Magnesium is one of the macrominerals: minerals that the human body needs in large amounts (the other macrominerals are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur). Magnesium is the fourth most plentiful mineral in the body, and is an essential nutrient. It is particularly important for the health of the nervous system. It also regulates blood sugar levels and blood pressure, helps to build strong bones, and is important in energy metabolism. People with certain kinds of health problems tend to need more magnesium. Magnesium deficiencies are common in people who have gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, and alcoholic addictions. Older adults may also need more than the average amount of magnesium.
It may be that asthma patients are among those who are likely to be deficient in magnesium. Magnesium has been used to treat asthma since the late 1930s. Several studies have shown that magnesium helps asthma patients to breathe more easily. In fact, intravenous magnesium works faster than corticosteroid therapy to improve airflow. Although magnesium helps emergency room patients to recover more quickly from asthma attacks, doctors are not certain whether dietary supplementation of magnesium can prevent future attacks. However, it is a safe option to try, especially if supplementation comes in the form of increasing dietary magnesium. Most foods which are high in magnesium (green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts) will help to improve health in other ways as well.
Using Magnesium to Treat Asthma
- The safest and least expensive method for supplementing any nutrient is to eat foods containing it. Magnesium can be found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, in legumes (such as beans and peas), nuts, and whole grains. It is also in tap water, but more magnesium can be found in hard water than in soft water.
- Magnesium can also be taken as a supplement, in tablets or liquid supplements.
- In the hospital, patients who are very low in magnesium may be given magnesium through an IV.
Why It Works
Magnesium has a bronchodilating effect on patients having an asthma attack, opening up constricted airways. Some animal studies have also shown that magnesium deficiencies can increase the amount of histamine that is released into the blood during an allergic reaction. The reverse is likely also true: that getting enough magnesium can cause the body to release less histamine during an allergic reaction. Since asthma attacks are often triggered by histamines released during allergic reactions, reducing histamine release can make a big difference.
Asthma is a serious disease that can result in death. Any treatment for asthma should be undertaken with the help of a physician. In the emergency room, intravenous magnesium is considered a good option because it is generally safe, has few side effects, and does not reduce the number of other options that are available in the event that it does not produce a strong enough effect.
Excessive amounts of magnesium can cause intestinal cramping and diarrhea. Magnesium overdoses can also cause kidney failure, because the kidneys excrete magnesium. Magnesium overdoses are rare but sometimes occur when people take very large doses of laxatives or antacids that contain magnesium.