There’s a catch-22 with hypertension. As Dr. Carolyn Dean explains in The Magnesium Miracle, diuretics are in the first line of treatment for high blood pressure. The catch is that diuretics deplete the body of magnesium. Without enough magnesium, we’re more susceptible to tension and spasms of the blood vessels – “a precursor to hypertension; thus the very treatment for hypertension worsens the problem.” (Kindle version, p. 2465).
Maybe you’ve heard that diuretics deplete potassium, and you’ve been careful to replace it in your diet or with supplements. What few people are told is that “replacing potassium doesn’t help patients who are also magnesium-deficient, because the body is unable to deliver potassium to the cells without sufficient magnesium.” (pp. 2465 – 2466)
Got that? That’s right: there’s no point in replacing potassium if your magnesium is depleted – and if you’re on diuretics, you’re almost certainly magnesium deficient.
It gets even more troubling from here.
The common side-effects of diuretics mirror those of magnesium deficiency: “weakness, muscle cramps, joint pain, and irregular heartbeat.” (p. 2466) So, doctors who aren’t aware of the magnesium connection could easily confuse a mineral deficiency for a tough case of high blood pressure – a case that isn’t responding to diuretics.
What happens next?
When diuretics don’t work, Dean explains that the next line of offence includes ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, anti-adrenergic drugs, or vasodilators. Sometimes these drugs are layered, so that a patient can be taking multiple different medicines for high blood pressure.
And of course, with each prescription there are side-effects.
Dean tells the story of a patient with hypertension who became depressed and experienced impotence on the drugs – and still had hypertension. Not only did he still have elevated blood pressure, he now had stress from the side-effects of the drugs. (p. 2476)
Magnesium, on the other hand, is “a natural antihypertensive, muscle relaxant, antianxiety remedy, and sleep aid.” (p. 2482)
There’s a very strong connection between magnesium intake and blood pressure. “Research shows a direct relationship between the amount of magnesium in the diet and the ability to avoid high blood pressure.” Blood pressure goes up as magnesium levels go down. (pp.2489 – 2490)
The relationship is so strong – and unlike pharmaceuticals, there’s almost never a drawback to taking magnesium. It makes sense as a starting place for treating high blood pressure – which is exactly what Dean argues doctors should do first. It’s what she calls an “ideal drug” for its safety, inexpensiveness, “wide therapeutic range”, and “little or no tendency toward drug interaction”. (p. 2482)
One thing we love about Dr. Dean’s research is that she always recommends a diet high in magnesium-rich foods as a starting place. Whole, unrefined plant foods are nature’s medicine, and getting enough could prevent and treat hypertension.
For many, it’s tough to get enough magnesium from diet alone. When you’re under stress or taking medications, like diuretics, you may need more than the official recommended intake (levels which, according to Dean, are set low).
When you’re on prescription medication, it’s always best to talk to your doctor about taking any supplement. The four contraindications to magnesium therapy, according to Dr. Dean, are: 1. kidney failure, 2. myasthenia gravis, 3. excessively slow heart rate, and 4. bowel obstruction. If you have one of these conditions, talk to your doctor about whether you can supplement.
For everyone else, magnesium could be the treatment that keeps you out of the doctor’s office longer.
Dean, Dr. Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle (Revised and Updated). Kindle version.