Firefighters can help avoid or prevent some of the most common work-related health issues, including cardiovascular disease, mental stress and muscle and joint inflammation simply by taking magnesium.
If you ask me, that is a small investment for a maximum health return.
■ What is magnesium?
Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 chemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is a mineral mined from the earth. Plants, vegetables and fruit, take up magnesium from the soil and store it in their leaves. Humans consume these foods, which brings magnesium into the body. Firefighters tend to lose most of their magnesium through sweating and cortisol production. I have found most firefighters are magnesium deficient, and many don’t eat magnesium-rich food or take magnesium supplements. By eating a diet that is high in magnesium and taking a high-quality supplement, firefighters can see a lasting positive effect on their health.
■ Heart health
A 1994 article in the Journal of Cardiology looked at low magnesium levels in the blood caused an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Essentially, the researchers found that low magnesium levels created inflammation of the blood vessels, which in turn caused blood clots, high blood pressure and/or vascular calcification. The study found magnesium serves as a mild calcium blocker, which further softened blood vessels to help reverse vascular calcification and relax arteries to promote the lowering of blood pressure.
In the American Journal of Physiology, a 1992 research article looked at the connection between magnesium deficiency and chronic inflammation. It was determined that, “when magnesium levels fell to dangerous levels, researchers noted a profound increase of inflammatory cytokines present, along with increased levels of histamine.” Magnesium deficiency can cause chronic inflammation to build up in the body, and patients in this study experienced and reported chronic inflammatory pain in major joints and muscles.
■ Mental health, anxiety and depression
Magnesium is a co-factor in the supporting neurotransmitters in the brain and the body’s hormonal system. In a 2017 controlled trial, researchers from the University of Vermont looked at the effects of magnesium supplements in patients with depression who were magnesium deficient. They found that daily consumption of magnesium for eight weeks had a significant effect on depressed patients, who reported a dramatic change in mood and increased happiness.
■ Magnesium in food
I am a big advocate for vitamin and mineral rich diets. Firefighters should try to consume magnesium by incorporating foods that are high in magnesium into their diets. Here are the top 10 magnesium rich foods in order: pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, peas, sunflower seeds, bran cereal, almonds, salmon, spinach, Swiss chard, and kale.
There are many forms of magnesium supplements available, but to make the decision process easier for you, these are the top magnesium forms I recommend: magnesium citrate, magnesium bisglycinate, magnesium malate and magnesium orotate. They all have different qualities and are used for different conditions. I often recommend starting off with a high quality magnesium bisglycinate, which can help with chronic pain and mental health issues.
During firefighter health assessments I conducted, I was surprised to find that a vast majority of the firefighters I interviewed (almost 70 per cent) did not have a daily supplementation routine. Adding a magnesium supplement into your routine is a good start, especially when you know it can be a preventative measure for heart disease, pain and mental health.
Dr. Elias Markou is a naturopathic doctor in Mississauga, Ont. He is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Contact him at
Well-being: Miraculous magnesium
The other day I was sitting with a firefighter patient who had come to see me for a number of health concerns. I was putting together the best possible vitamin regime for this patient when it occurred to me that I tell every firefighter to ensure they have a steady source of magnesium.
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