A great title, isn’t it? I wish it were mine. I happily give credit to article’s author, George Lundberg, MD, a physician known to virtually every doctor in the US as the longtime editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) before he was fired in 1999. The AMA disapproved of his publishing a survey article about the sexual behavior of college students at the time of President Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Dr. Lundberg totally landed on his feet, and currently is editor-at-large for Medscape, the largest conventional-medicine website for physicians on the internet. He’s always been considered a nervy editor, pushing into JAMA, over the protests of the astonishingly conservative AMA Board, politically incorrect (for the times) articles about boxing, nursing home falls, nuclear war, and the dangers of smoking. Yes, at one time, the tobacco-cancer link was controversial, helped, no doubt, by financial grants from the tobacco industry to previous JAMA editor Morris Fishbein.
Dr. Lundberg has always been interested in alternative medicine, and he and I actually crossed paths in the mid-90s when I’d just opened what would become WholeHealth Chicago. I received a call from the AMA (a medical doctor doing alternative medicine was so controversial that my initial response was sheer terror) that turned into a job offer and a bizarre sequence of events. Now, 20 years later, it makes for an interesting story.
Let’s put it this way, given my own dealings with the AMA, when I read that Dr. Lundberg had been canned for allowing an openminded article, I, for one, was not surprised. The fatal topic, by the way: “did college students consider oral sex the same as having sex?” (Monica Lewinsky was in the news at the time).
Encyclopedia of alternative medicine
The AMA told me it was planning to publish a definitive encyclopedia of alternative medicine, straightforward and without the usual conventional medicine prejudice. They wanted to hire me as medical editor and writer. To say I was surprised is putting it mildly. “The AMA?” I could be heard muttering, “Alternative medicine?” The same AMA that not much earlier was on the losing end of a Supreme Court case involving the American Chiropractic Association on a restraint of trade issue? What had these guys been smoking?
As it turned out, the invitation certainly didn’t have the blessing of AMA’s physician membership, and the project had never been presented to the Board for its approval. The idea was to create a book on alternative medicine for the general public, but it turned out the AMA division that produced these books was under the control of some aggressive marketing types, aware of the surge of public interest in alternative medicine and bent on generating income for a (still) struggling behemoth among professional organizations.
I was to head a team of medical writers, and we were to travel, like any good encyclopedia, from A to Z (or rather Y), Acupuncture to Yoga. The work progressed nicely and it looked to me like a good book. Certainly nothing of the kind had been published before. When we reached “Chiropractic,” a team of AMA lawyers scrutinized every word before giving the thumbs-up. But when we finally reached “Yoga,” disaster struck.
It turned out that the hotshot marketer-in-charge had signed a contract with the Sunbeam Corporation. In exchange for the AMA endorsement of a Sunbeam line of kitchen appliances, the AMA would be paid a very large sum of money. But, bad news. Word of this contract got back to the physician membership, which vibrated in outraged fury over selling the AMA seal of approval to Sunbeam. Ultimately the AMA backpedalled out of the contract, but not before some seriously big bucks were paid. Heads, as they say in the corporate world, rolled.
When someone undoubtedly chirped, “Are we working on any other projects that might offend our membership?” within the hour I was out of my book job. The original unpublished manuscript remains deep in the vaults of the AMA.
Well, not quite.
Extensively rewritten and periodically updated, much of the material is what you yourself turn to when you click the WHC Knowledge Base. It was through this interesting turn of events that I met my longstanding editor, Heidi Hough, who at the time was a less-than-happy former AMA employee herself, and is now in New Zealand traveling in a camper with her partner, and–oh the wonders of the internet–editing this piece (given the confusing time zone issues) “tomorrow.”
A little late to the magnesium game
So I was pleased that Dr. Lundberg remains totally in character as a forward-thinking editor, making his Medscape comments about the importance of magnesium, though without sounding snippy it’s certainly taken him some time to get here.
It’s sort of understandable. I learned virtually nothing about magnesium in medical school. During my internal medicine residency, we were told the intravenous form of magnesium could be considered useful for cardiac arrhythmias, but that was about it. I first learned from alternative practitioners, mainly chiropractors and clinical nutritionists, that magnesium could be taken as a supplement. They told me that virtually everyone was magnesium deficient.
Magnesium, I learned then (and Dr. Lundberg now teaches doctors two decades later), is involved in hundreds of biochemical reactions throughout the body. And yet the idea of taking magnesium regularly as a supplement is, to this day, beneath the radar of most conventional physicians.
Dr. Lundberg, God bless him, thinks we can get a sufficient amount of magnesium via the food we eat. He’s probably unaware that after years of poor farming practices our soil has been so significantly depleted of magnesium that some researchers believe virtually everyone has some degree of magnesium deficiency.
One issue about magnesium that’s especially inconvenient is that there’s no efficient test to measure the levels in your body. This is because 95% of magnesium is in your cells and is inaccessible. You might reasonably wonder whether or not you should take it as a supplement.
My opinion is that if you feel well, your energy is good, and if you answered “Just fine, thanks” to a questionnaire asking about the state of your health, you probably don’t need to take magnesium. Just remember to include high-magnesium foods in your diet.
Nevertheless, magnesium remains at the top of my favorite-supplements list. This is because so many people feel generally better when their body has enough magnesium. If you’re troubled by any of the symptoms discussed in this piece and your doctor says “Your tests are normal, we can’t find anything wrong with you,” adding magnesium to your supplement tray might be worth trying.
If you wish to supplement with magnesium, somewhere between 400 and 800 mg daily will be plenty. Magnesium glycinate and citrate absorbs especially well, but other forms of magnesium need not be avoided. I personally prefer the powdered form as magnesium tablets are often large and dry and hard to swallow.
So, Dr. Lundberg, my personal thanks for alerting the medical community about the importance of magnesium. It’s never too late to spread some nutritional knowledge among the lads and lasses. Sorry you got canned all those years ago, but so did I.
David Edelberg, MD