Magnesium Deficiency Could Predict Heart Disease Risk


Low magnesium levels linked with all known cardiovascular risk factors


Heart With StethoscopeThis article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

Are your levels of magnesium up to snuff? Turns out being deficient in magnesium could do a lot more than cause muscle cramps.

Magnesium is required for proper electrical signaling within the heart muscle and helps stabilize a normal rhythm. Deficiency of the mineral has been shown to increase arterial stiffness, spiking blood pressure and increasing the work load of the heart, directly impacting cardiovascular health and mortality. In fact, researchers from Japan published the results of a study which found that increased intakes of magnesium in the diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular mortality by 50 percent.

Prior research has determined that low magnesium levels are the best predictor of heart disease, contrary to the traditional belief that cholesterol or saturated fats play the biggest role. In a cohort of studies spanning the past 40 years, scientists have found that low magnesium levels are linked with all known cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure, arterial plaque build-up, calcification of soft tissues, excess cholesterol levels and hardening of the arteries.

Researchers determined that decades of elevated calcium intake have not been balanced with increasing magnesium intake and consequently in the U.S., dietary calcium-to-magnesium ratios are increasingly unbalanced. Many people have been led to believe that they need to take copious amounts of supplemental calcium to maintain bone health, when in reality they are developing a homeostatic imbalance of the two minerals and dramatically increasing their risk of arterial stiffness, early cardiovascular disease and death.

Dr. Carloyn Dean, Medical Advisor of the Nutritional Magnesium Association, concluded, “…heart disease is still the Everybody Needs Magnesiumnumber one killer in America, in spite of over two decades of statin use. The fact that low levels of magnesium are associated with all the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart arrhythmia, angina and heart attack can no longer be ignored; the evidence is much too compelling.” The authors note that nuts and legumes are an excellent natural source of magnesium, yet many people avoid them due to the misconception that they are unhealthy due to the high fat content.

Magnesium is a ubiquitous mineral that has been found in abundance in the human diet for countless generations. Over the past half century, this essential nutrient has been systematically weaned from the vast majority of leafy greens and vegetables, due to poor soil conditions and the rapid rise in the consumption of processed foods where any required nutrients have been removed in favor of added sugars, fats, artificial flavors and coloring, which is why supplemental magnesium may be beneficial.

Daily requirements for magnesium are 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men, yet many people take in less than half of these minimum amounts leading to a significant deficiency over time. Health-conscious individuals will optimize their diet, or supplement with a blended magnesium formulation to assure a daily intake of 400 to 500 mg. Further, it may be necessary to limit or eliminate calcium supplementation to maintain proper calcium-to-magnesium balance and dramatically lower the risk of heart disease and early death.

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What’s Ailing America’s Cattle?

Scientists Suspect Livestock-Feed Additives Are Behind Distress



Zuma Press

Shown, workers at a Tyson unit trimmed beef in Nebraska last year.


Tyson Foods has suspended purchases of animals fed with the additive Zilmax.

A growing number of cattle arriving for slaughter at U.S. meatpacking plants have recently shown unusual signs of distress. Some walked stiffly, while others had trouble moving or simply lay down, their tongues hanging from their mouths. A few even sat down in strange positions, looking more like dogs than cows.

“I’ve seen cattle walking down a truck ramp tippy-toed,” said Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science and consultant to the livestock industry. “Normally, they just run down the truck ramp and jump out. We do not want to see bad become normal.”

With few other changes to animals’ diets that could trigger such symptoms, Dr. Grandin and other scientists involved with the livestock industry began to suspect a tie to weight-gain supplements called beta-agonists that have only recently become widely used.



The Meatrix



Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Cattle at a farm in Iowa


On Friday, drug maker Merck & Co. said it would temporarily suspend sales of Zilmax, one such feed additive, responding to widening animal-welfare concerns within the U.S. beef industry over the use of pharmaceuticals in meat production.

“Over 25 million cattle have been fed Zilmax since it was approved in the U.S., and I’m pretty sure we didn’t miss anything in those safety and efficacy studies, which were reviewed by regulatory agencies,” said KJ Varma, senior vice president of research and development at Merck’s animal-health unit, in an interview.

Merck said it plans to perform a new study of the drug’s effects on cattle, with an animal-health advisory board made up of company-appointed researchers who will design the study.



The Merck announcement came more than a week after Tyson Foods Inc., TSN +0.54% the largest U.S. meat processor by sales, told cattle suppliers it would suspend purchases of animals fed with Zilmax on account of ambulatory problems that the company observed, and suggestions by health experts that the drug might be the cause.

Originally designed to alleviate asthma in humans, beta-agonists are mixed into cattle feed during the final weeks before slaughter to promote weight gain by stimulating the growth of lean muscle instead of fat. They aren’t hormones, but Zilmax, or zilpaterol, can add roughly 2%—or 24 to 33 pounds—to an animal’s final weight. Its rival, ractopamine-based Optaflexx, can add as much as 20 pounds.

Beta-agonists such as Zilmax and Optaflexx, which is made by Eli Lilly LLY +0.02% & Co.’s Elanco animal-health unit, are products of an expanding business of supplements and antibiotics developed in recent years to help livestock gain weight quickly or prevent illness among the animals.

Since the twin drugs won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and 2003, respectively, they have grown in popularity, and are used in roughly 70% of U.S. cattle sold to slaughterhouses, according to Merck. Zilmax sales in the U.S. and Canada totaled $159 million in 2012.

“While FDA has received a very small number of reports of lameness or lying down in cattle treated with zilpaterol, we are always interested in new information about the safety and effectiveness of approved animal drugs,” said a representative for the agency.

Cattle feeders increasingly adopted beta-agonists as years of severe drought drove prices for corn—the main ingredient in cattle feed—to record highs, before an expected huge crop this year caused the prices to moderate.

As “grain prices accelerated, the margins got extremely squeezed in our business,” said Gerald Timmerman, a third-generation cattle rancher and feeder whose family owns livestock operations in Nebraska and Colorado. “That was the catalyst that drove demand for Zilmax up.”

These days, he said, “you can drive through a feed yard and spot every one [of the cattle] that’s on it. They look like muscle-bound athletes. …From a personal standpoint, I felt it was not the right thing to do.”

The additives have also taken away one of the feed-lot operators’ key bargaining chips, the ability to time when they send cattle to the packing plant to get the best price.

“Now, you only have so many days after an animal has been fed [a beta-agonist] before it’s got to go to slaughter or it becomes so lame it can’t move,” said Mike Callicrate, a cattle producer in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Despite the drought, average carcass weights have risen during recent years. Two weeks ago, the average live-steer weight at the time of slaughter was 1,409 pounds. For the same time in 2010, the average was 1,329 pounds. In 2007, it was 1,302.

Meatpackers, who face low head counts for cattle and are looking for another way to expand the amount of meat they can sell, are simultaneously encountering a growing global demand for drug-free meat.

In June, Smithfield Foods Inc., SFD +0.15% the world’s largest hog farmer and pork processor, dedicated half of its slaughter capacity to processing hogs that were never fed ractopamine, a beta-agonist that was banned in Russia in 2012, and also prohibited from use in hogs destined for China or the European Union.

“The company is leveraging its integrated platform to address the growing demand for ractopamine-free pork, primarily in export markets,” said a Smithfield spokeswoman, of the company’s ownership of both its hog-production and processing units.

Removing Optaflexx from cattle and hog feed would require that producers on aggregate use an additional 91 million bushels of corn a year, said an Elanco spokeswoman. It would also require 10 million more head of cattle on a yearly basis to produce the same amount of meat without beta-agonists and other commonly used growth-enhancing technologies, including steroid implants.

Tyson said in an email that its recent ban on Zilmax-fed animals isn’t motivated by a desire to access export markets, but rather “our own, recent animal welfare observations, as well as input from independent veterinarians and outside cattle research and animal welfare experts.”

Since Tyson’s announcement, National Beef Packing Co. of the U.S. and JBS SA JBSS3.BR +1.97% of Brazil, two major meatpackers, have said they don’t plan to change their own cattle-buying practices.

JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett said the company, the world’s largest meat processor, has also noticed ambulatory problems in cattle arriving at its slaughter facilities, but hasn’t been able to determine a direct cause. If a link to beta-agonists becomes clear, he said, JBS “might take a different approach.”

Cattle feeders say beta-agonists affect animals unevenly, and more acutely in hot weather than cold. Some have reported respiratory issues or increased aggression in animals fed with beta-agonists. Many have seen no adverse effects at all.

Guy Loneragan, a veterinary epidemiologist and professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech University, has found a 70% to 90% greater incidence of death in animals fed with beta-agonists. Still, death among cattle in the final stages of feeding is rare.

“We’re at a stage now where we’ve collected a number of adverse events that seem to be related to their use,” Dr. Loneragan said. “The onus is upon the industry, particularly the drug manufacturers, to identify the specific causes of what we’re seeing, and find solutions to prevent it from happening.”

Some opponents of beta-agonists suggest the drugs pose concerns beyond animal welfare, and could have environmental and human health effects that have yet to be closely studied.

“It’s not good for anyone for animals to be showing up at the slaughter house that aren’t 100% healthy,” said Frank Garry, a veterinarian and professor in clinical sciences at Colorado State University. “Whether it’s the drug or not, that’s what we need to find out.”

Write to Kelsey Gee at

A version of this article appeared August 18, 2013, on page B1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: What’s Ailing America’s Cattle?.

Why Consider a Clinical Trial for Natural Health Products?

Test tubes for clinical trialsYou have a strong brand, a great product concept and have identified your ultimate target market.  You’re eager to get out there and sell, but regulatory authorities are saying you need stronger evidence in order to substantiate your product’s claims. Now what?

If you’re in the natural health or functional food industry, you might be all too familiar with this scenario.

It seems as though company after company is taking a regulatory slap on the wrist for unsubstantiated claims, misleading advertising statements or overly aggressive marketing.  The latest example is POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, whose drug-like claims regarding prostate cancer were scrutinized by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Similar cases have been seen in the dietary supplement/natural health product industry.  Recently, Pfizer agreed to drop “breast health” and “colon health” claims from the labels of its widely used Centrum multivitamin supplements following complaints from the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) (view article here).

The key to avoiding the same fate?  Ensure that what you are saying about your product is backed by solid scientific evidence that is defendable and reproducible

In Canada, natural health product (NHP) health claims are reviewed and evaluated by the Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) of Health Canada.  The NHPD recognizes data generated from many different types of research, but gives the most weight to evidence that has been generated from well-designed randomized clinical trials (RCTs).  For more details, click here.


Levels of Evidence
Type of Evidence from Human Studies
Well-designed systematic reviews and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials or other clinical trials, or at least one well-designed randomized controlled trial (preferably multicentred)
Well-designed clinical trials without randomization and/or control groups
Well-designed descriptive and observational studies, such as correlational studies, cohort studies and case-control studies
Peer-reviewed published articles, conclusions of other reputable regulatory agencies or previous marketing experience, expert opinion reports, referenced textbooks, Web site (if the information is peer-reviewed and there is a hardcover version of the site, e.g. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database)
References to a traditional use, pharmacopoeias

Not only does the NHPD evaluate the data generated from research studies, they also review (and approves) all proposed clinical research studies with NHPs that are being conducted in Canada.  The scope of the NHP regulations with regards to clinical trials is to ensure:

  • The safety, efficacy and quality of both the clinical trial protocol and the investigational product(s) and placebo/comparator given during the study
  • The safety of clinical trial subjects and other people
  • Compliance with ICH, Good Clinical Practice (GCP) and federal and provincial laws
  • That people with suitable expertise conduct properly designed CTs

Sources: Health Canada; NHPD; Nutra-Ingredients USA; Reuters

Local Uprising In Home Kitchens And Back Yard Ovens

Micro-Bakeries Offer Bread That’s Truly Fresh

In home kitchens and backyard ovens around the country, small-scale bakers are fermenting a revolution—and the artisanal offerings go far beyond baguettes

In yet another example of the Restoration Economy at work, small scale bakers are carving out loyal followers and turning them into  new customers for a mutually sustaining exchange.  After all, bread is life, no? Read more by Katy McLaughlin in the Wall Street Journal.


Pagnol Boulanger (Los Angeles) | In 2011, the health department busted nonprofit consultant Mark Stambler for selling homemade bread. He lobbied for passage of California’s first Cottage Food law, which allows bakers to work at home. Today, he mills organic flour and hand-kneads about 25 naturally leavened loaves weekly.  

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