Magnesium Deficiency: The Real Emperor of All Maladies?

Health Tips / Magnesium Deficiency: The Real Emperor of All Maladies?

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.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

0 thoughts on “Magnesium Deficiency: The Real Emperor of All Maladies?

    Sorry about the confusion

    red blood cell magnesium is the correct way to measure levels

    serum magnesium or urine magnesium will not give accurate assessment of levels of magnesium in the body

    Dr E
    Posted July 16, 2019 at 9:49 am

    Confused: Reading “The End of Alzheimer’s” Dale Bredesen,MD, who states””measuring levels of magnesium in your red blood cells, where most of it resides, produces a more accurate reading than measuring it in serum. The is called RBC, magnesium. It should be between 5.2 and 6.5 mg/dL.
    Yet in your article you state one can’t measure it. What is the correct answer?

    Kathy Stathos
    Posted June 25, 2019 at 6:28 am

    I did try magnesium in an spray bottle and applied to my feet 2x per day. What I found is that I started getting panic attacks after about 2 weeks. Panic attacks are a symptom of magnesium deficiency but I got them from I believe over doing the magnesium. I stopped the spray application and went back to normal. I am not sure how unusual that is but I am careful with my dosage of my daily pill and stop for a week every 6 weeks.

    Larry Gray
    Posted July 7, 2015 at 2:47 pm


    Stay away from soy. Unless you read into the labels, you can be deceived.
    Even better is magnesium oil. It absorbs even better. Ancient Minerals makes mg oil, but its more expensive than the mg citrate pill. You stay it on your body and leave it there for 30 minutes and can take a shower. Some people say they prefer this because it may leave a film on your skin. The key is to let it on your skin for 30 minutes and then shower if yonotice a white residue.

    Sam barbary
    Posted June 13, 2015 at 8:46 am

    I put “citrate or glycinate” on my shopping list and when I got home and actually read the bottle it was Soy chelate. Next time I’ll do better. Thanks for your help.

    Mark Evans
    Posted June 10, 2015 at 11:13 am

    To Mark Evans:
    Don’t take magnesium oxide and it is cheap. It doesn’t absorb well. Most of it is flushing out of your colon. It’s a great colon cleanse. Try magnesium citrate. It is much more absorbable and will benefit you faster.

    Sam barbary
    Posted June 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    I read the article, went to the grocery store, got some cheap Mg, took .6G, got diarrhea, but felt great. A big boost to my energy, which has always been a problem. The next time I checked my Blood Pressure, it was way down. I’ve since taken .4G, and the diarrhea hasn’t come back. Any suggestions to mitigate the diarrhea? Thanks!

    Mark Evans
    Posted June 9, 2015 at 10:26 am

      Mark. Everyone has a slightly different “bowel tolerance” to magnesium supplementation. It appears you’ve found the dosage your body can easily tolerate.

      Dr. R
      Posted June 9, 2015 at 10:55 am

    As always, a great tip, Dr. E., and another useful reminder to take the proclamations of conventional medicine with a grain of salt. I can’t remember if it was you or something I read that first got me taking magnesium a few years ago. With it I sleep better and have more energy. Thanks!

    Posted June 3, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Michael
    The Myo Malate is fine

    Dr E
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks Doc,
    am wondering if myo malate found in whc apothecary
    fulfills magnesium concerns or if i need additional supplement.

    f michael smith
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    An established expert, researcher and developer of a pico-meter ion of magnesiun that is 100% absorbed at the cellular level is Dr. Carolyn Dean. She wrote a couple books on her research on the BIG Pharma who doesn’t want the word to get out that magnesium can re-balance that which is depleted from our diet. You should look her up at Drcarolyndean live on achieve radio. You will be impressed.

    charmaine decardi
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Still my favorite physician blessings Dr. E …

    GREAT Article

    Lisa Michelin
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Thank you for the important alert. The Magnesium Miracle is a must read book by Dr Carolyn Dean, a looong time mg advocate who has created a special, straight to the cells, liquid version of mag and a complete treatment protocol well worth investigating.

    katharine Dahl
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 8:18 am

    I love your articles. Indeed, magnesium supplements (powdered form) has been recommended to me by various alternative practitioners: my midwives; naturapath & chiropractor. But I’ve also heard it is best to absorb it thru the skin via epsom salt baths or a spray? On a related note, the AMA has essentially had a medical monopoly in the US for 100+ years. And now, 54% of children have chronic disease, our infant mortality rate is terrible, and our healthcare costs are out of control–especially considering the poor outcomes in general. If everyone in the US woke up 100% healthy tomorrow, our economy would collapse. So where is the incentive to keep people healthy??? The AMA’s medical monopoly is HURTING Americans. We desperately need this to change.

    Posted June 2, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Thanks, as always for an informative and interesting article. I, being an old AMAer, especially enjoyed the clarification of just what happened at the AMA. My good friend Heidi Hough is your editor; I think you are a terrific team. It is a real treat to read reliable information that is well written!

    Carole reedy
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

    It’s funny the refining process honest people go through that dishonest people ever see but never percieve. Sorry to get all esoteric Dr E but I must:
    ” Blessed is the man whose strengthis in You,
    Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.”
    Thank you guys for all your efforts 🙂

    Posted June 2, 2015 at 7:26 am

    Great article. Another Dr. who is an expert on magnesium is Carolyn Dean

    Sam barbary
    Posted June 1, 2015 at 9:26 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *