all “waste” magnesium, as a lot of it is required for the metabolism and detoxification of these largely fake foods. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, the body requires at least twenty-eight molecules of magnesium to metabolize a single molecule of glucose. Phosphates in carbonated drinks and processed meats (so-called “luncheon meats” and hot dogs) bind with magnesium to create the insoluble magnesium phosphate, which is unusable by the body.
Tannins, oxalates, and phytic acid all bind with magnesium, making it unavailable to the body unless extra care is taken to neutralize some of these compounds during food preparation. It is interesting to note that foods commonly containing magnesium (provided they were grown in mineral-rich soil) also contain lots of these anti-nutrients, such as spinach (oxalates) and whole grains (phytates).
Many commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs cause the body to lose magnesium via the urine, such as diuretics for hypertension; birth control pills; insulin; digitalis; tetracycline and some other antibiotics; and corticosteroids and bronchodilators for asthma. With the loss of magnesium, all of the symptoms being “treated” by these drugs over time inevitably become worse.
Magnesium absorption is impeded with the use of supplemental iron. If you take calcium supplements, your need for magnesium increases, and in fact calcium will not be properly absorbed or metabolized if adequate magnesium is missing, and will mostly end up dangerously deposited in soft tissues. Magnesium is responsible for converting vitamin D to the active form that allows calcium to be absorbed, and also regulates calcium’s transport to hard tissues where it belongs. Lactose is another inhibitor of magnesium absorption (and milk is not a good source of the mineral to begin with), along with excess potassium, phosphorus and sodium.
FOOD SOURCES OF MAGNESIUM
As we’ve mentioned, if farm soils are well-mineralized, leafy green vegetables, seeds, tree nuts and whole grains are fairly good sources of magnesium. Certain wild-crafted forage foods really stand out, however, such as nettles (860 mg per 100 grams) and chickweed (529 mg per 100 grams), and add many tonic and nutritive benefits to both human and livestock diets largely due to their high mineral content. Kelp, ancient denizen of the sea, contains spectacular levels, as do most sea vegetables. Remember that they are continually bathed in a solution whose third most abundant mineral is magnesium. And authentic, unrefined sea salt is a very good source of magnesium, along with trace minerals. Utilizing bone broths on a daily basis will provide another excellent source of minerals, including magnesium, in a highly assimilable form.
STRATEGIES FOR MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENTATION
Even with ideal digestive conditions, only a percentage of magnesium in foods will be absorbed—less when amounts in the body are adequate and more if there is a deficiency. This is also true of magnesium supplements, and there are many of them on the market to confuse you. For the average person, magnesium supplementation is safe to experiment with on your own, especially if you know you have symptoms that could be related to magnesium deficiency or are under extra stress, and so on. Excess magnesium is excreted in urine and the stool, and the most common response to too much magnesium is loose stools. Those with renal insufficiency or kidney disease, extremely slow heart rate, or bowel obstruction should avoid magnesium therapy.
General dosage recommendations range from about 3 to 10 milligrams per pound of body weight, depending upon physical condition, requirements for growth (as in children), and degree of symptoms.
Oral magnesium supplements are available in organic salt chelates, such as magnesium citrate and magnesium malate. These are fairly well absorbed, especially in powder forms to which you add water and can tailor your dosage. It is important to divide your dosage during the day so that you do not load your body with too much magnesium in any single dose. Carolyn Dean recommends taking your first dose early in the morning and another in the late afternoon—these correspond to times when magnesium levels are low in the body. Is it just a coincidence that these times of low magnesium and low energy also correspond to the cultural rituals of morning coffee and afternoon tea?
MAGNESIUM THE MISSING LINK?
It is likely safe to say that most people would benefit from an increased supply of magnesium in their diets, especially in these times of so many dietary, environmental, and social stressors. Of course no single nutrient stands alone in relation to the body, and the first priority is to eat a varied diet of whole plant and animal foods from the best sources near you. Adding extra magnesium, however, might be the missing nutritional link to help us guard against heart disease, stroke, depression, osteoporosis and many other disorders. In the prevention and alleviation of these diseases, magnesium can be truly miraculous.
Katherine Czapp was raised on a three-generation, self-sufficient mixed family farm in rural Michigan. After studying Russian language and literature at the University of Michigan, she is gratified to discover that the skills and experiences of her anachronistic upbringing are useful tools in the 21st century. She works independently as a three-season organic gardener and WAPF staff editor. She and her husband Garrick live the slow life in Ann Arbor, Michigan. To learn more about authentic sourdough bread recipes and to obtain a live culture starter, visit www.realsourdoughbreadrecipe.com.