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Book: Magnesium, The Nutrient That Could Change Your Life

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When you ask the dentist how you can help to prevent cavities, chances are he gives you a new toothbrush or special toothpicks, and warns you to brush after every meal, and to avoid too many sweets. If he is like most other dentists, he may recommend plenty of milk so that you get enough calcium, long known for its supposed tooth-hardening properties.

Undoubtedly, your dentist is doing what he can to help you take preventive measures, at least to the best of his knowledge. He is aware that bacteria from unremoved food particles and sugar by-products produce lactic acid, which dissolves calcium in the protective enamel layer. He also knows the pain involved when decay spreads to the sensitive pulp tissue. Yet he ignores the fact that milk is recognized to be a greater producer of lactic acid than any other known food.

Indeed, the "best of his knowledge" may not be enough. One thing he probably does not know is that a number of studies have now established that it is magnesium, not calcium, that forms the kind of hard enamel that resists decay. And no matter how much calcium you take, without magnesium only soft enamel can be formed. If too soft the enamel will lack sufficient resistance to the acids of decay.

For years it was believed that high intakes of calcium and phosphorus inhibited decay by strengthening the enamel. Recent evidence, however, indicates that an increase in these two elements is useless unless we increase our magnesium intake at the same time It has even been observed that dental structures beneath the surface can dissolve when additional amounts of calcium and phosphorus diffuse through the enamel at different rates. Thus milk, poor in magnesium, but high in the other two elements, not only interferes with magnesium metabolism, but also antagonizes the mineral responsible for decay prevention.

An article in Nature (April 29, 1961) reports that when 200 patients given an alkaline phosphate for three years showed a significant reduction in dental caries, scientists at the University of Otago in New Zealand discovered that magnesium was the beneficial factor. The report concluded that "an important role can possibly be assigned to magnesium [phosphate] in the stabilization of chemical, physical and electrokinetic states of the surface enamel calcium."

An earlier paper presented to the orthopedic section of the annual Texas Medical Association meeting in Dallas (May 6, 1952) tells a most encouraging story about magnesium. Lewis B. Barnett, a well-known orthopedic (bone) surgeon, noticed that people in Deaf Smith County, Texas, had much lower incidences of tooth decay and faster healing of broken bones than residents elsewhere. In his paper, the doctor offers the explanation that "water and foods have a very high magnesium and iodine content and recently we have proven that all of the trace minerals known to be essential are present in the water and foods grown in that area."

Dr. Barnett found that the magnesium bone content of a Deaf Smith County resident was often five times as high as in a Dallas County resident. Plenty of protein and vitamin C were also included in the diets of Deaf Smith County people.

A strong piece of evidence comes from a publication called The Announcer, issued monthly by the College of Agriculture, University of Missouri. It was published in the August, 1958, issue, and it would be best that we quote the whole item, as follows:


Mineral Studies May Mean Stronger Teeth, Healthier Bodies

"Recent work done on this research project points up the importance of magnesium in bone and tooth development and for the prevention of mineral deposits in the soft tissues of the body.

"The observations were made on guinea pigs but they have important implications for man. This is particularly true when related to dental caries in children and calcified joints in older people.

"Guinea pigs have a higher requirement for magnesium than many animals but there are wide variations in the nutritional requirements of all animals including man. Consequently, one individual may suffer from lack of magnesium although his diet is entirely adequate for the average person.

"When guinea pigs are fed a diet deficient in magnesium they grow slowly and, if they survive for a few months, they develop deposits of calcium phosphate in such organs as the kidneys, muscles, liver, stomach, and heart.

"At the same time, teeth fail to calcify normally. The incisors frequently become discolored, eroded, and finally break off at the gum line.

"A high calcium level in the diet increases the magnesium requirement of guinea pigs just as has been observed by others who have studied the magnesium requirement of the rat. The most significant contribution of the Missouri work to the science of nutrition, however, is the observation that a high phosphorus level in the diet aggravates the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency to as great, if not greater, extent than does calcium.

"This effect has been observed in the rat as well as in the guinea pig. The magnesium requirement of the latter was increased as much as four- to five-fold when high levels of phosphorus were present.

"The effect of high dietary phosphorus on the magnesium requirement has important implications in animal nutrition as well as in man. The horse, although no longer important in agriculture in this country, is particularly subject to bony overgrowths and abnormal calcification.

"This is particularly true when the ration is high in concentrates which are rich in phosphorus and low in high-quality forage. In this country, man tends to consume a high phosphorus diet and may exclude leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, which are rich in magnesium."

The most significant part of this article is the statement that a high calcium level in the diet increases the magnesium requirement, and this not only with guinea pigs, but "has been observed by others who have studied the magnesium requirement of the rat."

Unknowingly, Dental Abstracts for May, 1964, reported the same observation in publishing an abstract of an article from the Journal of the Southern California Dental Association (December, 1963). This article purports to show that an increase of refined food in the diets of rats increases the incidence of caries. But the only change that was made in the diet involved comparing the effects of whole wheat flour and refined white flour.

Whole wheat flour contains 113 mg. of magnesium per 100 grams. White flour has only 25. So in substituting white flour for whole wheat, the researchers were actually depriving the rats of large amounts of magnesium--and finding that more caries developed. There were 3.64 carious lesions per rat on the white flour diet, which also contained the high calcium foods cottage cheese and milk, that created a magnesium deficiency. On the same diet, but using high magnesium whole wheat flour, there were only 1.16 carious lesions.

This research was conducted at Loma Linda University in California by Steinman Saunders, Gilliland, Holub, and Tague.

Since there is usually a deficiency of magnesium in the population, the belief that we must have lots of calcium to prevent cavities could result in just the opposite effect. Drinking large quantities of milk, therefore, could be one of the causes of dental caries.

Up to this point we have been dealing with experiments on guinea pigs and rats. Has the same effect ever been proved with people? It has! Three years later, in the April 29, 1961, issue of Nature, published in London, an article previously mentioned appeared, describing some work that took place at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

The discovery was accidental, as so often happens in medical research. An alkaline phosphate was administered to a group of 200 patients, ranging from five to 56 years old, during a period of three years, and it was noticed as a side effect that it reduced the number of cavities on the surface enamel of the teeth. Further investigation revealed that it was the magnesium in the phosphate compound that was the responsible factor.

The following are details of seven extracted teeth of persons who received the magnesium compound, all of which had a great reduction in the incidence of caries. In these cases the teeth were extracted and then tested for their calcium and magnesium content, as follows:























The following are the figures for the teeth of persons who did not get the magnesium compound and who had more caries.

























In this case there were only half the amounts of magnesium in the teeth. We can deduce several things from these figures: First, the magnesium from the magnesium compound taken by Group I showed up to a certain extent in the teeth and it is believed by the researchers that this gave the teeth a resistance to caries.

Second, it appears, according to this project, as in the Missouri research, that, calcium does not play a part in preventing caries, as is popularly supposed. In fact the article in Nature states: "Preliminary chemical analyses, carried out in the chemistry department of the University of Otago, have indicated that an important role can possibly be assigned to magnesium [phosphate] in the stabilization of chemical, physical and electrokinetic states of the surface calcium." In other words, the calcium requires stabilization, and magnesium does just that. Here possibly is a situation where, in the absence of magnesium, calcium can be a troublemaker rather than a help in preventing caries.

Another proof that calcium does not prevent cavities is the fact that although the consumption of milk in the U.S. is high, so is the general rate of dental caries. Milk is a food low in magnesium. Bone meal, however, which we know is a cavities preventer, is very high in magnesium, because three-quarters of the body's store of this mineral is in the bone structure.

Incidentally, the New Zealand researchers, who were aware of the worldwide fluoride controversy, went to the trouble of including a statement in their paper to the effect that the magnesium compound they used was fluoride-free.

Only seven examples were given of the teeth of persons in this experiment who had received the magnesium compound because these were the only ones of the 200 cases that had had teeth extracted.

As we said, this fallacy about calcium as a caries preventer will die hard. When Dr. Ritchie, the Otago University researcher, saw in what direction his work was going, he knew that the vested medical opinion might not accept his findings, so he protected his position, as will be seen in the following letter, written to our librarian, by W. C. H. Edwards of the Royal University of Malta:


"Thank you for your letter of 8th May about my collaboration with Dr. D. B. Ritchie.

"I am afraid I cannot help you further in this matter. I assisted Dr. Ritchie for two main reasons. One was that local medical opinion was very suspicious of his claims that enhancing the magnesium content of the diet could reduce incidence of caries, and it was essential that an independent collaborator should be involved in the Project. I, therefore, prepared the necessary solution of enamel samples, and Dr. Ritchie carried out the estimations under my guidance, but he was in ignorance of the origin of the solutions with which I supplied him. In this way he could be exonerated from allegations that he had in any way been influenced in reaching the final results. Not until the end of the series did we compare notes, relating the magnesium content to the source of the sample.

"The second reason for my collaboration was the need to have an experienced analyst oversee the actual work of analysis. The method used could (and actually did in some instances) differ in its results from the straightforward literature descriptions of E. D. T. A. estimations, and we thought it might be necessary to make modifications to suit the particular problem.

"I presume that you have been in touch with Dr. Ritchie. I have had no contact with him since 1960.

"All good wishes,

"Yours sincerely,
Professor of Chemistry."

A letter received in 1961 from G. S. Jones, a doctor of veterinary medicine, first called our attention to a paper presented by John A. Meyers, M.D., to the New York Academy of Dentistry on February 13, 1958. This paper is entitled "The Role of Some Nutritional Elements in the Health of the Teeth and Their Supporting Structures" (printed in Annals of Dentistry, Vol. XVLI, No. 2, June, 1958).

Dr. Meyers gives high praise to Dr. L. B. Barnett's investigations in Hereford and Dallas, Texas, in bone development. Dr. Barnett makes mention of the fact that people in older years frequently have fracture of the cervical neck of the femur and these are very difficult to heal in many localities. However, he noted that this fracture rarely occurs in Deaf Smith County, whereas it was common in Dallas County, Texas, where he also practiced. When a fracture did occur in Deaf Smith, healing was easy and rapid even in people 80 to 100 years old. In contrast, fractures in Dallas were common and very difficult to heal, if not impossible. One of his investigations of the mineral content of the ash of young males of Deaf Smith County and Dallas County showed the calcium and phosphorus to be about the same in both places--42 percent calcium and 15 percent phosphorus. However, there is five times as much magnesium in Deaf Smith subjects as in the Dallas ones, 2 percent and 0.4 percent respectively.

Dr. Barnett gives much credit to the water of Deaf Smith in furnishing the extra magnesium. Here is a portion of the analysis quoted (in parts per million):


Deaf Smith County

Dallas County













Dolomite For Teeth

We interviewed Dr. Barnett in September of 1966. He told us that supplementing the diet with magnesium would be a much better method than fluorides for decay prevention. Dr. Barnett also said he would like to see the water supplies and soils treated with magnesium, in view of the fact that the Hereford Clinic and Deaf Smith Research Foundation found 60 percent of 5,000 people to be magnesium deficient.

Dr. Meyers in his paper gives much credit to the "iodine" in bone development and uses magnesium iodide and zinc iodide extensively in his practice to treat infected teeth and to tighten loose teeth in their sockets as well as to prevent tooth decay. Of course he prescribes vitamins and even proteins when he thinks necessary.

The Archives of Oral Biology (Vol. 11, 1966) contains a study conducted by A. Stralfors at the University of Umea in Sweden. This experiment found that defatted cocoa had a strong caries-inhibiting effect, whereas cocoa butter, the fat element 'n cocoa, actually increased caries in hamsters. The report concluded: "They clearly point to the conception that the defatted cocoa powder contains the substance or substances capable of inhibiting caries."

Such findings, however, are no signal for us to start buying chocolate candies by the carload. The chocolate we see in stores has been emulsified with fats and sweetened with sugars to such an extent that it can only be the culprit responsible for the fantastic number of cavities plaguing our nation, especially the children. Early theories implicating sugar are still up held today.


Avoid Carbohydrates

The May, 1966, issue of Dental Abstracts presents a valuable opinion by Dr. Samuel Dreizen of Northwestern University. The summary states, "Caries in susceptible persons exists in direct proportion to the quantity of fermentable carbohydrates in the diet. Diets completely devoid of such carbohydrates are incapable of producing caries . . . An excessive consumption of sugar and concentrated sweets is the most prominent dietary feature associated with a high caries prevalence."

If you are concerned about your teeth, substitute a magnesium-rich nutrient for those slow-dissolving, acid-forming chewing gums and hard sucking candies. Soft carbohydrates are much harder to brush away than crunchy vegetables and good meat. Dolomite and bone meal can give you the minerals you need. Avoid milk which more and more seems to be a prime cause of the soft teeth with which many of today's youngsters are afflicted.

The dentist of tomorrow, hopefully, will know enough about magnesium to recommend it to us as a decay-preventive measure. As Dr. Barnett told us: "Magnesium has for far too long a time been the mystery mineral. This is a real tragedy, because of the mineral's great importance to the human physiology. The trend is now beginning to change, and last year [1965] there were 250 research reports published on magnesium. This is only a beginning. There is a great deal more to learn about this important mineral."

So we say to all dentists and doctors who are chasing the fluoride rainbow--get hep about magnesium! Start a national campaign on the subject! Find out the truth! Is it calcium or is it magnesium . . . or is it fluoride? Or what is it?

Chapter 9. How to Eat Enough Magnesium

Chapter 11. Bone Meal and Dolomite

Table of Contents

This page was first uploaded to The Magnesium Web Site on January 3, 2001