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Magnesium Supplementation for the Elderly

By Dr. Carolyn Dean MD, ND

This time of year we gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays.  Sometimes, it’s the only time of year when we get to see our favorite aunt, our grandparents who live several states away, or even our own parents!  Coming into close proximity to our distant, elderly loved ones makes us aware of their health and even their strategies for taking care of themselves. As you venture out this holiday season, here are some things to consider when thinking about your elderly friends and family….


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Elderly people in the United States and Canada represent an emerging high-risk group for nutritional deficiencies. A magnesium deficit in the elderly can occur due to inadequate nutrient intakes, multiple drug use, altered gastrointestinal function and/or frequent urination. Magnesium has been targeted as a risk factor for elderly people and has been implicated in the aging process.

Aging in our industrialized society is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, reduced insulin sensitivity and Type 2 diabetes, among other degenerative diseases. Most of us don’t know that aging is also associated with an imbalance in the levels of calcium and magnesium and dozens of other minerals almost identical with those found in people with heart disease and diabetes. Clinical studies thoroughly document the fact that people with insulin resistance (a characteristic of Type 2 diabetes) have too much calcium and too little magnesium in their cells. Interestingly, these same effects are seen as the results of “normal” aging. That fact suggests that the disturbance of calcium and magnesium ions in the cells might be the missing link for the multiple diseases associated with aging. Other clinical research shows magnesium deficiency may increase our susceptibility to heart disease and accelerate the debility of aging.

One study of nursing home residents linked low magnesium levels and two conditions that commonly plague the elderly: diabetes and calf cramps. And another study showed that people who reached the age of 100 had higher total body magnesium levels-and lower calcium levels than the average person.

A Gallup Poll survey reported that magnesium consumption decreases as we age, with 79% of adults 55 and over reportedly eating below the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium. In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that older adults are at increased risk of magnesium deficiency due to their decreased ability to absorb the mineral. The diseases to which the elderly are vulnerable, and some of the drugs used in therapy, also contribute to magnesium loss. A potential magnesium deficiency is a matter of concern for many individuals of all ages, but for the elderly, it could be particularly serious.

The human body’s ability to absorb magnesium declines with age, so elderly people who do not eat an adequate diet and those who use prescription drugs that deplete the body’s magnesium are at risk. (Studies show that the average senior citizen takes six to eight prescription medications a day!) Antacids, taken by many older people to cover up symptoms of a poor diet, is a strong brew of calcium and aluminum that depletes magnesium and adds to the neurological burden of the elderly.

Several studies show that severe neurological problems result from extremely low levels of magnesium in the brain that can be caused by the chronic use of diuretics, which millions of people use to control high blood pressure. A diuretic, usually the first line treatment for high blood pressure specifically drains potassium as well as magnesium from the body. Most doctors prescribe potassium to replace the loss but forget about magnesium.

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