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Magnesium Deficiency and Autism

Published on February 16, 2010


Autistic children and children with other spectrum disorders had significantly lower plasma concentrations of Mg than normal subjects.[1]– Dr. M. Strambi

Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2002 shows that when the diets of 2,566 children ages 11-19 were studied, less than 14 percent of boys and 12 percent of girls had adequate intakes of magnesium and low magnesium intake was associated with lower measures of several lung functions (including lung capacity and airway flow).[2]

“Magnesium deficiency definitely accentuates the allergic situation,” says Terry M. Phillips, D.Sc., Ph.D., director of the immunogenetics and immunochemistry laboratory at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and author of Winning the War Within. Thus we can extrapolate that magnesium deficiency can provoke the well known leaky gut syndrome, which we will discuss below.

The Department of Family Medicine, Pomeranian Medical Academy, states that dietetic factors can play a significant role in the origin of ADHD and that magnesium deficiency can result in disruptive behaviors.[3] When dealing with autism spectrum and other neurological disorders in children it is important to know the signs of low magnesium: restless, can’t keep still, body rocking, grinding teeth, hiccups, noise sensitive, poor attention span, poor concentration, irritable, aggressive, ready to explode, easily stressed.

When it comes to our children we need to assume a large magnesium deficiency for several reasons. 1) The foods they are eating are stripped of magnesium because foods in general are declining in mineral content in an alarming way. 2) The foods many children eat are highly processed junk foods that do not provide real nutrition to the body. 3) Because most children on the spectrum are not absorbing the minerals they need even when present in the gut. Magnesium absorption is dependent on intestinal health, which is compromised in leaky gut syndromes that the majority of autistic children suffer from. 4) Because the oral supplements doctors rely on are not easily absorbed, because they are not in the right form and because magnesium in general is not administered easily orally.


Leaky gut syndrome causes a long list of mineral deficiencies. The carrier proteins responsible for transporting various minerals into the bloodstream are damaged by the swelling and inflammation of leaky gut syndrome, something akin to allergies in the gut. It doesn’t matter how much magnesium you take when the carrier protein is damaged, magnesium will not get into the body where it is needed. The body can also be deprived of zinc, copper, calcium, silicon and a wide variety of micro-nutrients. Leaky gut syndrome can also block the absorption of vitamins and essential amino acids, severely hindering nutrient uptake.

Leaky gut syndrome is the result of intestinal inflammation, which causes the spaces between the cell walls to enlarge. It is a condition in which the intestinal lining is more permeable than normal due to abnormally large spaces or “holes” between the cells of an inflamed intestinal lining. It can be caused and aggravated by a number of things such as over use of antibiotics, parasites, excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, birth control pills, aspirin, mercury and other heavy metal poisoning and vaccines. Leaky gut syndrome is not often recognized by physicians and the medical authorities are busy lynching Dr. Wakefield and colleagues for their work suggesting that the MMR vaccine is one of the principle causes of leaky gut syndrome.

A double-blind administration of 200 mg elemental magnesium per day to 25 children produced measurable decrease in hyperactivity over 6 months compared to control.[4] A case can easily be made that substitutes what allopathic medicine considers background genetic disposition for nutritional deficiencies. According to Dr. Ellen Grant, nearly all the autistic children tested at Biolab had zinc, copper, SODase and magnesium deficiencies. We know that mercury displaces essential elements like magnesium, selenium, zinc and copper from cells causing disruptions of enzyme systems in the process. So we can expect, when we correct nutritional deficiencies, that we will see a reversal in symptoms.

Magnesium deficiency measured in 95% of 116 Polish children with ADHD: 78% low hair, 59% low RBC’s, 34% low serum.[5]

Serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies weaken the immune system and lead to developmental problems independently of other factors. This is a crucial point that was made after the deaths from encephalopathy of two Israeli infants who were exclusively fed a soya formula made in Germany that lacked vitamin B1 (thiamin).[6] A recent documentary on these children show the most seriously disabled staring into space and barely able to move. While some babies being treated are improving, others seem to be irreversibly damaged with several of them feeling no pain and never able to cry. Complete nutrition is crucial for neurological development and function and any kind of nutritional deficiency will weaken children leaving them more vulnerable to neurological decline.

Naturally some children would be better mercury eliminators than others, and some kids just can stand higher levels of toxicity without falling apart. Most of medicine and science is geared to examining toxic influences and not deficiency disorders. Deficiencies in basic minerals like magnesium and selenium can make all the difference between health and disease, between being able to withstand chemical attack and not. Constant low level mercury stress in the body will diminish selenium because of the high affinity between these two elements and this is a big problem because of diminished glutathione production when selenium is not available.

Magnesium permits calcium to enter a nerve cell to allow electrical transmission along the nerves to and from the brain. Even our thoughts, via brain neurons, are dependent on magnesium.– Dr. Carolyn Dean

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There are over 200 published clinical studies[7] documenting the need for magnesium and many examples of miraculous “cures” from the use of this common mineral. Yet DAN (Defeat Autism Now) doctors underestimate autistic children’s needs recommending only 50 mgs twice a day in oral form even though children with gut problems can absorb only small percentages through their intestines. The entire autism community needs to be acutely aware that its present dependency on oral magnesium supplementation is responsible for a sizable cause of less then excellent results from chelation. A complete changeover to transdermal/topical approaches to magnesium supplementation is, without question, called for.

Evidence is mounting that low levels of magnesium contribute to the heavy metal deposition in the brain that precedes Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. Many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be overcome with high magnesium supplementation. In a trial with 30 epileptics 450 mg of magnesium supplied daily, successfully controlled seizures. Another study found that the lower the magnesium blood levels the more severe was the epilepsy. In most cases magnesium works best in combination with vitamin B6 and zinc.

Because of its nerve and muscle support, magnesium is helpful for nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and muscle cramps. Dr. Bernard Rimland, of the Autism Research Institute, did extensive research on vitamin B6 and magnesium and found, through double-blind placebo-controlled crossover experiments with 16 autistic children, statistically significant results.

The involvement of free radicals in tissue injury induced by magnesium deficiency[8] causes an accumulation of oxidative products in heart, liver, kidney, skeletal muscle tissues and in red blood cells.[9] Magnesium is a crucial factor in the natural self-cleansing and detoxification responses of the body. It stimulates the sodium potassium pump on the cell wall and this initiates the cleansing process in part because the sodium-potassium-ATPase pump regulates intracellular and extracellular potassium levels. Cell membranes contain a sodium/potassium ATPase, a protein that uses the energy of ATP to pump sodium ions out of the cell, and potassium ions into the cell. The pump works all of the time, like a bilge pump in a leaky boat, pumping K+ and Na+ in and out, respectively.

Potassium regulation is of course crucial because potassium acts as a counter flow for sodium’s role in nerve transmission. The body must put a high priority on regulating the potassium of the blood serum and this becomes difficult when magnesium levels become deficient.[10] Because of these crucial relationships, when magnesium levels become dramatically deficient we see symptoms such as convulsions, gross muscular tremor, atheloid movements, muscular weakness, vertigo, auditory hyperacusis, aggressiveness, excessive irritability, hallucinations, confusion, and semicomma.

A magnesium deficiency can cause the body to lose potassium and this our bodies cannot afford. Within the cell wall is a sodium pump to provide a high internal potassium and a low internal sodium. Magnesium and potassium inside the cell assist oxidation, and sodium and calcium outside the cell wall help transmit the energy produced. The healthy cell wall favors intake of nutrients and elimination of waste products.

Magnesium protects cells from aluminum, mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium and nickel, which explains why re-mineralization is so essential for heavy metal detoxification and chelation. Magnesium protects the cell against oxyradical damage and assists in the absorption and metabolism of B vitamins, vitamin C and E, which are anti-oxidants important in cell protection. Recent evidence suggests that vitamin E enhances glutathione levels and may play a protective role in magnesium deficiency-induced cardiac lesions.[11]

Magnesium in general is essential for the survival of our cells but takes on further importance in the age of toxicity where our bodies are being bombarded on a daily basis with heavy metals. Magnesium protects the brain from toxic effects of chemicals. It is highly likely that low total body magnesium contributes to heavy metal toxicity in children and is a strong participant in the etiology of learning disorders.

Without sufficient magnesium, the body accumulates toxins and acid residues, degenerates rapidly, and ages prematurely. Recent research has pointed to low glutathione levels being responsible for children’s vulnerability to mercury poisoning from vaccines.[12] It seems more than reasonable to assume that low levels of magnesium would also render a child vulnerable.

Glutathione requires magnesium for its synthesis.[13] Glutathione synthetase requires ?-glutamyl cysteine, glycine, ATP, and magnesium ions to form glutathione. In magnesium deficiency, the enzyme y-glutamyl transpeptidase is lowered.[14] Data demonstrates a direct action of glutathione both in vivo and in vitro to enhance intracellular magnesium and a clinical linkage between cellular magnesium, GSH/GSSG ratios, and tissue glucose metabolism.[15] Magnesium deficiency causes glutathione loss, which is not affordable because glutathione helps to defend the body against damage from cigarette smoking, exposure to radiation, cancer chemotherapy, and toxins such as alcohol and just about everything else.[16]

Impaired antioxidant production provides a common rationale for many disparate features of autistic disorders. According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, low magnesium is associated with dramatic increases in free radical generation as well as glutathione depletion and this is vital since glutathione is one of the few antioxidant molecules known to neutralize mercury.[17] Thus, sadly, children receiving thimerosal containing vaccines are sitting ducks to mercury when both magnesium and glutathione levels are low. Also under the shadow of magnesium deficiency too much Nitric Oxide (NO) is produced which in turn may react with superoxide to form a very damaging compound peroxynitrite. Low magnesium levels can induce such excessive NO production that even the glutathione in the red blood cells is damaged. These could provide some possible explanations for why magnesium seems to protect the arteries.[18]

“Magnesium deficiency in children is characterized by excessive fidgeting, anxious restlessness, psychomotor instability and learning difficulties in the presence of normal IQ,” said Dr. Mildred Seelig. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a major role in the functioning of the musculoskeletal system. Magnesium allows the muscles to relax and decreases the discomforts associated with muscle cramping. Magnesium provides a calming effect that allows for deeper relaxation and better sleep. Magnesium is considered the “antistress” mineral. It is a natural tranquilizer which functions to relax skeletal muscles as well as the smooth muscles of blood vessels and the gastrointestinal tract.

How many doctors relate the increased accumulation of mercury in the body to deficiencies in magnesium? The cause and cure of many physical illnesses can be as simple as correcting a magnesium deficiency and many of the problems with mercury chelation can be reduced when a person is given sufficient magnesium. Everyone knows that chelation wastes minerals yet few have investigated sufficiently the key mineral whose loss cannot be tolerated without unacceptable risk.

Pupils with mental handicap should be provided with magnesium preparations because their effects are highly positive.[19]

Magnesium is very important for phase one detoxification and it, along with other minerals like zinc, displaces toxic heavy metals from the body. Magnesium is a crucial factor in the natural self-cleansing and detoxification responses of the body. Thus it is reasonable to assume that low levels of magnesium would render a child vulnerable to mercury mobilization during chelation.

The therapeutic value of magnesium as a transdermal application reaches well beyond the potential of dietary magnesium or oral magnesium supplements. Transdermal therapy effectively saturates the tissues, delivering high amounts of magnesium directly into circulation. Autistic parents should definitely read up on what I call magnesium massage because combining touch with magnesium application will go a long way with their children.

Magnesium has been proven to help in cases of ADHD as it would with all neurological conditions. Animal studies have suggested that magnesium supplements can increase learning and enhance the behavioral response to stimulus. Therefore the use of magnesium will enhance the effectiveness of treatments for ADD.[20] Low levels of magnesium have long been known to cause hyper excitability with convulsive seizures in such studies with the well known reversal of such conditions by treatment with magnesium.[21]

In 2006 Russian researchers used a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 to treat children aged from 6 to 12 with ADHD. After 30 days the researchers established significant improvements in the magnesium and vitamin B6 group with noted improvements in behavior, decreased levels of anxiety and aggression with significant increased attention capacity.[22] In 1997 researchers studied fifty children who were supplemented with 200 mg per day of magnesium for 6 months in addition to their standard treatment. At the end of the trial, the children whose treatment included magnesium supplements demonstrated a significant improvement in hyperactive behavior.[23] In 2004 French researchers also studied hyper excitable children. After 6 months of treatment they also saw reduced symptoms of hyper excitability including physical aggression, instability and learning attention.[24]

Dr. Jill James of the University of Arkansas School of Medicine has documented a unique metabolic profile in 95 autistic children with regressive autism.[25] Regressive autism is a form of the disease in which children develop normally for a certain period before losing previously acquired language or behaviors and being diagnosed with autism. The metabolic profile in the James study children manifests as a severe imbalance in the ratio of active to inactive glutathione in autistic children, compared to a group of healthy control children. Glutathione, a potent antioxidant, is the body’s most important tool for detoxifying and excreting metals and its production in the body is dependent on good nutrition.


The James study shows that children with regressive autism have consistently elevated levels of oxidative stress as compared to normal healthy children. Individuals with reduced glutathione antioxidant capacity (magnesium and selenium deficient) will be under chronic oxidative stress and will be more vulnerable to toxic compounds that act primarily through oxidative damage.

A controlled study was performed by Schultz ST and colleagues from the University of California. It indicated that the use of Tylenol in conjunction with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination significantly increases the risk of developing an autistic disorder particularly in children five years of age and younger. Tylenol is thought to deplete glutathione, which is used by the liver to eliminate toxins that are introduced to the body. In children that are susceptible to autism, the ingestion of Tylenol combined with the MMR vaccination significantly increases their risk. And we do find a case for renal magnesium wasting associated with acetaminophen use and abuse[26] and we know that glutathione levels are dependent on sufficient cell magnesium stores.

Glutathione plays a role in the detoxification of acetaminophen so we know that taking Tylenol and all the other over the counter medications in this area with acetaminophen will deplete glutathione stores. Acetaminophen is broken down first by reaction with a cytochrome p450 enzyme, forming a highly toxic intermediate, then by addition of glutathione, forming a nontoxic product that is promptly excreted.

Dangerous Places Full of Magnesium and Glutathione Depleting Substances

In normal analgesic amounts, the drug is cleared away in a few hours but in the aftermath of its use glutathione stores are diminished. If too much is taken — perhaps 30 grams for a normal adult — the reserves of glutathione in the liver are depleted too much causing a crisis. The highly reactive intermediates formed by cytochrome p450 then build up and react with other vital cellular components, causing extensive liver damage.

[2] Gilliland, F.D. et al. Dietary magnesium, potassium, sodium and children’s lung function. American Journal of Epidemiology . 2002; 155: 125-131.

[3] The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactivity in children with ADHD. Mag Res 1997; 10(2):149-56.

[4] Magnesium Research 10(2): 149-156 1997

[5] Magnesium Research 10(2): 143-148 1997

[6] BMJ 2003;327:1128

[8] Magnesium deficiency (MgD) has been associated with production of reactive oxygen species, cytokines, and eicosanoids, as well as vascular compromise in vivo. Although MgD-induced inflammatory change occurs during “chronic” MgD in vivo, acute MgD may also affect the vasculature and consequently, predispose endothelial cells (EC) to perturbations associated with chronic MgD. As oxyradical production is a significant component of chronic MgD, we examined the effect of acute MgD on EC oxidant production in vitro. In addition we determined EC; pH, mitochondrial function, lysosomal integrity and general cellular antioxidant capacity. Decreasing Mg2+ (< or = 250microM) significantly increased EC oxidant production relative to control Mg2+ (1000microM). MgD-induced oxidant production, occurring within 30min, was attenuated by EC treatment with oxyradical scavengers and inhibitors of eicosanoid biosynthesis. Coincident with increased oxidant production were reductions in intracellular glutathione (GSH) and corresponding EC alkalinization. These data suggest that acute MgD is sufficient for induction of EC oxidant production, the extent of which may determine, at least in part, the extent of EC dysfunction/injury associated with chronic MgD. Effect of acute magnesium deficiency (MgD) on aortic endothelial cell (EC) oxidant production.Wiles ME, Wagner TL, Weglicki WB. The George Washington University Medical Center, Division of Experimental Medicine, Washington, D.C., USA. Life Sci. 1997;60(3):221-36.

[9] Martin, Hélène. Richert, Lysiane. Berthelot, Alain Magnesium Deficiency Induces Apoptosis in Primary Cultures of Rat Hepatocytes.* Laboratoire de Physiologie, et Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire, UFR des Sciences Médicales et Pharmaceutiques, Besançon, France. 2003 The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 133:2505-2511, August 2003

[10] A magnesium deficiency can cause the body to lose potassium [Peterson 1963][MacIntyre][Manitius], possibly because of a poorly understood effect of magnesium on the efficiency of energy supply to the sodium pump [Fischer].

[11] Barbagallo, Mario et al. Effects of Vitamin E and Glutathione on Glucose Metabolism: Role of Magnesium; (Hypertension. 1999;34:1002-1006.)

[12] Environmental Working Group.

[14] Virginia Minnich, M. B. Smith, M. J. Brauner, and Philip W. Majerus. Glutathione biosynthesis in human erythrocytes. Department of Internal Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, J Clin Invest. 1971 March; 50(3): 507–513. Abstract: The two enzymes required for de novo glutathione synthesis, glutamyl cysteine synthetase and glutathione synthetase, have been demonstrated in hemolysates of human erythrocytes. Glutamyl cysteine synthetase requires glutamic acid, cysteine, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and magnesium ions to form ?-glutamyl cysteine. The activity of this enzyme in hemolysates from 25 normal subjects was 0.43±0.04 ?mole glutamyl cysteine formed per g hemoglobin per min. Glutathione synthetase requires ?-glutamyl cysteine, glycine, ATP, and magnesium ions to form glutathione. The activity of this enzyme in hemolysates from 25 normal subjects was 0.19±0.03 ?mole glutathione formed per g hemoglobin per min. Glutathione synthetase also catalyzes an exchange reaction between glycine and glutathione, but this reaction is not significant under the conditions used for assay of hemolysates. The capacity for erythrocytes to synthesize glutathione exceeds the rate of glutathione turnover by 150-fold, indicating that there is considerable reserve capacity for glutathione synthesis. A patient with erythrocyte glutathione synthetase deficiency has been described. The inability of patients’ extracts to synthesize glutathione is corrected by the addition of pure glutathione synthetase, indicating that there is no inhibitor in the patients’ erythrocytes.

[15] Braverman, E.R. (with Pfeiffer, C.C.)(1987). The healing nutrients within: Facts, findings and new research on amino acids. New Canaan: Keats Publishing

[16] Barbagallo, M. et al. Effects of glutathione on red blood cell intracellular magnesium: relation to glucose metabolism. Hypertension. 1999 Jul;34(1):76-82. Institute of Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, University of Palermo, Italy.

[18] Mak IT; Komarov AM; Wagner TL; Stafford RE; Dickens BF; Weglicki WB Address Department of Medicine, George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, District of Columbia 20037, USA. Source Am J Physiol, 1996 Jul, 271:1 Pt 1, C385-90

[19] Drybanska-Kalita A. Effect of various methods of supplementing magnesium on health status of children under special care. Ann Acad Med Stetin 1995;41:211-9.

[20] Psychiatry research. 1994;54:199-210

[21] Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004 Oct;23(5):545S-548S

[22] Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2006 Jan-Feb;69(1):74-7

[23] Magnesium Research. 1997 Jun; 10(2): 149-56

[24] Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004 Oct;23(5):545S-548S

[26] Tuso PJ, Nortman D. UCLA School of Medicine. Conn Med. 1992 Aug;56(8):421-3

Dr. Mark Sircus AC., OMD, DM (P)

Professor of Natural Oncology, Da Vinci Institute of Holistic Medicine
Doctor of Oriental and Pastoral Medicine
Founder of Natural Allopathic Medicine

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