Is Magnesium the Underlying Cause and Treatment for Everything?

Carolyn Dean believes magnesium deficiency is the cause of a great many diseases and recommends that everyone take magnesium supplements, preferably the one she sells, ReMag. I remain skeptical.

This is magnesium. Do you need more of it?

I was recently asked about the book The Magnesium Miracle, by Carolyn Dean. The word “miracle” in the title put me off, but I wanted to read it and try to understand what it was claiming. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I’m good at reading. I have slogged my way through some really atrocious books, and I have learned from them, if only to gain insight into the authors’ thinking processes. I can’t remember ever trying to read a book and failing, but this time I met my Waterloo. I hate to admit defeat, but I simply could not read this book. Not my fault. In my opinion, the book is unreadable.

The author is an MD but also a naturopath (ND). The book is not a scientific treatise; it is a poorly organized, biased screed and an infomercial for the author’s products. It claims that most people are deficient in magnesium, that magnesium deficiency is the cause of a huge number of symptoms and diseases (“one cause of all disease“?), that magnesium is the cure, and that everyone should take a magnesium supplement. But not just any magnesium supplement, only the one that she developed and sells. She claims her product ReMag is better absorbed and won’t cause the diarrhea that other magnesium supplements do (except that it will if you take more than you need!). Her other products include ReMyte, ReCalcia, Detox: ReAlign, ReStructure protein powder, RnA ReSet Drops, vitamins, probiotics, and more.

Instead of laying out her arguments in an orderly fashion and building a solid case based on evidence, she takes a scattershot approach, jumping from topic to topic. The Introduction sets the pattern. In it, she starts by bragging that her previous book was a best seller and bragging about an award she received. Then she attacks mainstream doctors, saying they got it all wrong and they haven’t understood the evidence about magnesium. She says testing for magnesium deficiency is misleading, because the best test for magnesium levels is not available. Within the first few pages, she is already hyping her own supplement, ReMag. She briefly touches on arrhythmias, kidney disease, and other conditions. She claims our soil is depleted. She provides emails and testimonials from patients that don’t prove anything and don’t ring true. Then she wards off complaints by listing 14 reasons that you might feel worse while taking magnesium, even though it is benefitting you.

Every time I started to think she was sustaining a train of thought and getting into some meat that I could investigate by checking her references and looking for other confirming or disconfirming evidence, she was off on a new tangent, often saying something that made me cringe. For instance, it seems Dr. Russell Blaylock told her that 20-55% of drugs are fluorinated, and “she knows” that fluoridation of tap water is a disaster afflicting the population with an epidemic of chronic disease, including arthritis and cancer. The American Cancer Society disagrees; and of course, she offers no evidence in support of her alarming claim. She claims statins are potentially toxic fluoride compounds that may release fluoride ions that can irreversibly bind to magnesium, contributing to muscle pain. That idea is easily refuted by anyone with an elementary knowledge of chemistry. Surely the author has studied chemistry and should know better. Statin compounds contain fluoride atoms, but they are not released as ions. That’s as silly as saying hemoglobin is toxic because it contains iron atoms and elemental iron is toxic.

Gleanings

Although I found the book unreadable, I was able to learn a great deal by skimming. I quickly realized there would be no profit in delving more deeply. Here are a few of the things that popped out at me. Much of this misinformation and some of the “experts” she cites have been covered previously on SBM, and not in a good way.

She says 70-80% of people are deficient in magnesium, and she claims magnesium deficiency is the cause of many diseases. Doesn’t that mean 20-30% are not deficient? And yet she recommends that everyone take magnesium supplements. That doesn’t compute.

She asserts that our soils are depleted and lacking in nutrients: “some of our foods are not worth eating”. There is much evidence to the contrary showing that vegetables are still an excellent source of nutrients and supplementation with vitamins and minerals is not needed.

“You may need a particular kind of magnesium to achieve therapeutic levels.” What kind? Her ReMag, of course. Her evidence? Lacking.

Some of the questionable diagnoses she accepts are yeast overgrowth syndromedetox reactionsmultiple chemical sensitivity, and electromagnetic sensitivity. She’s a chemophobe, saying, “Toxic chemicals are being found in all foods, all bodies of water, and all humans in every study performed.” (Sure, our modern instruments can identify trace contaminants, but that doesn’t mean they are harmful to our health. The poison is in the dose.)

She says the most accurate test for magnesium is the ionized magnesium blood test, a non-standard test that costs $390 and is not readily available; but she tells you how you can order it for yourself. Then she says it’s not always accurate either, so she recommends not testing but just taking her supplement and seeing if you feel better.

She quotes “detox expert” Sherry Rogers, who believes everyone should use far infrared saunas (FIR) to eliminate stored environmental toxins. (What toxins are eliminated? Where is the evidence?). An article in The Atlantic criticizes FIR as devoid of evidence, and comments, “they lie to people about their health while stealing their money”.

She says you need to “drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily.” That’s a myth.

She cites a study that showed 80% reduction in migraines with 200 mg magnesium daily. Her source was the book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You. Since the study had no control group, its results are meaningless. I couldn’t find that study in PubMed, but I did find a 2014 systematic review that reached this very different conclusion:

The strength of evidence supporting oral magnesium supplementation is limited at this time. With such limited evidence, a more advantageous alternative to magnesium supplementation, in patients willing to make lifestyle changes, may be to focus on increasing dietary magnesium intake.

She tells us Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, in his book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, says dehydration is the cause of high blood pressure. Batmanghelidj is not a trustworthy source of information. He has been characterized as a crank and has been criticized on several grounds; the references can be found here. Other more reputable sources tell us that dehydration has been linked (correlation, not evidence of causation) to high blood pressure but that research into this topic is limited.

To treat edema, she says you need to drink more than 4 cups of water a day and you need to spike the water with sea salt, ReMag, and ReMyte. To each quart of water, add 1/4 tsp unrefined sea salt, pink Himalayan Salt, or Celtic sea salt. That advice contradicts mainstream medical advice to limit sodium intake.

While pushing ReMag, she also recommends homeopathic magnesium. Yes, she advocates homeopathy! She thinks it has been scientifically tested and proven to work, that its effects can’t be attributed to placebo because it is effective for children and animals, and she brings up the old canard about homeopathic hospitals getting better results in the 1919 influenza epidemic.

Her approach amounts to throwing everything into a blender. She mixes cherry-picked science (every published study and book that passed the filter of her confirmation bias), with pseudoscience, the opinions of unqualified people, misinformation, demonstrably false statements, speculations, correlations with no evidence of causation, gullible acceptance of fake diseases, unquestioning approval of bogus treatments like homeopathy, lifestyle advice, recipes, shameless commercials advertising her products, and much more. All mixed together and blended into an incoherent mush. If there are any useful facts in this blenderized mishmash, it would be impossible to pick the fragments out of the mush and make sense of them.

A typical testimonial: she told a patient to start taking her brand of magnesium supplement for symptom X and the patient told her that not only had symptom X resolved, but that symptoms A, B, C, D, and E had also improved. No systematic evaluation, no control group, no attempt to rule out other reasons for improvement…in short, no science. Just hearsay, unverified stories, testimonials, anecdotes, and the praise of appreciative customers – the sort of thing every snake oil salesman and charlatan can provide in abundance.

Conclusion: Advertising and persuasion, not science

I can’t recommend this book. The sad thing is, I do think there are things to be learned about magnesium; but we can’t hope to learn them here. We’ll have to wait for a reliable evaluation of the evidence by a trustworthy, science-based expert.

This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog.

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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