Magnesium Water

Magnesium Water

MEET THE MINERAL FOR THE HEART

Some say it may rival low-dose aspirin in preventing heart attacks

Don't smoke. Work up a sweat at least three times a week but don't sweat the small stuff. Dodge cholesterol. Detour around fat. Buy at least five items in Produce for every one you buy in Deli.

Those, of course, are the fundamentals of personal heart protection. But today we have more than fundamentals. We have a growing platter of extras and options that many people think are worth considering.

Low-dose aspirin is one. Antioxidants are another--notably beta-carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C. Garlic has been edging itself onto the platter for a while now and will probably stay there. But what's next?

My guess is the dietary mineral magnesium. I'm not the only one; there are a lot of doctors out there just itching for a big, juicy study (like the one that brought aspirin into popularity) to reveal the true potential of magnesium as a heart protector.

The odd thing about the magnesium story is that its beginning is over 30 years old, and thenthe story seems to skip right to the present day. Here's what happened.

Back in the late 1950s, researchers demonstrated that deficiency of magnesium led to atherosclerosis in the hearts of rats, dogs and nonhuman primates. They further showed that the encrustations of plaque could be reversed if the animals were given higher than normal amounts of magnesium. There seems to be something about the metabolism of cardiac tissue, they noted, that makes it particularly susceptible to magnesium deficiency.

In that same era, there were many studies showing that in geographical areas where people drank hard water (high in magnesium and calcium), there was a decidedly lower rate of heart attacks, especially sudden, fatal attacks. Though most of the researchers doing this work thought that the magnesium in the water was the protective factor, no tests on human beings were ever done to see if more of the mineral in the diet would produce the protective effect.

In the last few years, medical trials of magnesium have suddenly blossomed, but they aren't examining it as a preventive agent. Rather, it's been given intravenously to cardiac patients after they've been admitted to the hospital. The results? In a word, "spectacular," according to the author of an analysis of all the trials done to date. London physician Dr. S.M. Horner says the combined result of all the studies, involving 930 people, indicates a reduction in deaths amounting to 54 percent, compared with patients not given magnesium. According to the American Heart Association, that's more than twice the reduction in mortality typically seen with thrombolysis, or clot-busting therapy. The cost is far less, and the side effects were few, except when the very highest dosages were used.

Currently, more and larger studies are under way, including the use of both magnesium and clot busters. But regardless of the outcome, the question still remains: Can magnesium be employed as an inexpensive and safe preventer of heart problems?

That leads to the question of how many people who have reason to be concerned about their hearts are in a state of deficiency. The answer seems to be: a lot more than doctors think!

A recent check at a teaching hospital revealed that of 98 consecutive patients admitted with known coronary-artery disease, all were given tests to check their potassium level while only half were checked for magnesium. Ironically, just 4 patients were found to be mildly low in potassium, while 19 of those tested were found to be abnormally low in magnesium. If all the patients had been tested, that number would probably have been a lot higher. The researchers from the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, in Wilmington, North Carolina, added that even when it was identified, hypomagnesemia "was not treated effectively," which suggests to me that if magnesium were looked at more carefully, much good might result.

One believer in the idea that a major study of giving magnesium as a preventive measure is now due (or maybe overdue) is Mark J. Eisenberg, M.D., M.P.H., at the University of California at San Francisco. The author of a review of magnesium and sudden death in the American Heart Journal (August 1992), he told us he believes "three decades' worth of data suggest magnesium is protective against sudden death and against ischemic heart disease."
He points out that magnesium may protect the heart in a great many ways. A major possibility is preventing dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, thought to be the cause of many cases of sudden death. At the same time, it seems to protect against spasms of the coronary arteries, which temporarily cause them to shrink in diameter, inviting disaster. Magnesium may improve the metabolism of the heart muscle and also decrease the tendency of blood to form abnormal clots. It even reduces the size of damage caused by a myocardial infarction.

Still, all that does not warrant an official recommendation to take magnesium supplements. What it does at least suggest is that we ought to be more conscious of our magnesium intake from food and water.

Dr. Eisenberg says he thinks he gets enough magnesium in his diet. "I eat a lot of green leafy vegetables and I'm almost a vegetarian. I eat meat-- chicken--just once a week. The rest of the time I eat vegetables, fruit, a lot of nuts." Other good sources of magnesium include seafood, brown rice, avocados, spinach, oatmeal, potatoes and beans. All of these, by the way, are nutritious foods for other reasons.

Would magnesium supplements be harmful? Check with your doctor, says Dr. Eisenberg. One good reason not to take magnesium is being in a state of kidney failure. Other than that, your doctor will probably not worry too much unless you're being treated for a chronic condition.

A commonsense benchmark for magnesium supplementation is about 200 to 400 milligrams a day.
Till next month,

PHOTO: Mark Bricklin
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By Mark Bricklin, Editor

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