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Book: Magnesium, The Nutrient That Could Change Your Life

Title Page and Table of Contents


19. SUICIDE AND THE MAGNESIUM DEFICIT

WHAT is it that makes a person jump off a bridge, swallow an overdose of pills, turn on the gas jets, or put a gun to his temple? Whatever it is that triggers this kind of desperate action is at the root of the most widely misunderstood of our health and social problems. Suicide is the most irrational of all individual actions. Most of us realize this. Yet every 20 minutes in the United States someone takes his own life. Can anything be done to stem this tragedy of self-destruction which accounts for 22,000 deaths annually, which is the tenth leading cause of death in our nation, and which among college students is the second leading cause of death?

In this great big expanding world full of so many splendors, so many opportunities for growth, enrichment, so many exciting experiences to anticipate that one lifetime is hardly sufficient for all of them, why would anyone want to pull down the curtain before the show is over? Certainly it isn't that the trials and troubles are meted out more to the suicide-prone than to those with zest for life. Haven't you seen people with the troubles of a job manfully shouldering their packs with never a thought of ending it all? No, it isn't the troubles. We all have our share of those. Is it then a capacity for handling burdens--the emotional stability that, when troubles abound, whispers in your ear, "This too shall pass"?

And what is it that gives one this emotional stability? Is this quality in some way dependent upon your physical health which in turn is dependent upon your nutrition?

According to a French scientist, it definitely is--and particularly related to a mineral that has only recently been recognized as essential in human nutrition, but has been so neglected that the specific daily requirement has never been officially determined.

Would you believe that increasing lack in our diets of the mineral magnesium could in some way be linked to the increasing suicide rate in our country? Does this sound irrational, too pat, farfetched? Let's look at the evidence and you be the judge.

French scientist, M. L. Robinet, in a study of suicide statistics, discovered that "the comparison of geological maps and statistics establishes in a striking manner the influence of the magnesium content of the soil on the number of suicides. It is evident," M. Robinet points out, "that one doesn't commit suicide because the soil is poor in magnesium. But, those who regularly absorb a good amount of magnesium salts have a more stable equilibrium, they support adversity with more calm and do not renounce, everything to avoid some sorrow.

"The use of magnesium permits one to support adversity with more serenity," M. Robinet concludes in the Bulletin of the Academy of Medicine published in France (1934).

Apparently M. Robinet's study has been largely overlooked in this country where the inability to "cope" is treated on the psychiatrist's couch and not generally by improving one's nutrition.

And yet there are many clues in the scientific literature that lead one to the conclusion that this mineral in plentiful supply is vital to mental health and the innate ability to see the silver lining behind the clouds.

 

Small Problems Loom Large

It would seem from experimental studies on animals that when one is low on magnesium, small problems loom large, even overpowering. Thus animals deprived of magnesium suffer from superexcitability to such an extent that they become hysterical at the sound of small noises or the sight of shadows.

Symptoms of magnesium depletion in man as reported by Dr. L. M. Dalderup of the Netherlands Institute of Nutrition in the Swiss publication Voeding (August 15, 1960) are excitability and apprehensiveness, muscle twitchings, tremor, myoclonus--not responding to calcium administration-confusion, and disorientation. Indeed the blood of people suffering from extreme irritability has been found to be low in magnesium.

Recently much new knowledge has been gained about the role of magnesium in general metabolism. This mineral activates some 30 enzymes in the body, it takes an active role in the metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrate; it influences the action of some of the vitamins and hormones.

Magnesium, says Dr. Lewis B. Barnett, is needed by the pituitary gland. The pituitary, sometimes called the miracle gland, takes instructions from the hypothalamus in the brain to which it is connected by a thin stalk, then transmits them through the body in the form of chemical messengers known as hormones. These hormones not only exert a direct influence of their own, but also trigger the production of other vital hormones elsewhere in the body. When the pituitary is not getting the magnesium it needs, it fails in its function of exercising a sort of thermostatic control over the adrenals which are thus allowed to overproduce adrenaline. It is known that situations of danger incite the activity of the adrenal glands. Troubles or worry also incite the adrenal glands, which then pour hormones through the body that increase heartbeat, release sugar from the liver, and contribute to a host of problems not the least of which is hyperexcitability and an inability to "cope."

According to some startling new data presented at the meeting of the American Societies for Experimental Biology in May, 1966 the adrenal glands also contribute to the desire of a suicide to cut himself away from life.

Scientific evidence was presented at this conference that showed how, in the split instant of final decision to take his life, it is the glands rather than the psyche that give that last little push. New data indicated that "successful suicides probably had highly active adrenal glands just before their deaths. That discovery fits neatly into other observations that depressed patients--those most likely to commit suicide--also have more adrenal hormone in their blood than do normal persons," says Earl Ubell, science editor of the Herald Tribune (May, 1966).

One investigation revealed that, just before attempting suicide, depressed patients experience a rapid rise of adrenal breakdown products in the urine. As reported in that study, a laboratory made measurements on one woman, found an extraordinarily high hormone level, and called her home to warn her family only to find she had already killed herself.

 

Bone Storage No Answer

Magnesium triggers and controls so many bodily reactions that without an ample supply one cannot possibly enjoy a zest for living. Without an ample supply, one courts many debilitating conditions, some of which possibly have not yet been identified. Why is it generally ignored by the medical profession? Because for many years it was believed that the magnesium in the bones was a storehouse that supplied the tissues when they were in want of it. But nutritionist Williard A. Krehl, M.D., says in Nutrition Today (September, 1967) that magnesium stored in the bones is not released in response to a deficit the way calcium is, and a wide variety of clinical circumstances exists in which magnesium deficiency may develop rapidly and profoundly. Dr. Krehl found many nervous disorders in patients suffering from magnesium deficiency. More than 78 percent of these patients suffered mental confusion, 83 percent were disoriented, all of them suffered hyperreflexia, the kind of exaggerated reflexes that make people jump when they hear an unexpected noise from behind.

We know that the psyche is influenced by the soma --that physical ailments trigger mental upsets. "The most general indications of impending suicide," says Dr. Matthew Ross of the Harvard Medical School, are emotional disorders that manifest themselves in some significant change in basic biological functions and behavior that cannot be determined by routine physical examinations."

These people who are potential suicides are aware of some disturbance in their bodies. Fifty percent of all suicides saw a physician during the last month of their lives, says Dr. Robert E. Litman of the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center.

Dr. Jerome A. Motto of the University of California found in a study of attempted and completed suicides in San Francisco that one out of every 25 cases saw a physician on the same day be chose self-destruction.

Ironically, although physicians should be in the best position to note warnings of an impending suicide threat and avert it, says Dr. Howard A. Rusk, medical columnist of The New York Times (January 21, 1968), the suicide rate among physicians is much higher than that of the general population.

A study by Dr. Daniel DeSole of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Albany showed that 26 percent of all deaths among physicians 25 to 39 years of age were suicides. This compares to a rate of 9 percent for white males in the same age group.

Doctors, with a few rare exceptions, tend to preach and practice the doctrine of "Eat a balanced diet and you will get all the nutrients you need."

In a recent 900-page book on clinical nutrition, written as a reference book for the practicing physician and as a textbook for medical students, the word magnesium is not mentioned or listed in the index. The assumption is that it is unimportant because it is generously supplied in our foods. But is it? Not only are meats, eggs, and dairy products, the staples of the high protein diet so many Americans are subscribing to, low in magnesium, but the more protein you consume, the more magnesium you need to metabolize this protein.

A study done by Menaker and Kleiner published in Pro. Soc. Exp. Biol. (81, 1952) of nitrogen balance in respect to magnesium content of adult animals indicated that a high protein diet enlarged the need for magnesium. A high protein diet could even induce acute magnesium deficiency symptoms, because magnesium is involved in important amino acid transformations.

With our country growing more affluent and people eating more meat, the magnesium deficiency seem to be increasing year by year. This may provide some explanation why people who seem to have so much to live for work themselves up into emotional states in which they kill themselves.

It should be noted that large amounts of calcium, too, aggravate magnesium deficiency. Milk has very little if any magnesium. People on weight-watching diets that emphasize proteins and skimmed milk should be careful to include plenty of magnesium. The best source of magnesium is fresh green vegetables, but much of this heat-sensitive mineral is lost in the cooking water. Raw wheat germ is an excellent source, but this nutrient is lost in the flour refining process. Nuts, especially almonds, are naturally rich in magnesium, but they lose some in the roasting process.

Dr. Barnett told that, in a test he conducted on 5,000 people, 60 percent proved to be deficient in magnesium.

How much magnesium should one get? On the basis of his findings, Dr. Barnett recommends 600 milligrams a day. How can you be sure of getting that much? Make sure your diet is rich in green leafy vegetables (uncooked), in raw nuts and seeds, and, to be on the safe side of the mineral balance, take a dolomite supplement. Dolomite limestone supplies a good balance, not only of calcium and magnesium, but also of many trace minerals which, in minute quantities, play an important and often overlooked role in human nutrition.

Last year a Center for Studies of Suicide Prevention was established within the National Institute of Mental Health. It is publishing a new periodical Bulletin of Suicidology. The center's program includes support of suicide prevention activities, follow-up studies, research and training grants, refinement of statistics on suicide, and training of personnel. We wonder if all of these sophisticated and high-priced procedures will lead ultimately to the Nutrition to Discourage Suicide.

We don't mean to imply that dolomite will succeed in solving the problems that weigh on the shoulders of every potential suicide. It won't pay gambling debts or solve your income tax underpayments or make your mother-in-law more appreciative of your virtues. But it might just be the element that helps put the rosy hue in your glasses. It might be that little extra something that transforms a problem too big to support into a challenge to be tackled with a sense of adventure, cheer, and a twinkle in the eye. It's worth trying.


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Chapter 18. Some Letters

NEXT CHAPTER:
Chapter 20. The National Magnesium Deficiency

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