The Role of Magnesium for Atrial Fibrillation
Magnesium is an important mineral for everyone, but it’s a particularly important mineral for people with atrial fibrillation.
Magnesium is an important electrolyte that is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body! The majority of magnesium is found in your bones and inside cells. The heart is particularly rich in magnesium.
Through my research on this topic, I have learned that most people with atrial fibrillation are deficient in magnesium. As someone with AFib myself, I discovered I was severely deficient in magnesium. If you have AFib, there is a very good chance you are deficient as well.
While not a miracle cure, many people who are battling atrial fibrillation have been able to “tame the beast” by simply getting more magnesium in their body. By “taming the beast” I mean they have been able to reduce the frequency and/or severity of their AFib episodes.
Testing Your Magnesium Levels
How do you know for sure if you are deficient in magnesium? You test it!
There are two common tests available, but they aren’t terribly accurate. There is a third test that is highly accurate but it is expensive and not easy to find someone to administer the test. The tests are:
- Serum blood test
- Red blood cell count (RBC) test
- EXA test
Serum Blood Test
This is the most common test available. This is the test your doctor will do if you ask them to test your magnesium levels.
This test is done with a simple blood draw. Unfortunately, this is the least accurate test. The majority of magnesium is found in your bones and inside your cells, and only about one percent of your magnesium stores are found in your blood.
Furthermore, the magnesium in blood serum is tightly controlled — so much so, that the levels will be maintained at the expense of the levels inside your cells. In other words, if your magnesium levels in your blood serum are low, magnesium will be taken from inside your cells to maintain normal levels.
Do you see the problem? A serum blood test will almost always indicate your magnesium levels are normal. This test isn’t very helpful at all and not recommended.
Red Blood Cell Count (RBC) Test
The red blood cell count test is better than the serum test but still not optimal. This test measures intercellular magnesium but only in the red blood cells.
Like the serum test, this one is done with a blood draw as well.
Because the RBC at least gives us some insight on intercellular magnesium levels, it’s more accurate but still not ideal. This test still might indicate your magnesium levels are in a normal range when in fact they aren’t.
According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, an expert on magnesium, you want to be at least 6.0-6.5mg/dL for the RBC. The normal range for the RBC is 4.2-6.8mg/dL. If you take the RBC test and you’re on the lower end of normal, chances are your magnesium levels aren’t optimal.
The EXA test is the most accurate as it measures intercellular magnesium throughout the body. This is a test your doctor probably doesn’t even know about. You usually have to find a functional or naturopathic doctor to administer it.
It’s also not cheap and rarely covered by insurance — expect to pay $250 or more out of pocket. I have taken this test twice. To read about my latest experience taking this test, and to see what the test reports look like, visit this blog post.
This test is administered by having a doctor gently scrape the inside of your cheek with a plastic scraper. The cells that are collected on the scraper are then sealed in an envelope and mailed away to be analyzed.
How to Increase Your Magnesium Levels
After you’ve been tested, preferably using the RBC or EXA test, you’ll have a good indication of how deficient you really are and can plan accordingly.
The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for magnesium is 420 mg/day for men and 320 mg/day for women. Unfortunately, surveys have shown that the dietary intake of magnesium by adults is 200 mg/day or less.
If you are deficient, the obvious first thing you should do is aim to get more magnesium-rich foods in your atrial fibrillation diet. Spinach, chard, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, black beans, and almonds top the list of the most magnesium-rich foods. Other magnesium-rich foods include yogurt, avocados, figs, blackstrap molasses, and bananas.
For most of us, however, eating more magnesium-rich foods won’t be practical or desired. And in reality, if you are very deficient in magnesium, eating more magnesium-rich foods just isn’t going to cut it.
For most of us, magnesium supplements will be required to replenish our magnesium levels.