By Darrell Miller
Magnesium is a metallic element that is essential to the body’s
biochemistry, and is an important cardiovascular mineral.
Although over half of the total magnesium content of the body is
contained in bone, the rest is found in the cells of the body
including the heart that contains about 20%. The amount of
magnesium in the body that remains in the intercellular fluids
is very low.
Although magnesium is needed for a number of important
functions within the body, including the production of energy
from food, and its conveyance to the muscle cells that use it,
it has a particularly important effect on excitation and
relaxation. Muscle cells get their energy from a compound known
as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. In the presence of calcium
the ATP forms adenosine diphosphate (ADP) plus phosphorus and
contracts the muscle fiber. Magnesium acts on this to reform
ATP and relax the muscle.
If there is a shortage of magnesium, the muscle, and hence your
body, becomes increasingly stressed until magnesium is made
available to release the stress by forming more ATP. That can be
provided by the consumption high magnesium foods, such as
bananas and spinach, or by means of a magnesium supplement. This
is a technical explanation of how calcium and magnesium are
necessary to make muscles work and relax. Muscle cramp occurs if
there is insufficient magnesium to overcome the effect of
calcium to contract the muscles, and will not be cured until
magnesium is provided to the blood.
This is also true of the heart muscle, and magnesium is
believed by many to be essential for proper operation of the
pumping action of the heart. Drugs used to reduce blood
pressure are what are known as calcium blockers, and they block
this contraction effect that calcium has on the heart muscles.
Magnesium has the same effect and is thought to be a natural
treatment for some forms of high blood pressure. Sodium also
interferes with the relaxing action of the magnesium.
Since the heart works by means of stimulation of the fibers of
the heart muscles through the release of potassium by ATP to
form ADP, and then the relaxation of these same heart muscle
fibers by the action of magnesium to reform ATP, then it is
obvious that without magnesium the heart muscle will spasm and
never relax without a good supply of magnesium.
Good sources of magnesium are dark leafy vegetables, seeds and
legumes such as peas and beans. Some nuts (cashews and almonds
are good sources), whole grains and some fruits such as bananas
and avocados. Since the body naturally eliminates excess
magnesium, an overdose is unlikely so supplementation can safely
be taken without ill effects. However, it is not common for
somebody to be affected by a magnesium deficiency. Tap water
from ‘hard’ water districts can be rich in magnesium, more so
than soft water, but should be relied on to resolve cardiac
problems caused by a lack of magnesium.
Deficiency is possible in alcoholics or people recovering from
serious burns or surgery. Crohn’s Disease and other disorders of
the bowel can cause a magnesium deficiency, and magnesium can be
lost in the urine through hyperglycemia caused by badly managed
diabetes. Some cancer treatments can also cause a deficiency in
magnesium, specifically ant-neoplastic medication. The same is
true of diuretics and some antibiotics.
These deficiency sources may or may not give rise to problems
with muscle function to the extent that they threaten life.
Should they do, however, the deficiency must be made up as a
matter of emergency since the inability of muscle fibers to
relax can be fatal in the wrong circumstances. These
circumstances are usually when the most important muscle in your
body is affected: the heart.
The symptoms of magnesium deficiency are muscle cramps,
twitches, tension, neck pains, headaches caused by muscle
tension and stress. In fact anything that can be caused by an
inability of a muscle to relax after firing. Another is
tightness of the chest, and constipation is yet another, caused
by a lack of relaxation of the peristaltic muscles that move the
waste through the colon. Milk of magnesia is effective in
treating constipation by introducing the magnesium necessary to
allow relaxation of the bowel muscles, and hence the resumption
of the peristaltic rippling motion of the intestines and colon.
Other effects are menstrual cramps, urinary spasms and a
particular sensitivity to loud noise due to tension of the
muscles deep within the ear. Even an aversion to bright lights
is not uncommon.
More severe deficiencies can affect the central nervous system,
and cause anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and hyperactivity.
As the deficiency becomes more critical it can cause numbness,
tingling and severe heart problems. It is believed that even
though severe magnesium deficiency is very rare, the average
person does not contain the optimum levels of magnesium within
their body, which results in cardiac problems and inadequacies
in the immune system.
Although magnesium tablets can be used as a supplement, this
can cause diarrhea, and if a deficiency is suspected, a
physician should be consulted for the recommended treatment.
Patients with kidney disease should not be given magnesium
supplements without medical advice, since kidneys that are not
properly functioning cannot excrete excess magnesium properly.
There is also evidence that a lack of magnesium can contribute
to hypertension, or high blood pressure, and foods high in
magnesium seem to reduce the risk. However,, there are other
components of these foods that might also be effective in
controlling hypertension. Bananas and avocados also contain
dietary fiber and potassium.
Although magnesium is an important cardiovascular mineral that
allows the relaxation of muscle fibers, a deficiency is rare
except in unusual circumstances, and supplementation can
generally be taken without risk of an overdose except in the
case of a patient with kidney problems. If a magnesium
deficiency is suspected, medical advice should be taken before
resorting to a supplement since the symptoms could be indicative
of other conditions.
About the Author: More information on Magnesium and related
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