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Magnesium - The Magnificent Macro-Mineral

by Vivien Ryder(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 202 - January 2013


There is more to magnesium than you might think. We need relatively large amounts for our bodies to function at their optimum. And the simple fact is that most of us are deficient. Why?

Industrial Revolution

Magnesium is naturally abundant in seeds, grains, nuts and vegetables, i.e. all those foods we are encouraged to eat in order to maintain health and vitality. With the advent of the industrial revolution came a revolution in our eating habits. It became possible to grow and prepare far more food in a far shorter time. Machines were developed that could ‘refine’ foods and process them into all kinds of convenient packages. This made foods more palatable and easier to eat in far larger quantities than is natural. This matched the faster pace of living that being in an industrialized world brought with it.


We stopped spending so much time preparing foods and rather than preserving foods naturally, by fermentation (e.g. pickling, yoghurt etc) we started to use that technical gadget we all had to have - the fridge. At the time (and now!) it was not recognized that we were losing the vital link in our health that fermented foods provided - to digest and therefore utilize nutrients. Not only was magnesium being removed from our foods in the refining process, but we were no longer providing our bodies with the beneficial bacteria necessary to absorb magnesium and other vital nutrients. Importantly, such bacteria also provide the perfect environment in which to produce some of our own nutrients, for example vitamin B12. This ability has been lost - in most of us.

The bottom line is, our powers of absorption are shot.

Dead Soil

To grow foods on such a large scale it was necessary to ’feed’ the soil with a cocktail of chemicals. Such chemicals leached magnesium and other vital nutrients from the soil. As a result, the soil lost its strength and vitality. The naturally occurring bacteria in the soil were reduced resulting in weaker plants - and weaker people.

Hence our present deficiency epidemic.

So Why is Magnesium So Important?

ATP is the substance that transports energy around the body. It is always present in the body as a magnesium: ATP complex. In other words it cannot work without magnesium. Since energy is fundamental to everything we do and given that most of us are deficient in magnesium, it is no surprise that so many of us feel that we are lacking in energy from time to time for no apparent reason. Additionally we find that our muscles ache and we suffer from cramp. These things we dismiss as minor inconveniences. They can and should be addressed. (See practical applications.)

There is more startling evidence suggesting that magnesium plays a starring role in the prevention of those major illnesses and conditions that plague modern society, in other words heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, depression and cancer.  It would seem that magnesium is at the very core of our bodily needs and should not be dismissed as just another nutrient.

Importantly, magnesium is the second most abundant mineral required by the body after calcium. This suggests that magnesium is in full-time employment.  Further, it can ‘act up’ for other nutrients that may be in short supply - for example vitamin D during the winter. (Chlorophyll is a rich source of magnesium and requires sunlight for its formation. It makes sense that plants can store sunlight and that our bodies can make use of it when we cannot access sunshine for ourselves i.e. during the winter months.)

Magnesium and Calcium Relationship

Tiny electrical currents are responsible for all movement in the body and calcium is the conductor of such currents. Magnesium controls the levels of calcium that can enter the cells of the body.

We are all told about the importance of calcium due to its large requirements by the body. We have all heard the ‘drink milk for strong bones and teeth’ mantra. Yes, calcium is vitally important, but without enough magnesium, too much calcium can be highly dangerous.

Basically, magnesium stops calcium from going where it shouldn’t go. It stops calcium from getting into places where magnesium should be doing the job. If calcium intake is too high, it can clog arteries (yes, calcium can clog arteries as well as cholesterol), stiffen bones and can hinder the production of that all-important substance required for energy production - ATP.

Magnesium is like the bouncer on the door, controlling how much calcium can enter the cell. Limited amounts of calcium are allowed in to do their job and then the magnesium ‘bouncers’ chuck them out again in order to maintain equilibrium. When there aren’t enough magnesium bouncers on the door there is mayhem as too much calcium enters. Depending on where the body carries weakness such a situation can give rise to heart disease, arthritis or some other ‘age-related’ condition. It is now being realized that excess calcium can deposit cancerous tumours.

Heart Disease

Magnesium plays a vital role in maintaining normal heart rhythm. When insufficient magnesium is present the heart can fail. This may well explain the mystery of sudden death in those apparently young, fit and apparently healthy individuals whose arteries are clear and normal.

We are all aware of cholesterol and we are led to assume that excess cholesterol is solely responsible for heart disease.  Magnesium helps to lower cholesterol levels. The typical Western diet, containing refined, processed foods and large amounts of hydrogenated and saturated fats, is not only shockingly low in magnesium but also promotes the production of cholesterol.


Magnesium deficiency can cause cells to be resistant to the action of insulin so that glucose cannot enter the cells. There is a genetic factor present in the development of diabetes but type II diabetes has now been shown to be far more prevalent in those who have followed a diet high in processed foods, especially refined sugar, and that is consequently low in magnesium.  Although diabetes has been recognised as far back as 1500BC, it has been quite rare until modern times. Both type I and type II can be influenced by diet.  


Although it is true that as we age we lose our ability to absorb nutrients, it is certainly not ‘natural’ in the way we are led to believe. Our ability to digest and absorb nutrients declines as a result of many, many years of poor diet. The arthritis and osteoporosis that is considered the norm as we get older should not be considered the norm. It is crazy that the unbalanced calcium-rich diet, massively lacking in magnesium, that has caused these incapacitating conditions is being recommended by GPs to treat the condition. Increasing one’s consumption of calcium to prevent such conditions is clearly not the answer.


Magnesium plays a huge role in strengthening our immune system and in increasing our white blood cells’ ability to fight infection. Over time, magnesium deficiency can result in a weakening of our immune system. The ultimate break down in immunity can take the form of cancer. It is no coincidence that we have a cancer epidemic that is becoming worse and worse.

Practical Applications

Magnesium should ideally be in foods in their naturally occurring state. Whole grains, vegetables and nuts are high in magnesium. However, due to an existing deficiency in magnesium and a lack of beneficial bacteria in the gut, many people have trouble absorbing certain nutrients, even when taken as a supplement. It is not only our food that is low in magnesium due to ‘dead’ soil (as discussed) but our drinking water is appallingly low in magnesium and also contains undesirable chemicals that block our absorption of essential minerals.

In traditional, long-lived peoples, water is a highly valued commodity, honoured as an essential aspect of healthy living. Indeed it is no surprise that such waters are beautifully abundant in magnesium and other important and underrated minerals. It would be wonderful if we could all drink from such waters but obviously this is not possible. The most viable alternative is to improve the water that we do have with a pH booster solution, available from many stockists online, for example . Ideally we should first filter our water and then add the pH booster as directed. (It is surprising how quickly you get into the habit of doing this and equally surprising how much better the water tastes as a result.)

Additionally, magnesium oil can be similarly obtained in the form of a spray that we can apply abundantly to our skin, where it is absorbed without the risk of toxicity. A good time to apply such a spray is after a yoga or gym workout, helping the muscles to relax. Magnesium is renowned for its ability to relax the muscles, including the heart muscle. Cramp is equally responsive to the application of magnesium oil.


We associate ageing with illness and poor mobility. It is interesting that an accumulation of calcium is found in the cells of older people, together with a depletion of magnesium. This is seen as a symptom of ageing when in fact it should be seen as a cause that can be reversed!

Ageing in the populations of traditional peoples such as the Hunzas of Pakistan and the Okinawans of Japan is associated with increased endurance, respect and wisdom. Such people are honoured. These peoples eat diets high in whole grains, vegetables and fermented foods. Their foods are grown on mineral-rich soils and their water supply is similarly rich in minerals, especially magnesium. They live phenomenally long and disease-free lives. Enough said.


Classic C: Secret To Hunza Superior Health. Centre for Human Nutrition. California. 1991.

Dean C. The Magnesium Miracle. Ballantine Books. USA. 2007.

McCarrison R. Nutrition and Health. The McCarrison Society. USA. 1943.

Pitchford P. Healing With Wholefoods. North Atlantic Books. California. 2002.

Sircus M. Transdermal Magnesium Therapy. Phaelos Books. USA. 2007.

Wrench CT: The Wheel of Health. Dover Publications. USA. 2006.


  1. Tim MacCaw said..

    A good article. One extra suggestion re drinking 'good' water. Unless you are lucky enough to have nearby spring water uncontaminated by animals or what the farmer spreads on the land further up the hill you will be unknowingly drinking water which is energetically 'dead'. What do you think this is slowly doing to your body and its systems? Check up on Viktor Schauberger's discoveries at A Water Vortexer Jug will however will make the water come alive again. It'll change the taste and your skin will feel different as well.

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About Vivien Ryder

Vivien Ryder is a health researcher and writer with a particular interest in nutrition. She has an honours degree in Health Studies and diplomas in Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy. She is currently writing a book about her late husband’s death from inoperable pancreatic cancer. Vivien may be contacted via

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