Team GR: Magnesium is a essential mineral we keep in our supplement cabinet. How critical is it for individuals with autism? We brought in one of our supplement experts, Jared Skowron, ND, to help us crack down the importance of taking magnesium!
Magnesium — Don’t Forget About Me!
Written by Dr. Jared Skowron
Sometimes, we forget about the old things; the classics, the foundations, like magnesium. We get excited about new things in the hopes of finding the magic bullet. Sometimes when we get wrapped up in all things new, we lose sight of pillars of importance. We must remember the foundations of health and illness: Genetics, Nutrition, Toxicity.
Where to Begin
Where do we start our journey? In the past or in the present? Looking into the future? Do we first reflect on our health and life today, or reach back into our old photo albums of sepia stained square polaroids? I think today, I’m in the mood to rewind the clock 80 years….
I found an article from Berkeley Medical School published around 1937. This was an animal study analyzing symptoms of magnesium deficiency in the diet, especially related to calcium levels and Vitamin B2 levels (which they used to call Vitamin G back in the day). What interests me is the understanding of nutrition at that time. Here’s a couple quotes:
“A fixed value cannot be given for the minimum requirement of a given element. The amount required will be found to vary with varying conditions of life,…and also in relation to the intake of other components of the diet.”
“A high content of calcium in the diet increases the severity of magnesium deficiency and raises the amount necessary to meet the minimal magnesium requirements.”
Even back then, insights were given to individuality. I listen to so many parents who want to know the perfect dose, the exact number, and frankly it depends on your child. The need varies based on the individual’s health and genetics. While 100mg is right for some, 400mg is right for others. We must follow the response to a therapy individually.
After my recent lectures at the Autism Education Summit, there were so many question from parents about how long should they be on a supplement? A few weeks, a few months, a year? We must assess the value of a treatment and continue if it is successful, and switch if it’s not. Time is ticking! Recovery has a time window, and the earlier in life, the better chance we have for full recovery.
Let’s fast forward to the late 20th century, when we developed a much better understanding of nutrition. The following is from a magnesium review article from the United Kingdom. As science technology expanded, we realized the great importance magnesium has in every part of the body, due to its necessary and essential effect in mitochondrial function. (Mitochondrial DYSfunction is widely prevalent in most cases of autism.)
“Magnesium is the second most abundant intracellular cation. It is essential for a wide variety of metabolically important reactions, in particular those involving ATP.”
“Most intracellular magnesium is located within the mitochondria, because magnesium binds avidly to ATP. In general, the more metabolically active the cell, the higher its magnesium content.”
The brain and nervous system need huge amounts of ATP, only second to the heart. If it doesn’t have enough molecular energy in the form of ATP, it can’t function well. This leads to the next obvious questions: How do we analyze our magnesium levels? How do we get more if we’re deficient?
“Serum magnesium concentrations provide a guide to magnesium status, but while hypomagnesemia is a reliable indicator of magnesium deficiency, normomagnesemia does not exclude magnesium depletion.”
I think this quote is extremely important, and let me rephrase it. A magnesium blood test commonly done on a chem screen or metabolic panel (BMP or CMP) will show magnesium deficiency in extreme cases, but will look normal when we have magnesium depletion. You can still be symptomatic with low magnesium symptoms and still have a normal level on this test.
This is because only 0.5% of magnesium is located in the plasma, which is what this common blood test analyzes. Over 99% of magnesium is within the cell, and a large majority of that is in the mitochondria.
“Despite its biological importance, clinical awareness of disturbances in magnesium homeostasis is poor.”
Since serum and intracellular magnesium relationships have not been clearly defined, the way most pediatricians look at magnesium levels isn’t that accurate, except in extreme cases. We need another way to analyze adequate and healthy magnesium levels.
Some blood tests look at magnesium within the red blood cell or white blood cell. This is superior to plasma levels, which look outside the cell. Magnesium can also be found in the urine. A before and after magnesium challenge urine test may be the most accurate and easiest to collect on children. Urine is collected on the first day, then the child takes a magnesium supplement, and urine is collected after. If the second urine test has a large increase of magnesium (the body is excreting it), then the child assumably has a healthy level. If the second urine test is similar to the original, then the child assumably was deficient (the body did not excrete it, but kept it).
“Magnesium depletion is common in our society. The average Western diet may not provide the recommended daily intake of magnesium, particularly in children.”
“Children require 150-200 mg/kg depending on age. About 30% of ingested magnesium is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.”
So, most of us are magnesium deficient, not to an extreme point of severe cardiac issues, but enough to affect optimal mitochondrial function, and neurological function, leading to mood abnormalities, along with sensory and motor function abnormalities, and insomnia.
Moving Into Today
Now, let’s enter the 21st century, the autism epidemic is upon us, and we need to do everything possible to help our children recover. This includes even further understanding of the biochemistry, science, and importance of nutrition. A 2010 publication on magnesium function highlighted the following:
“Since magnesium deficit stimulates histamine release from mast cells…it is believed that magnesium reduces the hypersensitivity reactions.”
Wow! Even I put my coffee down when I read this. How many of my patients have red ears, red cheeks, hyperactivity, unexplained stomach pain, and go coo-coo bonkers on Benadryl? Histamine is a problem for many kids, and a simple magnesium supplement could help reduce those reactions.
“Magnesium ions are also essential to glutathione synthesis, which can be confirmed by the fact that GSH level in the red blood cells of rats decreased after 2-3 weeks of a magnesium deficient diet.”
So many of us are exposed to elevated levels of toxicity. Aluminum, mercury, air pollution, water pollution, etc. Those with mitochondrial dysfunction and children with regressive autism are highly sensitive to oxidative damage, which many of us improve with glutathione therapy. We can increase the production of glutathione in our own body by supplementing with NAC, but that exacerbates yeast symptoms. What about just adding some magnesium to improve internal anti-oxidant power and glutathione levels!
“Glutathione depletion enforces reactive oxygen species accumulation, resulting in mitochondrial dysfunction”
I’m sure you’re convinced now. We all need more magnesium, or at least a healthy amount. What is the best way to get more? Through our diet, green vegetables such as raw baby spinach is a great start. Nuts, such as cashews and almonds, pumpkin seeds, and roasted soybeans are other good sources. Unfortunately, daily needs are unlikely to be met by one serving of a single food. Trust me, I know dietary suggestions only go so far; I’m the father of a picky eater too. With the limited diets are children are willing to eat, supplementation is often necessary.
Magnesium & Autism: Will it Work?
Lastly, we turn toward the research on magnesium and autism, and frustratingly the research isn’t concrete. Some studies show benefit, while others don’t. Why do we see so much of this in autism? Similar contradictory research outcomes are common in dietary studies and other biomedical treatment studies. It’s my belief that because autism is not concretely understood from a pathological and physiological aspect, there is no single treatment for everyone. Autism MUST be treated individually. Magnesium treatment helps with some children, but not all. Gluten-free, dairy-free diet works with some children, but not all. B12 shots, HBOT, fish oil, the list goes on and on. Works for some, but not all.
The health and genetics and nutritional status and toxic status of every child must be assessed individually and treated uniquely to get the best outcomes.
Call to Action! Here’s what you should do today.
Healthy levels of magnesium should be consumed every day. If you don’t have enough in your diet, and most don’t, then supplement with daily magnesium.
Avoid this pitfall!
Most multivitamins do NOT contain a sufficient amount of magnesium. Usually you need to take an additional magnesium supplement. Luckily, Spectrum Awakening features a few products that contain magnesium. Team GR’s favorite being the Calcium/Magnesium Pear Powder.
About the Author:
Dr. Jared Skowron created one of the largest biomedical autism clinics in New England, helping children for 15 years recover from the spectrum. He is on the Advisory Board of Autism Hope Alliance, and lectures at Generation Rescue’s Autism Education Summit, TACA, Autism One, and other international conferences.
Keep up with Dr. Skowron weekly as he tackles your questions live on the Spectrum Awakening Facebook page, every Thursday! To learn more about Dr. Skowron, please visit www.SpectrumAwakening.com
Tufts, E, Greenberg, D. The Biochemistry of Magnesium Deficiency. 1937.
Ryan, M. The role of magnesium in clinical biochemistry: an overview. Ann Clin Biochem 1991; 28: 19-26.
Pasternak, K. Kocot, J, Horecka, A. Biochemistry of Magnesium. J. Elementol. 2010, 15(3): 601-616.