Magnesium -- Is It Useful in Asthma Treatment?

Do an internet search for "magnesium and asthma," and you'll find over 16 million results. Clearly, there has been a lot of attention paid to the possible role of magnesium in the treatment of asthma. I understand the appeal. Magnesium is a mineral, so could potentially offer a "more natural" approach to controlling asthma symptoms than prescription medications like steroids. But is this a valid approach?

Let's examine the facts.

What Is Magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral that is naturally occurring in many of the foods we eat. It is found in grains, nuts, green vegetables, and dairy. 1 Dietary magnesium is converted to an ion in the body. It is essential in hundreds of bodily processes. In its ionic form, it activates more than 300 enzymes in the body and is involved in virtually all hormonal processes. 2

Magnesium levels in the body are dependent on dietary intake. But there are no known regulatory processes for maintaining magnesium levels. Also, it's important to note that we just don't get as much magnesium in our foods these days, compared to our grandparents' experience. Intake levels may have declined from 500 mg/day to less than 200 mg/day. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences found that most American men are about 20% deficient in magnesium. Women may be up to 30% deficient. 3

Does Magnesium Improve Asthma?

Well, the jury is still out on this question. There have definitely been studies that suggest magnesium sulfate given intravenously can be an important adjunct therapy in the treatment of acute asthma exacerbations. 4, 5 Magnesium sulfate given via nebulizer also shows some promise. But, results from that method are not as conclusive. Note that this is in addition to traditional asthma medications such as steroids and bronchodilators.

So, how does magnesium impact asthma? Your lungs are made up of smooth muscle. Magnesium has been proven to relax the smooth muscle in our bodies. This means your airways relax, making breathing easier. It also reduces inflammation. 6 As airways become inflamed with asthma, this is another potential beneficial effect. Finally, some studies suggest that magnesium stimulates two substances in the cells: nitric oxide and prostacyclin synthesis. It is thought that this might reduce asthma severity. 7

All of these effects suggest that there may be some benefit in using magnesium to treat asthma.

So, Should You Add a Magnesium Supplement to Your Daily Routine?

You may be getting excited, thinking that the answer to better asthma control is to either:

  • Eat more foods rich in magnesium
  • Add a magnesium supplement to your daily regime

So, is this a valid conclusion? The answer is, we're really not sure. Studies have definitely shown the value of using magnesium on an emergency basis, in severe asthma attacks. But the research has not been as conclusive when it comes to dietary magnesium or magnesium supplements. This is especially true in terms of ongoing asthma control.

However, magnesium is one of the safest minerals to use as a supplement. It doesn't build up in tissues as some mineral supplements, like calcium, do. And the body will simply excrete any excess amounts. Essentially, too much magnesium acts as a laxative and is eliminated through the stool. So, while uncomfortable, it's not going to cause any lasting harm. 8

In Summary

Magnesium may have some value in the control of asthma. How much still remains to be proven more conclusively. The good news is that it is a relatively safe mineral, and the chances of "overdosing" on it are relatively rare. Still, it's always a good idea to discuss adding any supplement or new dietary regime with your doctor first. Together, you can make the best decision for you and your asthma health.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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