Every 40 seconds. That's how often someone dies from heart disease — the nation's No. 1 killer — which claims the lives of nearly 600,000 Americans every year.
But what if you could greatly lower your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke simply by taking a single over-the-counter pill every day? Dennis Goodman, M.D., one of the nation's top cardiologists, says that idea, in essence, is the promise offered by magnesium — a common mineral clinically shown to boost heart health.
In his new book, "Magnificent Magnesium," Dr. Goodman documents the strong link between cardiovascular disease and magnesium deficiency — and explains how the mineral help combat the nation's epidemic of heart problems.
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"What I truly believe is that low magnesium is one of those very very important risk factors and unfortunately there's not enough attention paid to that," he tells Newsmax Health. "And I think there are so many people out there who have this risk factor and they're not aware of it and it contributes to the high incidence of heart disease."
Dr. Goodman — a clinical associate professor at the Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology at New York University and director of integrative medicine at New York Medical Associates — notes most Americans are aware of the heart-healthy benefits of aspirin, exercise, a nutritious diet, and stress management. But few understand the benefits of magnesium, despite the "tens of thousands of articles written" that have documented the connection between cardiovascular disease and low levels of the mineral in the blood.
"It's very hard to understand why so many people don't know about it. But what we do know [is] the people with the lowest levels of magnesium have increased risk for cardiovascular disease and all sorts of other things, too," he says.
A 2011 study published in the America Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011, for instance, found a 40 percent greater risk of sudden cardiac death among women with low levels of magnesium, compared to those with the highest concentrations. The study involved 88,000 nurses whose health histories were tracked for 26 years.
"For me that's very very very impressive," Dr. Goodman says of the study's findings. "And it makes you realize that magnesium … is extremely important for cardiovascular health."
He believes magnesium does not garner as much media attention — or advertising — as blockbuster heart pills and cholesterol-lowering statins because the pharmaceutical companies don't have a financial stake in promoting its use.
"It's not a prescription drug, it's not something [where] the doctor writes a script," he notes. "And therefore there's no big drug company … going to go out and educate the public [about magnesium] In fact most people are not hearing about it. … and I think it's a shame."
That lack of public awareness may be why federal studies show as many as three out of four Americans are magnesium deficient, in part because they don't eat Mediterranean-style diets high in foods that contain the mineral — such as green leafy vegetables, avocado, halibut, tuna, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and almonds.
"How many people are eating that stuff? Most people [are] not," he observes. "So that's one problem, you've got people not eating that kind of Mediterranean diet. And No. 2: The soil is deficient in magnesium. So even if you are eating that [kind of diet] you are not getting good magnesium in these vegetables so most people are deficient. And I think one of the problems is that people don't know."
Dr. Goodman's own practice has confirmed, through blood testing, that about 75 percent of his patients are magnesium deficient and report such common symptoms as fatigue, muscle aches, cramps, palpitations, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems (such as constipation).
"Most people put it down to all sorts of other things… but in fact magnesium deficiency causes a lot of these symptoms," he says.
He adds that patients who follow his recommendation to boost their levels of the mineral — through diet and supplements — "feel better within weeks."
Dr. Goodman argues that magnesium deficiency should be treated as aggressively as other well-accepted cardiovascular risk factors — such as high blood pressure, high LDL "bad" cholesterol, low HDL "good" cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and stress.
"One of the big things we know today is that inflammation is a major cause of serious diseases like heart attack and stroke. We've shown that low magnesium causes increased inflammation," he notes.
Taking steps to understand and address your heart-disease risks is critically important, even if you do not have any symptoms of cardiovascular problem, he adds, pointing out that studies show about half of the people who die from a heart attack die without warning.
"In fact, [for] half the people who die of a heart attack, it's their first and last symptom, and that's very scary," he notes. "You need to look at what are your risk factors, what are the things that put you at risk?"
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