Why you should start taking magnesium today

Because magnesium is maybe the most important mineral for plant and animal life on Earth. Because magnesium is certainly one of the essential minerals most deficient in our food. And because we are all magnesium deficient.

Magnesium was the key element in the evolution of plant life on Earth as it is the heart, the central ion of chlorophyll—the plant’s photosynthesising lifeblood. I was amazed when I learnt that chlorophyll and haemoglobin have identical molecular structures, only that chlorophyll has magnesium at its heart, while haemoglobin has iron. This does indeed seem amazing at first, but upon reflection, it seems quite natural, as we can be pretty sure that this is not an evolutionary coincidence since simple cellular life came first, then plant life—obviously dependent on the simplest forms of life, and then animal life—which is completely dependent on plant life.

The human body is about 70% water by weight, with about 2/3 inside our cells and 1/3 outside; the dry weight of a 70 kg person is about 20 kg. So we can say that the rest of our weight is various arrangements of naturally occurring elements. But of the 92 naturally occurring elements, a mere 7 of them make up 99% of the body’s total mineral content. These essential macrominerals are, in order of abundance: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, magnesium, and chloride (chlorine gas dissolved in water).

Calcium is the most abundant and it must be in balance primarily with phosphorus for proper physiological function, but also with magnesium. Phosphorus is the second most abundant, and, present in every cell of the body, it plays a role in almost every chemical reaction. Potassium and sodium work together in their most notable function to transport nutrients into cells and metabolic waste out of them. And hence, potassium is the most abundant element inside the cell, in the intracellular fluid, while sodium is the most abundant element outside, in the extracellular fluid. Sodium is also the primary element on which rely the kidneys for regulating the amount of water in the blood and bodily fluids in general. Chloride works with its siblings potassium and sodium in their role as fluid and acid-base regulators, but it is also the essential element in hydrochloric acid secreted in the stomach to break down proteins into amino acids. Sulphur is necessary for the formation of hair, nails, cartilage and tissue. It is needed for metabolism and a healthy nervous system, plus it aids bile secretion in the liver.

Why so important?

Among these 7 macrominerals, however, magnesium is king. It is second most abundant element inside cells after potassium, and even though it totals only around 25 g in the average 70 kg human body, (more than half of it stored in bones and teeth, and the rest in muscle and soft tissues), it plays a role akin to that of a conductor in regulating the absorption and excretion of many of its sibling macrominerals, both in the intestines and in our cells. Of the multitude of functions it plays, magnesium is involved as a necessary co-factor on which more than 300 essential metabolic enzymatic reactions depend; it is crucially needed for structural function of proteins, nucleic acids and mitochodria; it regulates production, transport, storage and utilisation of energy in cells; it regulates DNA and RNA synthesis, cell growth and cell reproduction; and it regulates nerve function throughout the body.

But certainly most noteworthy, and indeed very important for the vast majority of us magnesium-deficient humans, is that magnesium is what allows muscles to relax: every single muscle cell in our body depends on magnesium to release a contraction instigated by calcium, magnesium’s antagonist brother. Going further, only magnesium can inhibit calcium-induced cell death: only magnesium regulates entry, and can thus prevent calcium from flooding a cell to trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death). It is for these two reasons that magnesium is so much more important than calcium. Sadly, we are as over-calcified—caked stiff with calcium from the inside out—as we are magnesium deficient. And that’s bad news because the more over-calcified the body grows, the more magnesium deficient it becomes. In addition, as important as it is to optimise vitamin D status, it is now clear that this cannot be done without at the same time optimising magnesium status (1).

And in practical terms, what does this mean for you? It means that most modern diseases and conditions are either a direct consequence of or severally aggravated by magnesium deficiency. It means that of all the heart attacks and strokes that claim the lives of most people in industrialised countries, it’s estimated that more than half are caused by magnesium-deficiency. It means that hypertension, poor circulation, water retention, osteoporosis, kidney stones and kidney disease are all caused or severely aggravated by magnesium deficiency. It means that arterial plaque buildup (atherosclerosis), arterial wall thickening and stiffening (arteriosclerosis), cardiac arrhythmia and palpitations, headaches and migraines, anxiety, irritability, insomnia and depression are all caused or severely aggravated by magnesisum deficiency. It means that from the seemingly most benign, occasional involuntary twitching of the eye, or the cramp in your foot, calf or hamstring that just seems to you as a brief nuisance unworthy of attention, to the cardiac arrest or stroke caused by a prolonged spasm of a coronary or cerebral artery that can claim your life in a few instants or leave you paralysed and debilitated for the rest of your life, to chronic anxiety, occasional panic attacks, recurring depression, bipolar or schizophrenic disorders, all of these health problems and hundreds more are caused or severely aggravated by magnesium deficiency. Insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes are also intimately related to magnesium deficiency as it is this mineral that allows insulin to transfer its cargo of glucose from the bloodstream into the cell.

Like many other realities of our world in the realm of medical sciences and treatment of disease, that this can be so—that we can be in such a dire situation of global magnesium deficiency—is truly mind-boggling given the ease with which it can be both prevented and remedied. But for this one as well as so many other such logic-defying realities in today’s medical and health sciences, ignorance is the major hurdle, but the power of the politics of profits cannot be underestimated, and should not be ignored or overlooked.

Why so magnesium-deficient?

Very unfortunately for us, agriculture is not, and to a great extent, never has been as it should rightly be—feeding and enriching the soils and the land, while at the same time producing from it, foods with the perfect balance of minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients in an amazing and unique positive balance process, ultimately based on a remarkably efficient harnessing of the Sun’s energy by the grass and soil. Instead we have an agricultural system that globally pollutes the waters with toxic runoffs, depletes the soils with chemical herbicides, pesticides and Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium or NPK fertilisers, all of which help to slowly but surely sterilise the earth’s surface.

Now, to give you a sense of the scale of the problem of soil mineral content depletion, as far back as 1936, a hearing was held in the 74th US Senate Congress where the following statement was made:

“Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies which cannot be remedied until depleted soils from which our food comes are brought into proper balance? The alarming fact is that foods now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us—no matter how much of them we eat. Our physical wellbeing is more directly dependent upon the minerals we take into our systems than upon the calories or vitamins or upon the precise proportions of starch, protein or carbohydrates we consume (my italics). Laboratory tests prove that the fruits, the vegetables, the grains, the eggs, and even the milk and the meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago. No man today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his stomach with the mineral salts he requires for perfect health.”

And you can be sure that the situation has gotten worse since then—much, much worse. Just to illustrate the point, all chemicals, whether they are those found in fertilisers, in herbicides or in pesticides, contribute to magnesium wasting. Pollutants in the air that fall back down in the form of acid rain waste magnesium stores because it is simultaneously a potent acid buffer and the most water-soluble of the macrominerals. Therefore, it is also the most affected by acid rain and runoffs saturated with agricultural chemicals.

To make matters worse, any processing of a food in its natural form, will most effectively deplete its magnesium content. Here again this is due to magnesium’s super water solubility. Such that with every step of processing, more magnesium is lost from the already magnesium deficient food. The result is that all processed foods are basically devoid of it. Fluoride, the reactive industrial by-product and poison that is put into many municipal drinking waters under the false pretence that it is good for the teeth, seeks out minerals like magnesium, and by binding to them makes it impossible for the body to absorb or use. (This is just one of the many, well researched and well documented negative effects of water fluoridation. See the Fluoride Action Network for plenty more details.)

And the last straw in this magnesium-depleting scenario is our own evermore stressful lifestyle. Always more stress: stress related to the economic situation in our country; stress related to the stability of “The Market”; stress related to the economic stability of our company; stress related to the security of our own job; stress related to our professional and therefore social status; stress related to worries about our kids’ wellbeing, happiness, social development, about their future; stress related to all those deadlines we have to meet, and to those that we set ourselves for our personal projects that somehow always slip to the bottom of the pile of books sitting collecting dust next to your bed; stress about how to save money for hard times, and about where we will go on our next holiday; and on and on and on. Incredible but true: the more time passes, the more technological advances are made, the more stuff we are able to make and use and buy, the more stress there seems to be in our lives.

And what does stress have to do with magnesium? Very simply: stress depletes magnesium and magnesium deficiency magnifies stress. How do we know this? By doing a simple experiment where adrenaline is introduced in the bloodstream intravenously, and seeing the levels of magnesium drop immediately, together with those of calcium, potassium and sodium. Stop the adrenaline and they start to make their way back up, but unfortunately, is takes magnesium the longest to recover to physiological concentrations. But the fact is that every time we feel any kind of stress, adrenaline triggers our fight-or-flight response, in which the heart starts pumping, digestion is stopped as blood is diverted from the digestive system to the arms and legs, blood also thickens by the release of clotting factors to prevent excessive blood loss in case we get injured, glycogen stores are released from the liver to be made available as glucose for immediate energy use in the heart, lungs and muscles, and yes, all of these processes are intensely magnesium-dependent, and at the same time, intensely magnesium-depleting.

In short, almost all soils on agricultural land everywhere are magnesium deficient, some totally depleted, others just greatly depleted. All foods grown in these soils are inevitably also magnesium deficient, and in some cases even more due to the excess potassium in the chemical fertilisers that prevent the plant from taking up magnesium. All processing of food further depletes magnesium, and our crazy and sickly addiction to stress delivers yet another blow—a final blow. We—all of us—really are magnesium deficient. And many of us severely so. For this reason we all need magnesium supplementation. And the sooner we start, the better off we’ll be. If you want to know how magnesium deficient you are, order an RBC Mg test (red blood cells hold about 40% of the body stores of Mg): the lab’s reference range can be anywhere from 3.5 to 7, but you want to be at 6.5 mg/dL.

Remarkably easy, extremely safe and incredibly inexpensive

There are several forms of magnesium supplements. Magnesium chloride is the most  completely ionised (with a stability constant of 0), and therefore the most easily absorbable in its ionic form by our cells. This also means that it is super hydrophilic (water-loving) and dissolves instantly when in contact with even a drop of water, so it needs to be kept very dry in a well-sealed bag or container. All the better for us, it also turns out to be very inexpensive (about 6 euros/kg) in the form of white, brittle flakes called Nigari, which is used to make tofu.

To drink your magnesium, dissolve 20 g (4 teaspoons, and 10 cents worth!) in a 1 litre bottle or 30 g (6 teaspoons) in a 1.5 litre bottle. (This makes a 2% solution of magnesium chloride.) Take 50 ml on an empty stomach when you get up in the morning, and again at bedtime. You can dilute this in as much water as you want because it is the total quantity of magnesium that counts, not the concentration of the solution that you drink. At first or when you feel you need more (stressful day, weakness, cold coming on), you should take another 50 ml in the late afternoon when the body is most in need of it. This will supply 360 mg if you take it three times, and 240 mg if you take it twice per day (magnesium chloride is 12% magnesium by weight. Dissolving 20 g in 1 litre gives 2.4 g of ionic magnesium, and dividing this litre in twenty 50 ml doses yields 120 mg per dose. Therefore 3 doses gives 360 mg and 2 doses gives 240 mg).

To absorb your magnesium through the skin, dissolve 20 g in 80 ml of water. (This gives a 20% solution of magnesium chloride—ten times more concentrated than the drinking solution.) Naturally, you can dissolve more magnesium chloride in more water, keeping the same proportions, and storing the solution in a spray bottle. With just 6 sprays on each arm and leg as well as on 6 on your chest and back, you can take up as much as 600 mg of magnesium every day. This is a much more effective way to absorb magnesium because instead of going through the digestive system from which as little as 25% up to 75% of the magnesium will be absorbed depending on many factors but primarily the state of health of your digestive system, which in most of us is appalling, almost all the magnesium is absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream in about 30 minutes. We use both methods at home.

Finally, supplementing with magnesium is extremely safe for the simple reason that it is extremely water soluble: it binds so tightly to water that the magnesium ion forms a hydration shell around itself resulting in a radius 400 times larger than in its dehydrated form. This is unlike any of its macromineral siblings. And for this reason, it is also excessively easy for the body to excrete any excess magnesium either through the urine or in the stools. Therefore, there is virtually no chances of overdosing on magnesium, and no possible negative side effects.

So please, for your own good, for the good of your sons and daughters, husband or wife, ageing mother and father, buy some Nigari at your local natural food store, and start magnesium supplementation for all of them. And for the good of your friends and colleagues, tell them about it and send them this article if they need convincing. (In France, Spain and probably other European countries, we find the Celnat brand 1 kg bag of Nigari. I’ve bought is at Bio-coop stores in Paris, and at Eco-centro in Madrid)

Conclusion: Main points to remember

  1. We are all magnesium-deficient, and many of us, dangerously so. This is due to the severe lack of magnesium in soils everywhere and therefore in the foods we eat, due to the fact that processing of whole foods strips most if not all the magnesium that is present in the unprocessed food, due to the fact that our diet is excessively rich in calcium that must be balanced with magnesium in order not to accumulate in our tissues and stiffen everything from our organs to our arteries and to our brain, and finally due to the excessive stress that we all know to be the most remarkable feature of our modern lifestyle.
  2. Magnesium is absolutely essential for relaxing muscle cells including—and maybe most importantly—the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels. Stiff blood vessels cause high blood pressure. This puts great stress on the kidneys and causes a chain of negative consequences that mould into a vicious cycle in kidney deterioration that eventually leads to failure. In addition, stiff blood vessels causes them to suffer much greater damage, especially at bifurcations where the arteries split into finer and finer arterioles. This damage leads to the buildup of plaque, and then to cardiovascular disease, heart attack,s strokes, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  3. We all need magnesium supplementation, and fortunately it is easy, cheap and safe because Nigari is an inexpensive, food grade magnesium chloride salt easy to buy in natural food stores, and because magnesium’s ultra water solubility makes it very easy for the body to excrete in the urine and eliminations, which guarantees that that it cannot accumulate excessively. On the other hand, this also means that it takes several months to replenish intra-cellular magnesium levels, and that we need to take it daily.

What about concentration

Concentration is a complex topic. As with many other things, because we use a single word for it, we can be tricked into believing that it is, in fact, one thing even though it is not. In addition to that, different people will likely mean different things when they use the term “concentration”.

For me, “concentration” means focusing attention onto something, and in the process, excluding as much as we can of everything else that is going on in the field of present experience, deeming them distractions. To concentrate on trying to hear a particular sound, for example, a very faint sound way off in the distance, implies directing our attention towards it with all our mental might. And somehow by doing this it is implied that we have to exclude everything else that is happening, and the better we can exclude everything else the more concentrated we can be.

But focused attention tends to be very fast moving, spontaneously jumping from this thing to that thing to the other thing, continuously and restlessly. This happens so quickly and so continuously that most of us hardly notice it at all. Therefore concentrating requires a great deal of effort and energy. This is why it is so exhausting, and this is also why it cannot possibly be sustained for very long. In fact, there may come a time when we notice that concentrating is becoming harder and harder, or even that we are simply unable to do it for any length of time. And then we start to worry because we feel that we cannot get anything done as we are totally distracted and scattered, continuously and incessantly.

Naturally, our first strategy should be to minimise our own stimulating of this jumping from one thing to another by restricting ourselves to doing the task we have at hand whole heartedly, without interrupting ourselves every few minutes or even seconds to check this last email that just came in to our inbox, or lookup something with Google. For most of us, this kind of scattered multi-tasking will only exacerbate the scattering of attention and gradually prevent us from doing any one thing for longer than a few minutes, if that. To minimise mental jumpiness we should minimise jumpiness in the way we work and function. Just turn off that email notifier, close your inbox, close your web browser, and work on your document or the problem you are trying to solve.

Beyond this basic strategy of minimising scattering behaviours, what if instead of concentrating we simply paid attention. The essential difference is that although paying attention does require a certain kind of effort, it does not require excluding anything at all, it does not require the straining effort of continuously pushing things away to re-focus attention. In fact, the more facets of our immediate experience we include in paying attention—the more we open our attention—the more we can indeed pay close attention to what we are attending to. Since we tend to focus on the thoughts, images, memories and run-on stories and commentaries that we continuously tell ourselves throughout the day and night, since we tend to live in our head, looking out through the eyes as if they were our windows onto this world outside that surrounds and often threatens us in various ways, the means to bring in balance is to spread attention to the body.

Feel the breath in the belly filling our inner cavity with air and keeping us alive in this very moment, and feel it in the belly with the belly, not just once, but breath after breath after breath. Feel the feet on the floor with the feet and toes, whether we are sitting, standing or walking: feeling the weight of the body rolling from the heel to the front of the foot, first on the right foot, then on the left, step after step. Feel the hands holding a cold glass of water, holding a hot cut of tea, holding a book, holding a baby: feeling the weight, the texture, the temperature. Feeling the water running on the skin when we wash the hands over the sink, the body in the shower. Really feel the body with the body. Don’t talk about it to yourself, don’t comment: just feel it.

Doing this—feeling the life of this body with this living body—will gradually and naturally bring our attention into balance, allowing us to function more freely, more easily, and more efficiently, no matter what we are doing. However, on the most basic level, our emotions, moods, tendencies, states and thus the general configurations of attention, are regulated by hormones: messengers coursing through the blood carrying all sorts of signals to organs and tissues. And as it cannot possibly be otherwise because the same blood circulates everywhere, all of these hormones have some influence on our brain. Therefore, for the brain to function properly, and our moods to be stable, and our attitude positive, there is no other way than to re-establish and maintain proper hormonal balance. Hormones, in turn, are primarily regulated by what we eat and what we drink: hormonal balance is rooted in our diet.

One of, if not the most important hormone—the one that has both the greatest direct and indirect influence on the other hormones—is insulin. For this reason, the only way to establish and maintain proper hormonal balance is to make sure that insulin is balanced—that it is by natural means as low as possible.  When insulin is low, everything else naturally falls into place: appetite, energy levels, mood, mental function and sleep. Naturally, it should be needless to say that all chemical stimulants, be it coffee, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs (prescription or not) should be eliminated, as these are all potent hormonal disruptors.

Fortunately, it is very easy to lower insulin levels and keep them low: as insulin levels mirror blood glucose levels, we need simply eliminate refined and starchy carbohydrates from your diet. Unfortunately, for most of us today this is not so easy because we are plainly addicted to carbohydrates.

I use “addicted” with the same strong, negative connotation as it is used in the context of drug use, because it really is so in the sense that our entire hormonal system is regulated by glucose levels and insulin, and although we may think somewhat differently of the powerful urge to smoke a cigarette or have a cup of coffee, an intense craving for chocolate or plain old hunger, all of these are regulated by our hormones whose overall profile is shaped, (distorted rather), by the presence of sugar and insulin. So, we do need to get over our addition to carbohydrates in order to function smoothly and efficiently as stable and balanced individuals. This is done by gradually reducing refined and starchy carbs as much as possible. And there is no minimum: the less of them we consume, the better off we’ll be.

Eliminating these carbohydrates from our diet will most likely lead to the elimination of at least half, if not three quarters of our daily calories. Considering the multitude of detrimental effects carbs have on our health—on our body and mind—this is indeed quite sad, but for most of us it is true. So what do we replace these empty calories with? Fats, and mineral and enzyme rich foods.

Fat is not only the constituent of every membrane of every cell in our body, but it is also the cellular fuel of choice. Therefore, fat should rightly be our main source of calories—at least 50% of them (I personally aim for 70% of my calories from fat). What kinds of fats? Lots of natural, unprocessed, chemically stable saturated fats from coconut oil, butter, eggs and cheese—preferably all organic to minimise the ingestion of toxic substances; monounsaturated fats from olive oil for salad dressings—choose a flavourful, unfiltered, fresh and cold pressed oil; polyunsaturated plant-based omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fats with Vitamin E complex from many different kinds of whole, raw nuts and seeds every day—buy only the best and freshest organic or wild harvested nuts and seeds; and polyunsaturated animal-based omega-3 fats with the vital Vitamins A and D from eggs, fish (for those who eat some), and krill oil supplements—these are absolutely essential for optimal health. Omega-3 fats are really important but needed only in small amounts. They should also be consumed in small amounts because they are very easily oxidised into free radicals. The animal omega-3 fats are particularly important for proper brain function.

Cholesterol is essential, especially for optimal brain and nerve function because synapses—the connections that allow electrical impulses to travel from one nerve cell to another—are almost entirely made of cholesterol. Moreover, most hormones are also made from it as cholesterol is used as their building block. Therefore, we must consume plenty of cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs, as well as plenty of cholesterol synthesis-promoting foods such as the good saturated fats mentioned above.

Minerals basically make up the solids of the body, and in this respect, it is vital to replenish them on a daily basis through the foods we eat: nuts, seeds and vegetables, (sea vegetable are the richest of all). And for vegetables, the greener and darker the better. Furthermore, eaten raw these nuts, seeds and vegetables provide plenty of enzymes and anti-oxidants that offer a wide spectrum of remarkable health benefits. It is crucial to keep in mind that all minerals and anti-oxidants are much better absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream when there is plenty of fat in the digestive system. In fact, in some cases, the absence of fat prevents the absorption of both minerals and anti-oxidants. I have not included fruit in this discussion because fruits are basically just simple sugars: glucose and fructose, and offer very little in terms of minerals, and phytonutrients compared to most vegetables. All berries, however, fresh or dried, are excellent as they are usually low in sugar, and often very high in anti-oxidant and healthful compounds.

Sometimes, allergies and toxicities such as heavy metal accumulation in the tissues, are at the root of what may appear to be either a mood or neurological disorder. The best way to detoxify and cleanse the body of heavy metals such as mercury is to take chlorella and spirulina supplements on a daily basis, on an empty stomach with plenty of water at least 30 minutes before meals. These have the ability to bind to heavy metals and flush them out of the body through the stools. And as for allergenic compounds, this needs to be investigated be each person individually.

Finally, water is vital for life and health. We must therefore have plenty of it, and drink on an empty stomach first thing in the morning and before meals.

There is no way to address what we may call “concentration problems” without addressing everything about what we eat and drink. Everything relating to brain function is also related to bodily functions and vice versa. Whether we like it or not, and whether we recognise it or not, this bodymind is whole, and mind and body are seamless. This is therefore how it must be taken care of and treated.

Minerals and bones, calcium and heart attacks

Asking Robert Thompson, M.D., author of The Calcium Lie, what causes atherosclerosis and heart disease, he would most likely say that it is the accumulation of calcium in the veins and arteries, but also everywhere else in the body, that leads to a hardening of the tissues, and eventually to the complete stiffening of the blood vessels that inevitably leads to heart attack. He might add that this calcification of the body comes from an imbalance in the amount of calcium that is consumed compared with that of all the other essential minerals required for proper bodily function.

He would also be quick to point out that based on a huge database of about one million results of detailed hair mineral analysis, about 90% of the population is deficient in most if not all elements of the spectrum of essential minerals we need for optimal health, while being over-calcified. Dr Thompson would probably also say that a majority of the conditions that lead to disease, no matter what form it takes, are rooted in mineral deficiencies. Naturally, given that all deficiencies grow with time unless something is done to address the problem, how can this fundamental issue not be related to ageing.

Just as the amount of water in our body and cells tends to decrease with age, so do both bone mineral content and density, as well as the specific hormones like calcitonin and parathyroid hormone. Calcitonin helps fix calcium in the bones, and parathyroid hormone removes calcium from bones when it is required for other purposes. Their main roles is to regulate the amount of calcium to fix in our bones, and their delicate balance depends on factors mostly related to diet and nutrition, but we know that it is intimately linked to Vitamin D levels.

We also know that uric acid tends to accumulate in the tissues throughout the body with time, making every soft tissue stiffer and making our every movement more difficult and painful as we get older, and that an acidic environment tends to leach out minerals from the bones. So what causes bone loss: dropping levels of hormones, dropping levels of Vitamin D, increasing levels of uric acid, increasing mineral deficiencies, all of these, other things?

Thompson repeats throughout his book: “bones are not made of calcium, they are made of minerals”. What minerals? Calcium and phosphorus, yes, but also sodium, sulfur, magnesium, potassium, copper, iodine, zinc, iron, boron, and more. Calcium accounts for about 30% of the mineral content of bone, but phosphate (PO4) makes up about 50% of the bone mass. And in fact, what makes bone hard is calcium phosphate Ca3(PO4)2(OH)2, which immediately shows that it is the balance of calcium and phosphorous intake and absorption—mostly regulated by Vitamin D, which is of vital importance for bone strength and rigidity.

However, it is essential to understand that it is the presence and balance of all of the 84 essential minerals found in unrefined sea or rock salt that are required for optimal overall health, which includes the health of our bones. And remember that table salt contains 97.5% sodium chloride and 2.5% chemical additives, whereas unrefined sea salt from the French Atlantic contains 84% sodium chloride, 14% moisture, and 2% trace-minerals (follow the links to see the chemical analysis of Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan, and a comparison of the two).

Therefore, one of our primary aims when choosing the foods we eat should be to maximise mineral content. Since Nature’s powerhouses of nutrition, the foods with the highest mineral content and nutritional density are seeds, nuts, sea vegetables, and dark green leafy vegetables, in that order, these are the foods that we should strive to eat as much of as we can in order to always provide the body with maximum amount of minerals that we can. Unrefined sea or rock salt should also be eaten liberally for a total of at least 1-2 teaspoons per day with 2-4 litres of water. (And no, salt does not cause hypertension or any other health problems of any kind, and never has.)

Now, maximising our intake of minerals through our eating of mineral-dense foods, how can we ensure maximum absorption of these minerals? Two key elements are Vitamin D, and fats, especially saturated fats.

Vitamin D is so extremely important for so many things that I simply refer you to the non-profit Vitamin D Council web page for long hours of reading on everything related to Vitamin D. I will just quote the following as an extremely short introduction to it:

Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but one of the oldest prohormones, having been produced by life forms for over 750 million years. Phytoplankton, zooplankton, and most animals that are exposed to sunlight have the capacity to make vitamin D.

In humans, vitamin D is critically important for the development, growth, and maintenance of a healthy body, beginning with gestation in the womb and continuing throughout the lifespan. Vitamin D’s metabolic product, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (calcitriol), is actually a secosteroid hormone that is the key which unlocks binding sites on the human genome. The human genome contains more than 2,700 binding sites for calcitriol; those binding sites are near genes involved in virtually every known major disease of humans.

Vitamin D is one of, if not the most important substance for optimal health. I take between 25000 and 50000 IU per day, which is approximately the amount produced from about 30 minutes of full body exposure to midday sun for a caucasian. But for the purpose of this discussion on minerals and bones, it is enough to know that vitamin D plays an crucial role in regulating how much calcium and phosphorus is absorbed in the intestine and ultimately fixed in the bones.

On fats there is so much to say that it will have to be for another post. You could read The truth about saturated fats by Mary Enig, PhD, on this coconut oil website that has links to many other interesting articles on fats. And remember that coconut oil is by far the best fat to consume, but more on this another time. But once more, the essential thing to remember is that the more fat there is in the intestines, the more minerals (and antioxidants) will be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Now, what is ageing if it is not the gradual decay of the body and its systems. Given that everything in the body is constituted and constructed from the food we eat and water we drink, isn’t it utterly obvious that in order to maintain the bodymind as healthy as possible for as long as possible it is absolutely essential to ensure that it is always perfectly hydrated by drinking plenty of water before meals, maximise the nutrition density and mineral content of the foods we eat, and minimise intake of harmful substances that disrupt or damage the delicate inner workings of this bodymind? I certainly think so.

What to eat: four basic rules

Without air, we die within a few minutes. On the whole, we have a limited influence on the quality of the air we breathe at home and even less at the office. There are many things we can do to minimise the pollutants released in the air from the building materials and the things we buy and use, but the outside air quality is as it is. Nonetheless, it has been shown that the concentration of harmful pollutants in the air is always greater indoors than outdoors, sometimes remarkably so: 100 times or more, (mostly for chemicals found in “cleaning” products). Therefore, as a general rule we should always maximise ventilation of our indoor spaces with fresh, outside air.

Without water, we die within a few days. And although it would be ideal to drink fresh, highly oxygenated and molecularly ordered, living water from a deep mineral spring in pristinely pure mountains unexposed to industrial pollutants, this is rarely possible. However, with a high quality water filter, preferably without synthetic materials, we can ensure proper hydration of the bodymind, and at the very least, not increase its toxic load by the addition of heavy metals, or industrial, agricultural, and pharmaceutical chemicals contained in unfiltered tap water.

Without food, we can live for a several weeks and maybe even months. Nonetheless, food provides the raw materials to build, renew and repairs all cells that constitute the bodymind. And for most of us, we freely decide what we put in our mouths and in those of our children. Therefore, we can pay particular attention to what we eat, mouthful after mouthful, and day after day. Here are four basic rules for healthy eating.

Rule 1: No Carbs

The consumption of sugars and starches is extremely detrimental to our health. It is more than well established that it is exactly this—the regular consumption of refined and easily digestible carbs—that causes the wide spectrum of disorders sometimes referred to as the diseases of civilisation: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc…

Basically, we could say that the body wants only the necessary minimum glucose in its bloodstream. This is why there is the insulin mechanism: if glucose circulates, the pancreas releases insulin to rid the blood of it by storing it away. Insulin is one of the most important hormones, and its message to the liver, muscle and fat cells is clear and always the same: “take that glucose and store it away”.

A small amount of glucose can be stored as glycogen in the liver (about 70 g) and in the muscles (a total of 250 g in skeletal muscles). How much is stored depends on muscle mass, physical training, metabolism and eating habits, but under normal circumstances, this will not exceed more than a few tens of grams after any given meal. The rest of the glucose in the bloodstream is converted to fat, and packed in the fat cells.

While the glycogen in the liver is used for moment to moment adjustment of blood glucose concentrations, muscle glycogen is only for usage in the specific muscle, and can only be accessed by using that muscle. Fat will never be released from the fat cells while there are even relatively small amounts of either glucose or insulin in the bloodstream.

As we eat simple or starchy carbs, all of which end up as glucose in the bloodstream, more or less quickly depending on the level of refinement (on the fibre content), insulin is secreted. The more carbs we eat, the more insulin is produced, and the longer the sugar and the insulin circulate in the bloodstream. This is really bad for two reasons:

  1. The longer and more often insulin circulates in the bloodstream, the longer and more often all the tissues are exposed to it, and the more they grow resistant to its presence and its message. As the liver, muscles and fatty tissues gradually become more resistant, the pancreas needs to secrete more insulin to get its message across and successfully rid the bloodstream of the glucose. This, in turn, leads to increased insulin resistance, which leads to the glucose and insulin circulating even longer, and thus even more insulin secretion—the perfect example of a viscous circle. Eventually, the liver and muscle tissues become fully insulin resistant, and when the fat cells also finally reach that stage, glucose has nowhere to go: this marks the beginning of type II diabetes.
  2. The longer glucose circulates in the bloodstream, the more the probability of glycation increases. Glycation is the haphazard binding of glucose onto a protein or fat molecule without the control of an enzyme, and thus results in damage to the tissue. Glycation is the first step in a process that leads to the production of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs), and although the body has a mechanism to clear out the usually highly damaging AGEs, long-lived cells like nerves and neurons, and long-lasting proteins like eye crystalline and collagen in the blood vessels and skin, tend to accumulate the most damage over time. The accumulation of AGEs in the vessels leads to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and the accumulation in the brain leads to Alzheimer’s disease—the diabetes of the brain, and other brain disorders.

Of all carbohydrates, fructose is probably the most damaging. Unlike any other sugar, fructose cannot be metabolised, and for this reason, goes directly to the liver, as do all other toxins circulating in our bloodstream. There, the fructose temporarily monopolises the liver, preventing it from doing anything else while being converted to fat. To find out how terrible fructose truly is, listen to this lecture by Professor Robert Lustig.

Conclusion: “No Carbs” means no simple sugars like table sugar of any colour, no honey, and no syrups of any king, especially not agave or corn syrup as they are full of fructose. It also means basically nothing sweet and obviously no deserts. “No Carbs” means no cookies, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, and especially not fried starches like chips or fries as they are full of AGEs. And “No Carbs” also means no sweet fruit of any kind. Berries and grapefruits are fine; lemons are excellent.

Rule 2: Water 30 Minutes Before Meals

When we eat, the stomach secretes gastric acid in order to activate digestive enzymes, and break down proteins. Gastric acid is composed of 0.5% of hydrochloric acid (HCl), and lots of potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl). It has a pH between 1 and 2, and is therefore an extremely corrosive acid. The only thing that protects the lining of the stomach from the powerful gastric acid is a layer of mucus. Since mucus is more than 90% water, it is essential to ensure that the gastric mucus is well hydrated before eating. Once food has been pre-digested in the stomach for 3-4 hours, it moves into the small intestine for the digestion and extraction of nutrients. In order to neutralise the gastric acid, the pancreas secretes a watery, sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) solution. This also requires adequate amounts of water to be available before eating. I discuss this point in greater detail in Why we should drink water before meals, and other issues related to water in Water, ageing and disease.

Conclusion: Drink half a litre (two big glasses or three small ones) of water 30 minutes before every meal, and no water during or within 2 hours after the meal to ensure optimal digestion of all nutrients. A single glass 2-3 hours after the meal is good. Drink as much as you want on an empty stomach, and wait 30 minutes before eating anything.

Rule 3: Maximise Nutritional, Mineral and Enzyme Content

If we were to stick to a single principle in choosing what to eat, it should be this:  Maximise nutrient density. This is very simple: If a food is rich in nutrients and minerals, then eat it; if it is not, leave it. And since we are by mass 60-70% water and thus 30-40% of solids composed of all the naturally occurring elements, maximising nutrient density implies maximising mineral content.

The highest concentration of minerals is found in unrefined sea or rock salt, sea vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, and green vegetables, all of which you should try to eat as much of as possible. And it is really important to have a salt intake balanced with water intake: at least 2 litres of water and 1 teaspoons of salt per day.

Enzymes are plentiful in all raw foods. Enzymes are essential to extract the nutrients from the foods. Eating fresh, raw foods that come with their own enzymes is the best way to maximise digestibility and absorption. The enzymes in nuts and seeds must be activated by soaking them in water for 12 hours. Doing this makes them a super-healthy source of easily digestible protein.

Good quality protein is found in animal products that also contain good saturated fats. Animal protein should in general always be taken in moderation because it is insulinogenic and acidifying. Anything that is not used for building and repairing tissues will be converted to glucose, and anything that is not properly digested may putrefy, and will definitely create toxins, produce acidity, and stimulate negative immune system reactions from the presence of undigested proteins in the bloodstream. Nevertheless, you have to make sure you consume enough for your needs based on body mass and amount/type of exercise.

Conclusion: Eat as many raw vegetables as you can, especially dark green lettuces and salad greens, soaked nuts and seeds, and smaller amounts of eggs and un-pasteurized or fermented milk products like raw cheese and plain, full fat yogurt. Eat sea vegetables whenever you can. Keep animal protein consumption small (less than 1g/kg of lean body mass).

Rule 4: Lots of Fat

Fat is the perfect cellular fuel for many reasons. I think that the two most important are that it provides large amounts of very efficiently stored but readily useable energy, and that its metabolic usage does not trigger any insulin response. Fat is not only the perfect metabolic fuel when we are at rest, but also we are active. Stored triglycerides are released into the bloodstream as free fatty acids that are then transported by proteins to wherever energy expenditure is taking place. Given the compact energy storage of 7-9 calories per gram of fat, even the smallest stores in the leanest individuals can provide energy literally for days on end.

In addition to the multitude of negative effects it can have on the metabolism and hormonal system as a whole, insulin is a potent inhibitor to lipolysis (fat burning). It means that the presence of insulin inhibits the release of stored fats for energy needs. Conversely, when lipolysis is initiated and sustained, there is an accompanying decrease in plasma levels of insulin, with all the benefits that this brings. This also explains why fat suppresses hunger, because the presence of insulin stimulates it.

The best kinds of fats are those that are closest to their most natural and unrefined state. This mean the least processed. Furthermore, the best kinds of fats are those that are least likely to oxidise and form free radicals. This means the most stable and therefore the most saturated. The very best of all fats is extra virgin coconut oil. It is truly a miraculous substance, and I will write about it in greater details on another occasion. It is highly saturated (96%), incredibly stable (several years at room temperature will not turn it rancid), and the most heat resistant of all fats (smoke point of 138 C). Organic butter, and in general milk fat, is the second best choice for a primary source of fat in the diet; raw, unpasteurized butter is far better, but hard to find in some places.

Otherwise, olive oil for salad dressings is the only other vegetable oil I use daily, and recommend using, because it is the most stable (monounsaturated) and thus least harmful of all the vegetable oils, which are all composed of polyunsaturated fatty acids (contain more than one double bond in the carbon chain), and thus very unstable. Eating a lot of seeds and nuts in the whole natural state will provide a lot of polyunsaturated fats, but together with the whole food; this keeps the oil fresh and much less likely to form free radicals. One trick that I use is to try to eat saturated fats when I eat nuts and seeds, which further decreases the probability of oxidation of the polyunsaturated fats; coconut oil in particular has proven, powerful anti-oxidant properties.

Conclusion: Eat lots of fat to provide you with a lot of energy and suppress hunger. The best fats are coconut oil and butter. For salads use the freshest olive oil. Avoid all other vegetable oils, especially those that have been heated or hydrogenated as these become toxic trans fats.