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Low Magnesium Levels and Syndrome X Risk

June 12, 2003, Ogden, UT - People with low cellular levels of magnesium, an essential mineral, may be at increased risk for Syndrome X, a group of health disorders that include insulin resistance plus high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, obesity, and certain age-related conditions.

According to Mildred Seelig, M.D., M.P.H., M.A.C.N., “Low magnesium levels have been implicated as an important factor in most of the disorders of Metabolic Syndrome X.”

Syndrome X is also known as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the pancreas secretes adequate insulin, but the body gradually becomes resistant to it. To stabilize high blood sugar levels, the pancreas will continue to secrete higher and higher amounts of insulin, but high levels of glucose and insulin can lead to the other health disorders that increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Low magnesium, it seems, causes insulin resistance and is a marker for type 2 diabetes. But it is also associated with each of the disorders of Syndrome X. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t meet the RDA for magnesium. For women, the RDA is 320 milligrams (mg) a day; for men that amount is 420 mg.

Dr. Larry Resnick of Cornell University has conducted numerous clinical studies investigating the relationship between magnesium intake and health, specifically its effect on the heart. He theorizes that low ionic magnesium causes insulin resistance and that Syndrome X is caused by a low ratio of magnesium ions to a high ratio of calcium in the cells.(1-4) Magnesium facilitates glucose uptake by the cells, promotes healthy heart function, and blunts the damage caused by free radicals. Below is a brief review of the latest research.

Magnesium and Glucose Metabolism
Magnesium is involved in insulin secretion and utilization. Many people who are diabetic are magnesium deficient. In a recent examination of 22 research papers on type 2 diabetes, nearly half of all patients were magnesium deficient and a third more had sub optimal levels.(5)

Even in seemingly healthy, non diabetic patients, low magnesium levels have been detected and linked to relative insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and a high secretion of insulin.(6) Magnesium can have a modest, yet significant effect on glucose utilization.

Magnesium and High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is one of the disorders associated with Syndrome X. In one study of people with high blood pressure, patients who received magnesium for four weeks showed a significant reduction in blood pressure compared to those who received a placebo.(7) How does magnesium affect blood pressure? High levels of calcium in the cells contract the muscle of arterial walls, while magnesium has the opposite effect. It relaxes blood vessels, causing them to dilate.(8)

Magnesium and Other Syndrome X Complications
Obesity, especially if it is excess weight around the stomach, in and of itself, is associated with increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure as well as high cholesterol and insulin levels. Researchers have called it the “deadly quartet” because this combination is often seen in men who die of cardiovascular disease. It’s often correlated to high levels of cellular ionic calcium and low levels of magnesium.(1-2)

People with Syndrome X often have high total cholesterol levels (above 240 mg/dl) and high triglycerides (above 160 mg/dl) but low levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL-C), considered the good form of cholesterol. Magnesium appears to have a positive effect in decreasing harmful cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol.(9) It also seems to prevent blood platelets from sticking together which can cause heart attack and stroke.

As we age, our cells become more vulnerable to ion disturbances and Syndrome X becomes more common. Some researchers, including Resnick, believe that a depletion of ionic magnesium in our cells can make us more vulnerable for many age-related conditions.(10) In addition, oxidative stress, or damage to our tissues and organs caused by harmful free radicals contributes as well.

Within the last ten years, researchers have discovered that a magnesium deficiency unleashes free radicals that, in animals, damages the heart and the inner linings of blood vessels. Increasing magnesium intake, however, may protect the heart against damage caused by free radicals.(11)

Sources of Magnesium
Green vegetables and nuts are great food sources of magnesium. But despite the fact that most people have plenty to eat, large segments of the population still appear to consume insufficient amounts of magnesium.

To fortify your intake, you can take magnesium supplements. In general, look for supplements that contain ionic forms of magnesium. Other forms such as magnesium oxide and hydroxide can be more difficult to digest and assimilate. As we grow older, we secrete less stomach acid and these forms may not be well-absorbed.

To learn more about magnesium, visit


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1. Resnick LM: Cellular calcium and magnesium metabolism in the pathophysiology and treatment of hypertension and related metabolic disorders. Am J Med 93 (2A):11S-20S,1992.
2. Resnick LM: Cellular ions in hypertension, insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes: a unifying theme. J Am Soc Nephrol 3(4Suppl):S78-85, 1992.
3. Resnick LM: Ionic basis of hypertension, insulin resistance, vascular disease, and related disorders. The mechanism of “syndrome X.” Am J Hypertens 6:123S-134S,1993.
4. Resnick, LM: Ionic disturbances of calcium and magnesium metabolism in essential hypertension in “Hypertensionn: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Management” Eds JH Laragh & BM Brenner, Publ Raven Press Ltd, NY 2nd Ed, 1995: pp.1169-1191.
5. De Lenardis M, Schindler R, Classen HG: Hypomagnesemia and suboptimal plasma-Mg levels in diabetes mellitus: frequencies and consequences. Magnes Bul 22:53-59,2000.
6. Rosolova H, Mayer O, Reaven G: Effect of variations in plasma magnesium concentration on resistance to insulin-mediated glucose disposal in nondiabetic subjects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 82:3783-3785,1997.
7. Kuti V: A study of some clinical effects of chronic Mg supplementation in humans. Magnesium Res 2:229, 1989.
8. Altura BM, Zhang A, Altura BT: Magnesium, hypertensive vascular disease atherogenesis, subcellular compartmentation of Ca++ and Mg++ and vascular contractility. Miner Electrolyte Metab 19:323-336,1993.
9. Davis WH, Leary WP, Reyes AJ, Olhaberry JV: Monotherapy with magnesium increases abnormally low high density lipoprotein cholesterol: a clinical assay. Curr Therap Res 36:341-344,1984.
10. Barbagallo M, Gupta RK, Bardicef O, Bardicef M, Resnick LM: Altered ionic effects of insulin in hypertension: role of basal ion levels in determining cellular responsiveness. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 82:1761-1765,1997.
11. Schechter M, Sharir M, Labrador MJP, Forrester J, Silver B, Bairey Merz CN: Magnesium therapy improves endothelial function in patients with coronary artery disease. Am J Circulation 102:2353-2358, 2000.

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