My favorite mineral: Magnesium

Everyone in our family takes a magnesium supplement in addition to the magnesium we get from our diet. Magnesium is an essential mineral, which means our body needs it to function. We get it from our diet or with supplements. 

Lack of magnesium may lead to irritability, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeat. Every organ in the body — especially the heart, muscles, and kidneys — needs the mineral magnesium. It also contributes to the makeup of teeth and bones. Most important, it activates enzymes, contributes to energy production, and helps regulate calcium levels as well as copper, zinc, potassium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients in the body.

Certain medical conditions, however, can upset the body’s magnesium balance. For example, an intestinal virus that causes vomiting or diarrhea can cause temporary magnesium deficiencies. Some gastrointestinal diseases (such as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS and ulcerative colitis), diabetes, pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism (high thyroid hormone levels), kidney disease, and taking diuretics can lead to deficiencies. Too much coffee, soda, salt, or alcohol as well as heavy menstrual periods, excessive sweating, and prolonged stress can also lower magnesium levels. Children on the autism spectrum tend to be low in magnesium due to digestive issues and diet.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include:

  • agitation and anxiety
  • restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • sleep disorders
  • irritability
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abnormal heart rhythms, low blood pressure
  • confusion
  • muscle spasm and weakness
  • hyperventilation
  • insomnia
  • poor nail growth

Magnesium will:

  • relax nerve impulses and muscle contractions
  • promote relaxation; aid in restful sleep
  • help lower blood pressure
  • keep your bones strong (especially when taken with calcium)
  • keep your heart healthy by lowering cholesterol
  • relieve symptoms of menopause and PMS
  • help the body absorb calcium and potassium

Fibromyalgia – A small preliminary clinical study of 24 people with fibromyalgia suggest that a proprietary tablet containing both malic acid and magnesium may improve pain and tenderness associated with fibromyalgia when taken for at least 2 months. Other studies suggest the combination of calcium and magnesium may be helpful for some people with fibromyalgia. Magnesium has been shown to relieve muscle pain and fatigue in individuals with Fibromyalgia.

Migraine headache – A few studies suggest that taking magnesium supplements may help prevent migraine headaches. In addition, a few clinical studies suggest that magnesium supplements may shorten the duration of a migraine and reduce the amount of medication needed. People who have migraine headaches tend to have lower levels of magnesium compared to those with tension headaches or no headaches at all.  Some experts suggest combining magnesium with the herb feverfew along with vitamin B2 (riboflavin) may be helpful when you have a headache.

Type 2 Diabetes - It is estimated that up to 80 percent of those with type 2 diabetes have a magnesium deficiency. High glucose levels, in patients with Type 2 Diabetes, will cause the body to flush magnesium from its system. In a recent study, people with diabetes who took magnesium supplements had improved insulin and glucose levels.

Heart Disease - “Magnesium does a heart good”. People with heart conditions, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and coronary artery disease, tend to be magnesium deficient. Studies show that people with low amounts of magnesium in the body have double the risk of developing coronary heart disease, and that magnesium supplementation can lower cholesterol by as much as 20 percent. Magnesium supplementation can increase individuals’ magnesium levels and minimize the risks associated with heart disease.

DIET: The best dietary sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, peas, beans, and cereal grains in which the germ or outer layers have not been removed.  For example, spinach (1 cup) and pumpkin seeds (1 ounce) will provide about 157 mg.; long grain brown rice (1 cup) provides 84 mg.; 1/2 fillet of wild fresh salmon contains 59 mg. For a list of foods rich in magnesium, the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements has a list: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/magnesium#h2

A diet high in fat may cause less magnesium to be absorbed. Cooking may decrease the magnesium content of food.

Diets that provide plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of potassium and magnesium, are consistently associated with lower blood pressure. The DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) suggested that high blood pressure could be significantly lowered by a diet high in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, and low in sodium and fat.  Evidence suggests that magnesium may play an important role in regulating blood pressure.

The U.S. RDA of magnesium intake for children 4 – 10 yrs is between 120 – 170 mg/day; adults between 270 – 400 mg./day.

To supplement your diet with magnesium, there are various forms of magnesium to choose from.

TYPE OF MAGNESIUM: Magnesium citrate, oxide, glycinate, and sulfate. For constipation, people use magnesium citrate, but for a good supplement for bodily functions without diarrhea, we use magnesium glycinate.

The various forms of magnesium will affect the digestive tract differently. Below are some guidelines on how your body may react to types of magnesium:

  • oxide:  tends to firm stools
  • glycinate:  a very gentle form of magnesium that is easier on the system
  • citrate:  tends to loosen stools
  • sulfate:  tends to loosen stools
  • chloride:  tends to loosen stools

Magnesium sulfate – Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. Be sure to buy USP (U.S.Pharmaceutical grade). You can get them at the Dollar store, grocery.drug store and Costco. Epsom salts will:

  • ease stress and improve sleep
  • reduce inflammation and relieve muscle pain/cramps
  • flush out toxins
  • help prevent or ease migraine headaches

When given an Epsom salt bath, the magnesium and sulfate in the salts are absorbed into the body through the skin.  Sulfate is thought to circulate in the body up to about nine hours. Any Epsom salts left on the skin may continue to be absorbed as long as it is still on the skin, offering continuous ‘timed-released’ input into the bloodstream.  I put 1.5 to 2 cups of Epsom salts in hot bath water to dissolve and then add the cold water to balance the temperature. Soak for about 15 minutes before using natural soaps or shampoos. Others add baking soda and lavender oil to enhance the relaxation effects.  You can also do a foot bath of hot water and Epsom Salts for 15 minutes while watching TV/reading before bed.

Apples, Bananas and Grapes, Oh My!

One of my favorite childhood movies was The Wizard of Oz. It’s funny how my life has traveled down a path that feels like the yellow brick road. Searching for the Emerald City, all the while dodging flying monkeys, evading a wicked witch and meeting a talking scarecrow. It seems a lot like our biomedical journey through autism.  And what was in that picnic basket Dorothy carried with her? My son would have filled it with apples.

Apples, applesauce, apple juice. Not that long ago, that was about the only fruit my son with autism would eat. Oh, and a banana every now and again. Orange juice is OK now. He LOVES grape juice and will eat an occasional grape. The problem is, these fruits are highly phenolic in nature. Makes him react like a hyperactive chipmunk on catnip!

My older son will eat any fruit he can get his hands on, but does not react to phenols like my youngest. Not fair, I say. So I let my son with autism eat apples, bananas and grapes now. He takes a digestive enzyme to help him process it, called No-Phenol. I also give him Epsom salt baths each night to help his body detox the phenols.

Ketchup, pasta sauce, pizza sauce. All phenolic and make him a crazed energizer bunny! But he sure does love those tomato based foods. So every time his meal has anything tomato based in it, he gets a No-Phenol enzyme. And all is good in the Allor house.

We just went camping for five days. It was beautiful, fun-filled and great to be in the mountains. The only problem was I couldn’t give my son with autism his nightly Epsom salt bath.  Without the baths, his emotion regulation gets  a bit crazy and he gets weepy on me over the little things. I did bring our Epsom salts along and decided to soak his feet in a small tub before bed. That helps in a pinch. It’s not the same as a full body soak for 15 minutes, but it definitely helps his body detox.

That yellow-brick road seems never-ending. We haven’t found the Emerald City yet so we can ask the Wizard just how to completely heal our son’s biochemical pathways. I’ll keep you posted on what I learn in my continued research. In the meantime, we’ll rely on No-Phenol and Epsom salts. One day, we’ll find our way home, and out of the land of Oz.

Related posts on phenols, epsom salts and the PST pathway:

http://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/epsom-salts-old-wives-tale-or-medical-fact/

http://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/diet-2/phenolssalicylates/

http://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/diet-2/feingold/

Epsom Salts – Old Wives Tale or Medical Fact?

(First in a series of three wives tales)

My mother taught me about Epsom salts for aches and pains. She would swear by it and I would ignore it; chalking it up to another old wives tale she told me. But then autism entered our lives and suddenly I was reading about the magic of Epsom salt baths. Could my mom actually have been right about this? Well, yes.

The reason I learned about Epsom salt baths for my son with autism was due to the research I was conducting on some of his physical and behavioral symptoms he displayed. It turned out that he has trouble with his PST (phenol-sulfotransferase) system and the processing of phenols and salicylates.

Symptoms of PST/sulfate deficiency (problems with phenols/salicylates) are reddened ears, hyperactivity, inappropriate laughter, night sweats, black under eyes, excessive thirst, eczema, facial flushing, trouble falling to sleep, disturbed sleep and odorous bed-clothes.  Your child doesn’t have to exhibit all of these symptoms in order to have trouble with phenols.  My son gets most of these symptoms and he not only becomes very hyper, but he starts to stim and he has trouble with emotion regulation.

Ready for the medical science behind this? One very important sulfotransferase enzyme is the one that attaches sulfate to phenol compounds, called phenol-sulfotransferase (PST). The PST is under active in the majority of autistic children. Without the PST enzyme working properly, the liver will have trouble eliminating the phenols in food.  PST is a Phase 2 liver enzyme that detoxifies leftover hormones and a wide variety of toxic molecules, such as phenols and amines that are produced in the body (and even in the gut by bacteria, yeast, and other fungi) as well as food dyes and chemicals.

OK, so what are phenols?  Phenols are present in food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives and in highly colored fruits and vegetables, in bioflavonoids, and in carotenoids (carotene, lutein, lycopene, xanthophylls, and zeaxanthin).  Almost all foods have phenols, but in varying amounts. Salicylates are a subgroup of phenols. Salicylate is a group of chemicals related to aspirin. There are several kinds of salicylate, which plants make as a natural pesticide to protect themselves.  Foods high in natural salicylates are tomatoes, apples, peanuts, bananas, oranges, cocoa (chocolate), red grapes, coffee, all berries, peppers (bell & chili) to name a few.  My son can’t tolerate too many phenols/salicylates. He reacts to tomatoes (yes, ketchup and pasta sauce!), chocolate, red grapes, and artificial colors/flavors.

Most children on the autism spectrum are very low in sulfate due to a deficiency in this PST pathway.  Since sulfur intake is low, and its oxidation is slow in many autistic children, phenols and salicylates that requires or uses up sulfate ions during its metabolism, will make the situation worse.  Tylenol is phenolic and one or two minutes after a dose of  Tylenol, the entire supply of sulfate in the liver is gone!

So, what’s a mother to do? Well, listen to their mother. Epsom salt baths. One way to enhance detoxification is to supply more sulfate.  This increases the amount of toxins processed out. Sulfate ions may not be absorbed well from the gut, so simply giving more sulfur directly by swallowing supplements may not produce satisfactory results.  This may be because their body is unable to convert the sulfur to the needed sulfate form. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate which is readily available to support the PST pathway. You can purchase Epsom salts at Costco, Wal-Mart or your local grocery and health food stores. Be sure to purchase U.S.P. (United States pharmaceutical grade).

When given an Epsom salt bath, the magnesium and sulfate in the salts are absorbed into the body through the skin. Because the sulfur is already in the sulfate form, it does not need to be converted like other forms of sulfur do. Sulfate is thought to circulate in the body up to about nine hours. Any Epsom salts left on the skin may continue to be absorbed as long as it is still on the skin, offering continuous ‘timed-released’ input into the bloodstream.

I put 1.5 to 2 cups of Epsom salts in hot bath water to dissolve and then add the cold water to balance the temperature. My son will soak for about 15 minutes before I use natural soaps or shampoos. Others add baking soda and lavender oil to enhance the relaxation effects.  I give my son an Epsom salt bath at least 5 nights a week, others do less.  It really soothes and calms him for bedtime.

I’ve finally decided to take heed to my mother’s old wives tales she’s been sharing with me for the past 40 years. There is something to be said about listening to your mother.  But perhaps we should refer to them as “old wise tales” from now on.

Read the second post in the series of “Old Wives Tales” here:  http://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/a-tablespoon-of-apple-cider-vinegar-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away/

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