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Magnesium and Atherosclerosis - Can Magnesium Prevent Atherosclerosis

A Mineral that May Help Keep Arteries Clear

By Lia Tremblay

Updated August 19, 2010

(LifeWire) - Magnesium is a mineral that is important to the functioning of nearly every part of the body. It may also protect against atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque within arterial walls that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Found in bone tissue, organ cells and the blood stream, magnesium helps regulate blood sugar and maintain healthy nerve function, as well as keep the bones and immune system strong.

Its usefulness in lowering atherosclerosis risk has been discussed for years. Some evidence of this potential benefit surfaced in a 1998 study called the "Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study" (ARIC) . In it, nearly 14,000 men and women were each regularly examined for up to seven years. Those who routinely had lower magnesium levels in their blood had higher rates of developing coronary heart disease, which develops from atherosclerosis.

A 2008 study showed a link between the consumption of prunes, a magnesium-rich food, and a lower incidence of atherosclerosis.

Magnesium is available in a wide variety of foods and is even found in tap water. One-fifth of the recommended daily value (420 mg for men, 320 mg for women) can be found in a serving of:

  • halibut
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • soybeans
  • spinach

Although surveys suggest that many Americans, particularly older Americans, do not consume sufficient amounts of magnesium, symptoms of deficiencies are rarely seen. Some research suggests that when insufficient magnesium is available, magnesium may move from the soft tissues to the bloodstream, masking the deficiency. A further drop in magnesium levels can be caused by certain medications, digestive problems that inhibit absorption of minerals and alcohol withdrawal.

The first signs of a magnesium deficiency include:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • vomiting
  • fatigue

Eating a healthy diet is the best way to increase magnesium intake, but with many people not getting the recommended amount, magnesium supplements may help protect against cardiovascular disease and immune system disorders. Supplemental tablets are available in 250 mg or higher dosages. If your physician recommends supplementation, be sure not to exceed the recommended amount. Taking too much can lead to magnesium toxicity, indicated by such symptoms as diarrhea and extremely low blood pressure.

When taking a magnesium supplement, be careful with over-the-counter laxatives and digestive aids that contain magnesium, because they may contribute to an overdose.


Gallaher, Cynthia M., Daniel D. Gallaher. "Dried Plums (Prunes) Reduce Atherosclerosis Lesion Area in Apolipoprotein E-Deficient Mice." British Journal of Nutrition 2 (2008): 1-7. Web. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=CB3602055C9E16AB506DE399BE626FE7.tomcat1?fromPage=online&aid=2183836>.

Liao, F., A.R. Folsom, F.L. Brancati. "Is Low Magnesium Concentration a Risk Factor for Coronary Heart Disease? The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study." American Heart Journal. 136:3(1998): 480-90. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9736141>.

"Magnesium." nih.gov. 2008. National Institutes of Health. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/magnesium.asp>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Lia Tremblay is a freelance writer and editor specializing in consumer health care topics. She lives and works in Virginia.

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