Magnesium and Vitamin B1 - Team Players Needed for Brain, Muscles, Metabolism, and More

Monday, March 23, 2015
By: Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

Last week’s newsletter on “Vitamin B1 / Thiamin – Are You Getting Enough?” brought to light many fascinating things about vitamin B1 relating to present concerns. Further information is coming to light that needs to be explored. In particular, researchers are looking further into thiamin deficiency and have developed a hypothesis that every health care practitioner, especially psychiatrists, need to investigate and embrace. In addition, it must be understood that vitamin B1 is a team player with magnesium. Without adequate magnesium, thiamin will not work in the body and there are serious consequences without this team approach.

Thiamin and Psychosomatic Disorders

A study published in Medical Hypotheses February 2015 has taken thiamin deficiency discussion and research to the next level. Researchers know that the Standard American Diet loaded with carbohydrates, fats, and empty calories leads to a depletion of vitamin B1 because of the lack of thiamin in the diet and the increased demand in order to breakdown the high amount of carbohydrates. Their theory is that the resultant thiamin deficiency is at the root of many psychosomatic diseases.

Psychosomatic disease is the favorite catch-all term used by medical professionals when there is a disorder of the mind and body that they cannot identify. The end result is a prescription for an anti-depressant, a referral to the psychiatrist, and the embarrassment and humiliation of being told it’s all in your head or that you’re a hypochondriac. This interesting study points out several things theoretically due to functional thiamin deficiency, producing symptoms that are often diagnosed as psychosomatic. This functional mild-moderate deficiency results in a pseudo hypoxia of the limbic system and brainstem. This functional lack of thiamin causes the limbic (emotional) system and brainstem (fundamental life reflexes) function to be stressed creating mood, fatigue, and very subtle problematic changes (balance, cognitive skills/focus, attention, etc) that can ebb and flow and are dismissed as being hypochondria. These symptoms are often readily reversed with adding thiamin support.

The same study outlines another argument that should be turning heads. The study theorized that those individuals who had stressors from seemingly 21st century common factors could cause intermittent fluctuating balance problems. These stressors, i.e. infection (colds/flu, etc), head injury (concussion, etc), or inoculation (vaccines of any type) would be enough to stress the brain and the brain mitochondria to cause the fluctuating neurological symptoms. It also stated that individuals with marginal vitamin B1 status would be more likely to have medication and vaccine adverse reactions.

This ebb and flow of symptoms indicates that the damage and dysfunction is reversible if the bottlenecks in the biochemistry are addressed. If the high calorie diet, low thiamin status continues, then these stressors lead to more serious consequences and a variety of chronic brain diseases that were discussed in last week’s article. Performing a blood test called erythrocyte transketolase can evaluate thiamin status. Supplementation with the water soluble vitamin B1 and avoiding high carb, high calorie, nutrient poor diet is how to avoid this potential quandary.

Magnesium and Vitamin B1 are Team Players

Magnesium is required for thiamin to work in the nervous system and make ATP/energy from carbohydrates. Magnesium and vitamin B1 are team players and both must be present for the Kreb’s/citric acid cycle to move forward to make energy, burning food for fuel, and hundreds of essential life functions. Magnesium is a mineral and electrolyte. It is critical to the function of over 400 mechanisms in the body. It is vital for acid/alkaline balance in the body, mitochondria function and ATP production, cell replication, cell membranes and permeability, and protein synthesis. The effect of magnesium is enormous and throughout the entire body.

Magnesium is fundamentally involved with the metabolism of many other nutritional team players required for life and cellular function. Magnesium status influences calcium, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, iron, sodium, lead, cadmium, HCl/stomach acid, acetylcholine (the memory neurotransmitter), nitric oxide, for many different enzymes, for cellular homeostasis, and for the activation of thiamin. This means that every nutrient influenced by magnesium will also be functionally compromised. Simultaneously, magnesium absorption depends on selenium, vitamins B6 and vitamin D, and the parathyroid hormones.

Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

Symptoms of moderate to severe magnesium deficiency include low calcium and low potassium levels or electrolyte imbalances. This is just a partial list of known concerns linked with inadequate magnesium. Brain or nervous system problems include foot cramps, seizure disorders, muscle cramps/leg cramps, muscle weakness/tremors/twitches, movement disorders, vertigo/dizziness, eye movement disorders, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders, etc. The heart muscle and cardiac nervous system is particularly sensitive to lack of magnesium leading to multiple different types of tachycardia, arrhythmias, and sensitivity to digoxin. Atherosclerosis, hypertension, heart attacks, and platelet clumping (clots) are complications of magnesium deficiency. Elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, VLDL, LDL, apolipoprotein B and reduced HDL are consequences of inadequate magnesium. Migraines, asthma, menstrual disorders, preeclampsia, constipation, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, kidney stones, and impaired athletic performance are some other disorders associated with moderate or severe magnesium lack. Recent research indicates that lack of magnesium along with several other nutrients leads to autoimmune thyroid disorders. 

Other concerns associated with magnesium insufficiency includes high levels of free radials/oxidative damage (peroxynitrite damage) that is linked with multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and Alzheimer’s disease, recurrent bacterial and fungal functions due to changes in the nitric oxide levels of tissue and immune fatigue. Low magnesium leads to calcium deficiency that may show up with dental cavities, hearing loss, impotence, fibromas, and vitamin K deficiency.

Magnesium is vital for axons or nerves to hold a stable electrical charge without becoming over-stimulated. Some of the earliest symptoms of magnesium deficiency are related with how muscles and nerves work together and brain-mood-behavior concerns. A clinical pearl for those who are sensitive to calcium, have odd reactions to stimulation or don’t do well with the excitatory neurotransmitters serotonin and acetylcholine may be due to significant magnesium deficits. Lack of magnesium contributes to “wind-up” or a build-up of neuro-inflammatory signaling chemicals including NMDA and Substance P.

Bones, Muscles, and Magnesium

The tissues that contain the greatest amount of magnesium are the bones at about 53 percent of total stores. Muscle tissue and soft tissue contains 27% and about 19% respectively. Red blood cells contain 0.5 % and serum contains 0.3%. Research shows that most adults consume slightly more than half the basic RDA. Basic RDA levels for men are 420 mg/day, women 320 mg/day, with pregnancy demands higher, and children from 120 mg to 420 mg/day. As a reminder, this is just the basic RDA which does not account for any of the factors listed in this article.

A serum magnesium test is the most commonly used to measure magnesium status. The correlation between serum total magnesium and total body magnesium status is poor. It fails to measure how much magnesium is stored in the body and readily available when needs are increased or dietary intake is lacking. It is essentially a worthless measurement; but know that if the lab value is low, you are in deep trouble! Better testing is RBC magnesium, but that is still limited. A muscle biopsy or a magnesium loading test assess magnesium storage more thoroughly but are impractical and invasive.

Magnesium Robbers – Diet and Medications

Just like with thiamin, there are several things that compete against magnesium. Some of the main players are high fat diets, high sugar diets, alcohol consumption, high salt intake, phosphoric acid (soda pop), coffee intake, sweating, high stress/high cortisol, heavy menstrual bleeding, and some GI problems and malabsorption problems (bariatric surgery, Celiac, Crohn’s, anorexia, bulimia, pancreatitis, severe dieting, etc.). Consuming GMO foods is another factor that may lead to less magnesium in the diet and absorption although there continue to be heated debates on this subject.

There are several medications that also deplete magnesium. These include acid blockers and antacids, especially proton-pump inhibitors, various antibiotics, antiviral agents, several types of blood pressure medications and diuretics (ACE inhibitors, Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers, Loop Diuretics, Thiazide Diuretics, Sulfonamide Diuretics). Also included in this list are central nervous system stimulants (methylphenidate/Ritalin), cholesterol agents (non-statin drugs, i.e. cholestyramine, etc), corticosteroids (oral and inhaled), HRT/oral contraceptives, immunosuppressants, nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer, osteoporosis agents (Evista), SERMS (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators – used for breast cancer (Tamoxifen, etc.), and Sulfonamides.

Diabetes, Hemoglobin A1C, and Obesity

Eating a high fat diet without adequate magnesium is sure way to obesity, elevated cholesterol levels, and problems with insulin resistance. In fact, Type I and II diabetes are the most common causes of magnesium deficiency with 39% of diabetics having a measurable problem. In fact, research from nearly 25 years ago suggests that diabetic complications are related with lack of magnesium because of its effects on a transport mechanism. The lower the magnesium levels in the body, the greater the problem with fasting blood sugars, hemoglobin A1C, albumin, and even the onset of diabetes. Given the obesity and diabetes epidemic, how many people could be helped if their physicians simply recommended a magnesium supplement and a vitamin B complex for thiamin rather than drugs that further deplete the body?

Can There Be Too Much Magnesium?


Magnesium must be balanced properly with the other electrolytes calcium, sodium, and potassium. Taking too much magnesium leading to complications is generally very rare. Taking markedly high doses beyond product recommendations without the other electrolytes or if one has severe kidney failure can lead to problems with confusion, lethargy, kidney problems, bowel and bladder problems, diarrhea, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, low heart rate, cardiac conduction blocks, and heart attacks.

Magnesium naturally occurs as part of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants. Thus green leafy vegetables contain higher amounts of magnesium. The plant fiber can somewhat compete though with the magnesium absorption, limiting the full potential intake. Unprocessed cereal brains like oat bran, brown rice, some seeds and nuts have magnesium. Meat and dairy products are smaller amounts. Chocolate also has magnesium, but when loaded with sugar defeats the purpose.

High quality magnesium such coral magnesium, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium malate are easily absorbable, non-irritating forms of magnesium. In order to support the body with healthy utilization and balance of thiamin and magnesium and their team players, consider using a multiple vitamin formula with a multiple mineral formula. Adding extra broad-spectrum antioxidants and vitamin D helps replenish the team players associated with vitamin B1 and magnesium. If the medical profession simply had each patient on a nutritional regime like this and off the atrocious diets plaguing industrialized countries, the sick care industry would suddenly turn into health care. The world would change. How about you? How is your nutritional team doing? Are you going to make this change or are you content to suffer the consequences?

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