The Miracle of Magnesium
By Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D.
A 1988 U.S. government study concluded that the standard American diet failed to provide (he daily requirement of magnesium. That was almost two decades ago, and you can be sure that most people get even less today, when junk food makes up 27 percent of our diet. Mildred Seelig, M.D., and many other magnesium experts have also come to the inescapable conclusion that the typical American diet, which is rich in fat, sugar, salt, synthetic vitamin I), phosphates, protein, and supplemented calcium, not only is deficient in magnesium but actually increases the need for magnesium in the body.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to find studies that tell us the actual incidence of magnesium deficiency. This stems from there being no accepted medical standard for measuring whole-body magnesium status. As will be discussed in Chapter 16, blood testing for magnesium relies on inadequate measurements since only 1 percent of the body's magnesium is in the blood and only 40 percent in the tissues. The National Academy of Sciences found that most Americans are possibly magnesium-deficient. When men obtain only 80 percent of the minimum requirement of magnesium to run innumerable body functions and women at 70 percent get even less of what they absolutely need, then our bodies are Just not able to function properly.
Let's look at some of the reasons you may be lacking in magnesium-and it begins with what's missing from the soil.
The mineral depletion of our farmland quoted from the 1936 Senate document in the introduction to The Magnesium Miracle is probably the most important reason why most Americans are magnesium-deficient. Unfortunately, (he issue of depleted soils has not been addressed in America. As Kirkpatrick Sale expressed in The Nation, after World War II it only got worse.
Kirkpatrick Sale talks about the war waged on the land and all species on it by farmers lured into believing that killing weeds and pests was far superior to living in harmony with nature. The whole experiment backfired when it became clear that the poisons could not be controlled-they killed indiscriminately. Without living worms and nitrogen-fixing rhizobacteria, the soil became dead. Worms break up the earth, leaving their own form of compost behind, and without this activity the soil becomes hard and nonporous. Bacteria in the soil make it possible for plants to absorb certain nutrients, and without their action plants are weaker and less nutritious.
Observing animals can teach us important lessons about our environment-if we only listen. One man who did was Andre Voisin, a French biochemist and farmer born in 190 3. In 1963 Voisin wrote a book called Grass Tetany. Grass tetany is a metabolic disease of cattle and goats caused by a deficiency of magnesium in the soil. When animals eat magnesium-deficient grass they develop irritability, staggering, tremors, and spasms. Most dramatically, the animals fall down in convulsions at sudden loud noises or if they are frightened or excited. Voisin reported that in the 1930s magnesium deficiency had been proven to be the cause of grass tetany, since low levels of magnesium were found in suffering animals and the condition was miraculously reversed by injections of magnesium.
Chapter I of Voisin's book says it all: "Modern Farming Methods Favour the Development of Grass Tetany." In his career as a farmer, Voisin observed that "intensive grazing" and the overuse of mineral-deficient commercial fertilizers were common practices. At the time, Voisin identified Holland as the country that used the most commercial fertilizer on its pastures and also suffered the most grass tetany.
A potassium product called potash has been the fertilizer of choice since the 1930s. It's cheap, easily obtained, and readily absorbed by plants. In fact, it is so easily taken up by plants that when there is an abundance of potassium they favor its absorption above magnesium and calcium, which are relatively harder to absorb. Crops grown with excessive amounts of potash have a low content of magnesium and calcium and high potassium levels. However, you would never know that since there is no minimum amount of minerals required in our grains, fruits, or vegetables-the nutrients in such foods are not routinely measured and never labeled.
Even if the magnesium content of soil is high, using potassium fertilizer can prevent its absorption into the plant. But because most agricultural land in America has been overworked for decades and fertilizers don't replace this important mineral, magnesium is rarely found in our soils.
Paul Mason, owner of a magnesium-rich spring in California, reminds us that magnesium is also susceptible to being leached from cultivated soil.3 Based on a measure of the dissolved magnesium in the Mississippi River, estimates are that the annual loss of magnesium from midwestern soils is an incredible 7.1 million kg at least, and likely more if the magnesium in undissolved dirt carried by the river is included.
Burning Off Magnesium with Acid Rain
Acid rain provides yet another attack on the magnesium in soil: it occurs in industrial and urban areas that experience excessive air pollution. Atmospheric scientist William Grant, during his study of air pollution, concluded that an accumulation of acid rain, which contains nitric acid, can change the chemistry of the soil in which trees grow.4 This abnormal soil acidity creates a reaction with calcium and magnesium in the soil to neutralize the excess nitric acid. He found that eventually these minerals are depleted, leaving the nitric acid to react with the aluminum oxide in the soil. The reactive aluminum builds up. replaces the calcium and magnesium in the plant, and makes it difficult for the plant to survive.
Calcium is beneficial to trees and plants because it strengthens the walls of the cells that combine to shape the tree, so without it plants weaken. Magnesium is an essential component of the chlorophyll necessary for photosynthesis, during which organic chemicals are produced during exposure to sunlight. While calcium and magnesium deficiency weakens the plant, the acid rain also provides more nitrates to the plants, causing them to grow faster. The lack of calcium and magnesium, however, means that this early growth cannot be supported, and the plants may be too weak to survive.
If we cat plants that are grown on soil contaminated with acid rain, they may be very deficient in calcium and magnesium. On the farm, soil acidity is tested, and if the soil is too acid it is usually treated with lime-a calcium oxide product. Treating with lime is another practice that can result in magnesium-deficient plants. You can read more about calcium-magnesium interactions on page 251.