One of the first supplements atrial fibrillation patients turn to for a potential natural treatment is magnesium – and for good reason. The heart has more magnesium than any other organ in the body. That should tell you something about magnesium’s importance to your overall heart health!
Magnesium is one of the electrolytes that plays a role in the heart’s electrical functioning. Magnesium deficiencies have been linked to many cardiovascular conditions. These include afib, heart attacks, and mitral valve prolapses. It also includes stroke, which often manifests as a complication of afib.
If you have afib, there is a very good chance you have a magnesium deficiency. Research seems to support this conclusion, since studies show that magnesium can relieve afib:
Canadian researchers have done a meta-analysis of studies dealing with the benefits of intravenous administration of magnesium in the acute treatment of atrial fibrillation. They found that effective rate control (reduction in heart rate below 100 bpm) and/or conversion to normal sinus rhythm was achieved in 84% of patients given magnesium as compared to 53% given a placebo…The researchers conclude that intravenous magnesium is an effective and safe strategy for the acute treatment of afib.
Magnesium Deficiencies in the US
The Standard American Diet lends itself to creating magnesium deficiencies. Most people eat too little of the foods that provide magnesium and too much of the foods that either inhibit it. In addition, many American consume too much calcium, which can throw off the heart’s balance even more.
Most adults consume around 270 mg of magnesium every day, well below the 320 to 420 mg that most healthy adults need. According to a-fib.com, deficiencies range from 65% to 80% in adults around the world.
Our diet is not the only culprit. Stress depletes the magnesium that we do consume. There is no denying that most Americans live a high-stress lifestyle.
Finally, certain drugs deplete magnesium as well. Ironically, many of the worst culprits are prescribed to treat heart and blood pressure problems!
Are You Magnesium Deficient? Testing for Magnesium Levels
There are three tests that you can get if you suspect that you are dealing with a magnesium deficiency:
- Serum Magnesium
- RBC Magnesium Analysis
1. Serum Magnesium Testing
Serum magnesium tests require a basic blood draw. They’re the most common way to test for deficiencies. If you see your doctor and ask for a magnesium test, this is the test he’ll prescribe. They’re not always accurate, however. In fact, they are rarely ever accurate.
That’s because serum magnesium tests only test the amount of magnesium in your blood. They don’t measure the amount of magnesium that is present and working within your cells, where the bulk of the magnesium is stored in your body.
Despite its flaws, it’s possible to draw some correlations. If your serum blood magnesium levels are low then chances are your actual magnesium levels are low (and probably very low). If your blood magnesium levels are higher than normal then you probably have enough magnesium in your cells.
The problem arises when the test shows your blood magnesium levels to be normal, which is usually what happens. With a normal reading, most doctors will simply say that you have adequate levels of magnesium and move on. The problem is, for most afibbers a normal test result usually means they are actually low in magnesium.
Read this post where I compared my serum magnesium tests to other more advanced testing options (see below).
2. RBC Magnesium Test
An RBC Magnesium test is a more accurate test than serum testing. It also requires a blood draw, but the blood undergoes different tests than it would undergo in a standard serum magnesium test.
You can request a RBC test from your doctor but he’ll likely ignore your request and just prescribe a serum test or tell you that a serum test is “good enough” to determine if you have a magnesium deficiency. Don’t buy it. Demand a RBC test and if they can’t do it, use an independent lab to have one done.
The normal reference range for the RBC magnesium test is 4.2 – 6.8 mg/dL. Dr. Carolyn Dean, the author of the Magnesium Miracle, wrote a blog post about the RBC Magnesium blood test. In it, she wrote you want to be at least 6.0-6.5 mg/dL.
I reached out to her to ask her why she recommended that and she said 80% of the population is deficient in magnesium. As a result, she tells people they want to be above the 80th percentile of their test levels.
In this post I compare my RBC test results with the EXA Test.
3. EXA Test
Finally, there’s the EXA test. This is the current gold standard for testing for magnesium levels. For this test, the inside of your cheeks are scraped with a piece of plastic and then wiped on a test strip and sent in for analysis. Those cheek cells are then scanned by an electron microscope and bombarded with X-rays.
As EXAtest.com explains, this bombardment causes different minerals in your cells to release energy. “From this process, the computer calculates a spectral fingerprint for each patient that identifies the mineral electrolyte levels and ratios within the cell.” EXA tests are the most accurate magnesium tests available today.
Unfortunately, they are not common and are expensive ($295). If you ask your doctor for an EXA test he will very likely give you a blank stare. Most doctors haven’t even heard of this test. I had to contact several naturopathic doctors in my city to find one that administered it. Of course he had an additional charge to administer the test so the total costs for an EXA test can easily exceed $400, which is usually not covered by insurance.
So which test should you have done?
Understand that doctors are typically only going to give the basic blood serum test. They typically won’t offer the other two tests because they usually aren’t readily available and are expensive – and in the case of the EXA test probably haven’t even heard of it!
Skip the blood serum test. It’s meaningless to afibbers. Most people, however, should have easy access to a RBC magnesium test. I would start there. It’s not the most accurate test but it will give you a decent indication if your magnesium levels are too low.
If you have the money and can find someone to administer the EXA test in your area, then it’s a no-brainer. You go with the EXA test as it will give you the most accurate indication of your magnesium levels.
How To Get More Magnesium In Your Diet
Before turning to supplements you might want to try increasing your intake by including more magnesium-rich foods in your diet. Adjusting your diet can be one of the safest and most effective ways to manage atrial fibrillation.
The top ten magnesium-rich foods are:
- Spinach – 157mg (1 cup)
- Chard – 154mg (1 cup)
- Dark Chocolate – 95mg (1 square) – afibbers should consume with caution
- Pumpkin Seeds – 92mg (1/8 cup)
- Almonds – 80mg (1 ounce)
- Black Beans – 60mg (1/2 cup)
- Avocado – 58mg (1 medium)
- Kefir or Yogurt – 50mg (1 cup)
- Figs – 50mg (1/2 cup)
- Banana – 32mg (1 medium)
Magnesium Supplements for Atrial Fibrillation
If you can’t get enough magnesium-rich foods in your diet, then you may need to turn to supplements. And to be honest, to get the amount of magnesium necessary to have a positive affect on your afib, you probably won’t be able to get it through foods alone.
There are several types of magnesium supplements to choose from. The differences are primarily in the amount of elemental magnesium in these supplements and the rate they are absorbed.
Here are common types of magnesium supplements with the amount of elemental magnesium per 500mg.
- Magnesium oxide (300mg)
- Magnesium carbonate (210mg)
- Chelated magnesium/Magnesium glycinate (90mg)
- Magnesium citrate (80mg)
- Magnesium chloride (60mg)
- Magnesium taurate (45mg)
- Magnesium malate (33mg)
- Magnesium orotate (31mg)
- Magnesium gluconate(27mg)
While the amount of elemental magnesium is important, the bioavailability (absorption rate) is even more important. The types that are the most easily absorbed are magnesium orotate, magnesium citrate, and chelated magnesium (magnesium glycinate).
Avoid magnesium oxide (the most common form used in multivitamins). Magnesium oxide has the most elemental magnesium but it’s the least absorbed form of magnesium. Only about 4% of the elemental magnesium in magnesium oxide is absorbed – a measly 12mg in a 500mg tablet!
There are two magnesium supplements I recommend. Start with Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium. It has 100mg of elemental magnesium (magnesium glycinate) per tablet.
If that supplement gives you digestive issues or loose stools and diarrhea (common side effects when taking high levels of oral magnesium), then I recommend a liquid magnesium chloride supplement called ReMag. This is the oral supplement I take exclusively because I can take as much as I want and I have zero digestive or stool problems.
Since it’s a magnesium chloride supplement, ReMag can also help improve digestive issues by increasing stomach acid production to help digest food better. As we get older, stomach acid production tends to go down so taking magnesium chloride can help.
Magnesium supplementation requires a lot of experimentation. All of us are unique so what supplement works well for me might not work for you. I cannot tolerate more than 300mg of magnesium glycinate per day or I’ll be on the toilet all day. You, on the other hand, might be able to take double that everyday without any issues.
It’s also a good idea to take different forms of magnesium as each type has unique health benefits. For example, magnesium taurate supplements like this one are very popular among afibbers for it’s cardiovascular benefits.
Magnesium malate supplements like this one are popular for people with fibromyalgia.
A final notes on oral magnesium supplements: Calcium and magnesium compete for absorption so if you take them together they will both compete with each other. Too much calcium also has the potential to excite the heart cells and induce an afib episode, especially when magnesium is deficient. Bottom line, afibbers should avoid magnesium supplements with calcium in them.
Getting More Magnesium Through Your Skin
Some afibbers are sensitive to oral magnesium supplements. They cause severe digestive issues or diarrhea and loose stools. As a result, oral supplements aren’t an option.
If you find this is the case for you then you can increase your magnesium levels through the use of magnesium oil, magnesium chloride flakes, or Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate).
Magnesium oil is usually odorless. It is sprayed on the skin and allowed to dry. Most brands recommend that you wash it off after 20 minutes have passed. Most magnesium oils are messy and leave a white residue on your skin (which is why they recommend you wipe it off after 20 minutes).
After experimenting with many different magnesium oil sprays I found one that is nothing like typical magnesium oil products. It absorbs into your skin within minutes and doesn’t leave any residue. It’s called Ease magnesium spray.
There is 27mg of magnesium in each spray so if you spray your arm four times, you’ll have over 100mg of magnesium. I use Ease right after my morning workouts. I’ll typically apply four sprays on my under arms and arm pits and four sprays on my chest for a total of 12 sprays. This gives me around 325mg of magnesium.
If you have any issues with oral supplements, Ease spray is the best option. In fact, it might even be better than oral supplements. According to Dr. Mark Sircus’ book, “Transdermal Magnesium Therapy,” topical magnesium supplementation is far superior to any oral supplements.
Magnesium Chloride Flakes
Magnesium chloride flakes are an excellent topical magnesium option. They are the dry flakes of magnesium chloride and other naturally-occurring trace minerals and are far superior to epsom salts. One cup of flakes contains approximately 15g (GRAMS) of elemental magnesium chloride! Magnesium chloride flakes can also help with various skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis.
I use magnesium chloride flakes a couple times per week in foot soaks. I’ll use a 1/4 cup at a time. The only product I use, and highly recommend because of its superior quality, is Ancient Minerals magnesium chloride flakes.
Magnesium chloride flakes are much more expensive than epsom salts so I don’t recommend using it as a bath soak, although an occasional chloride flake bath soak is a nice luxury:) You can also make your own magnesium oil spray by mixing the flakes with distilled water. It’s messy and will leave a residue on your skin that you’ll have to wash off but with an 8lb. bag of flakes, you’ll be able to make enough magnesium oil spray to last a long time!
Epsom salts are another topical magnesium option. Magnesium sulfate isn’t as effective as magnesium chloride, nor does it have the trace minerals that magnesium chloride has, but it’s still a good option.
Like magnesium chloride flakes, you can use epsom salt in bath or foot soaks or make your own magnesium oil spray. I’ll occasionally combine Epsoak Epsom Salt with my magnesium chloride flakes when I do my foot soaks.
What Magnesium Dosage is Best to Treat Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation patients should generally take 600 mg/day to 800 mg/day, and those dosages should be spread evenly throughout the day.source
Because excessive magnesium or magnesium sensitivities can cause loose stools or diarrhea, you’ll want to start off with small doses, say 100 mg/day. You’ll want to work your way up from there, increasing the dosage gradually about a week at a time. So in week two you’ll increase it to 200 mg/day, week three 300 mg/day, etc. Plan on a long-term program, as it can take six months or more to bring your magnesium up to optimum levels.source
What Foods and Vitamins Affect Magnesium Absorption?
Vitamin D has a big impact on magnesium absorption, so it’s worthwhile to get out into the sun each day or take a daily vitamin D supplement. I take 1-2 drops of this vitamin D liquid supplement everyday to ensure maximum absorption of the high levels of magnesium I take.
Fiber from fruits and vegetables, fructose from fruits, complex carbohydrates and most proteins can help promote healthy absorption as well.
As I mentioned earlier, vitamins such as calcium can disrupt magnesium absorption. You can’t exactly cut calcium from your diet but you should avoid calcium supplements if you have atrial fibrillation.
Foods that interfere with magnesium absorption include coffee, tea, and soda. Carbonated beverages are especially detrimental to the body’s ability to absorb magnesium and would be a good idea for afib patients to remove them from their diet altogether.
Magnesium and Drug Interactions
Magnesium adversely affects warfarin (Coumadin). Magnesium interferes with the drug’s abilities to bind with proteins in your blood stream. When it fails to bind, the drug just sits in the blood stream instead of doing its job. As a result it can build up as you take your daily dose. That means magnesium could put you at risk for an overdose and excess bleeding.source
If you are already taking blood thinners or any medications for that matter, you should have a conversation with your doctor and do your research before attempting to start a magnesium regimen of any kind!
Signs of Too Much Magnesium Supplementation
The most common symptoms of excessive magnesium intake are loose stools and diarrhea. If this occurs, cut back your magnesium intake until you find a dosage you can tolerate. You should also try different forms of magnesium. If you find you can’t tolerate oral magnesium supplements, consider topical magnesium options as mentioned earlier.
Does Magnesium Really Work for Atrial Fibrillation?
There are certainly a lot of examples of where magnesium has been shown to help lessen the burden of atrial fibrillation. Some are anecdotal, like this comment from a thread on Daily Strength from a 43-year-old man who takes 500mg of magnesium per day about an hour before bed with amazing results.
And in this thread a woman comments how a combination of magnesium, taurine, and potassium (via low-sodium V8) has had a wonderful reduction in her afib symptoms.
And then there is this testimonial from a 57-year-old man with atrial fibrillation that stopped all of his prescriptions because he was completely relieved of his symptoms after taking magnesium.
A more compelling tale comes from Discover Magazine, which will tell you what a doctor directly observed after administering intravenous magnesium supplements during arrhythmia attacks. He got a near-immediate positive response in both cases.
In fact it’s not uncommon to be administered intravenous magnesium if you go to an E.R. of a hospital for an atrial fibrillation episode!
Of course as great as magnesium is for afib patients, it doesn’t always work. For every success story there are many people who say magnesium doesn’t do anything for their atrial fibrillation.
As great as magnesium might be for a lot of afib patients, it should not be treated as a panacea. It is one tool in your treatment toolbox, one treatment option out of many. Yes, it might really work for your atrial fibrillation…but every person is different so don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work for you.
Recommended Magnesium Resources for Afibbers
If you really want to geek out on magnesium and take a “deep dive,” I recommend the following books.
Atrial Fibrillation: Remineralize Your Heart by Dr. Carolyn Dean
The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Carolyn Dean
Magnificent Magnesium by Dr. Dennis Goodman
Transdermal Magnesium Therapy by Dr. Mark Sircus
Do you have magnesium recommendations for atrial fibrillation?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!