THE BLOG
09/03/2010 08:32 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Domino Drug Therapy for Heart Disease

In my experience, mild to moderate cases of hypertension, elevated cholesterol and high blood sugar are lifestyle conditions that are not being addressed by drug intervention. In fact, the opposite may be true. Let me explain.

I've observed a disturbing trend some clients who consult with me. I've even heard similar stories from cab drivers and customer-service people who are being treated for heart disease with no relief. I call it "domino drug therapy."

Here's the scenario:

1. You experience a tremendously stressful event or series of events in your life. Here's a partial list: surgery, a death in the family, divorce, job loss, sickness of a child, foreclosure, hospitalization or even running a marathon!

2. As a result, you experience headaches, insomnia, achiness in your body and exhaustion.

3. You visit your doctor for reassurance that you don't have something wrong. But you're nervous on top of your stress so your blood pressure is elevated. It's called "the white coat syndrome."

4. Your HMO doctor is an hour behind schedule and doesn't have time to ask about your stress levels or find out that you haven't slept well or eaten a decent meal in three weeks.

5. Instead he/she tells you that your blood pressure is elevated but a prescription for a diuretic will take care of everything.

6. There is no time for questions or to talk about a diet or an exercise program for your 20-pound weight gain. You rationalize that your doctor would have told you about these things if he felt they would work, so you fill the prescription.

7. A month later you come back, feeling even worse, and in spite of the medication, your blood pressure is higher. Your doctor remarks that he must have caught your blood pressure just in time and prescribes a calcium channel-blocking drug.

8. Now you're getting really worried but your doctor tells you this is the best treatment for your condition.

9. Two months later you come back for blood tests to check your liver (in case of drug side effects) and you're shocked when your doctor tells you that now your cholesterol is elevated and your blood sugar is high.

10. Suddenly you are on two more medications. A statin drug for cholesterol and a drug for diabetes.

11. Another three months and your muscles are aching, your libido is non-existent, and you still have the original symptoms you came to the doctor with: headaches, insomnia, achiness in your body and exhaustion.

This pattern is repeated over and over in the average doctor's office. Not all people will respond this way, but far too many do.

What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, according to the standard practice of medicine. Even though the American Medical Association (AMA) says stress-related illness and symptoms account for 60 to 90 percent of doctor visits most symptoms are still treated with drugs. [1,2] Even though the former head of the CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding, in a 2004 JAMA paper showed that tobacco and lifestyle are the major causes of disease, it seems few doctors are listening. [3]

From a natural medicine perspective, here's what I see as part of the problem. I think magnesium deficiency may be playing a role in the development of high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and blood sugar for some. Yet, the diuretic drugs you take to treat high blood pressure flush out magnesium. But we are only warned about losing potassium.

I think that magnesium, not drugs, should be a treatment option. Of course, some people need drugs; those who have severe symptoms. But there is a whole population of people that don't need a sledge hammer.

Most stressors draw on your magnesium stores and can cause them to become depleted. If magnesium is not replaced by your diet or with supplements, muscle tics, spasms and cramps like Charlie horses can result. They may not seem like a major problem unless you realize that the heart is one of the biggest muscles in the body.

When the heart muscle goes into spasm, it's called angina or a heart attack. When magnesium is deficient, blood pressure can go up because the smooth muscles lining your blood vessels can get very tight. Magnesium deficiency is a known risk factor for diabetes and magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker. Magnesium is an essential nutrient in the enzyme that breaks down cholesterol, making it a natural statin. [4]

One of the major reasons why magnesium deficiency is a problem is our love affair with calcium. Here's how magnesium works in relation to calcium. Calcium causes muscles to contract and magnesium causes them to relax. All muscles, including the heart and blood vessels naturally contain more magnesium than calcium. However, if magnesium is deficient, calcium floods the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels and causes spasms leading to constricted blood vessels and therefore higher blood pressure, arterial spasm, angina and heart attack. [5]

A proper balance of magnesium in relation to calcium can -- for some -- prevent these symptoms and other far-reaching ones like migraines, asthma and irritability.

The irony of the calcium-magnesium story is that without magnesium calcium will not work properly. Both our current diet and tendency to over supplement with calcium, however, make getting enough magnesium almost impossible. Research shows that the ratio of calcium to magnesium in the Paleolithic or caveman diet -- the ancient diet that evolved with our bodies -- was 1:1, compared with a 5:1 to 15:1 ratio in present-day diets. [6] With an average of 10 times more calcium than magnesium in our current diet, there is no doubt about widespread magnesium deficiency in modern times.

What do I recommend to my clients? Investigate magnesium as a therapy for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and abnormal blood sugars. As sleep, energy and mood improve on magnesium, then I can usually cajole people into adopting a healthier lifestyle which is the cornerstone of good health.

References:

1. Humana. "Combat Stress at Work to Promote Health." Focus. Apr. 2009. http://www.dmaonline.org/Publications/articles/2005_02_039StressChange.pdf.

2. Benson, Herbert, M. D. "Role of the Mind in Physical Healing and Health." Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives. Nov. 1997. (published by American Psychological Association.) .

3. Mokdad AH, Marks JS, Stroup DF, Gerberding JL. "Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000." JAMA. 2004 Mar 10;291(10):1238-45.

4. Rosanoff A, Seelig MS, "Comparison of mechanism and functional effects of magnesium and statin pharmaceuticals." J Am Coll Nutr,
vol. 23, no. 5, pp. 501S-505S, 2004.

5. Teo KK et al., "Effects of intravenous magnesium in suspected acute myocardial infarction: overview of randomized trials." Brit Med J, vol. 303, pp. 1499-1503, 1991.

6. Teo KK, Yusuf S, "Role of magnesium in reducing mortality in acute myocardial infarction. A review of the evidence." Drugs, vol. 46, pp. 347-359, 1993.