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I'm a mom, a wife, a best friend. Sick with CFIDS/ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia since 1975 as a result of a nasty flu while still in grad school, it wasn't until the late '80's that I received a diagnosis. Until that flu I'd never really been ill before. With each year I get progressively worse and add to the bucket load of symptoms I'm living with. I've been blessed with an incredible family and best friend who've stayed with me through my struggles as we continue to find a way out of this monstrous illness and its complications. We've tried seemingly every approach to find my way back to health. Often I think our best weapon in this undesirable and unasked-for adventure has been laughter.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Tidbits: Chronic Pain & Magnesium

"I won't let it go until I understand why...."

Are you always searching for different ways to deal with the pain factor in your life?  Recently, a reader asked if I could write a post dealing with how to handle flares. I did so and mentioned that taking frequent baths with salts which contain magnesium are quite helpful.  

I think a vast majority of those of us with painful conditions already know that magnesium does a lot of good, but do we understand why?  Well, today I thought I'd try to explain some of the reasons magnesium is such a powerhouse in the CFIDS/CFS/ME, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain and lupus departments.  I don't know about you, but skeptical me always finds explanations fascinating, not to mention that I follow these hints much better if I understand, at least partially, the reasoning - the why or how.  The SOMETHING!

As we all know, patients with CFIDS/ME/CFS (very) obviously have problems with fatigue and decreased stamina.  While researchers don't have all the answers regarding the causes of these troubling symptoms, an article in a British nutrition journal may give a clue as why these symptoms occur.  

If  you think I'm a skeptic?  Try the medical establishment.  Considering the doctors/researchers don't ever believe one another and find that they just have to experiment for themselves to see if they can prove "otherwise" than what someone has just found, believe me, then you can get some high drama, not to mention better understanding. (Whoops! Too obvious?)  

In 1994 researchers found that patients with CFIDS/ME/CFS had low levels of magnesium.  However, they used a particular test to determine this.  As opposed to the usual serum magnesium test, they decided to use the Red Blood Cell (RBC) magnesium tests.

Most doctors, when measuring a magnesium level in a patient, will order a serum magnesium level and this is unfortunate.  The serum magnesium level test is not as accurate in determining the amount of magnesium in the muscles and other tissues as with a RBC magnesium test.  The authors of the study found that the RBC level of magnesium was significantly lower in the CFIDS/ME patients than in controls. Because fibro and CFIDS often occur in the same patient, one researcher wanted to know if patients with fibro, but without CFIDS, were also low in magnesium.
My rheumy told me that when the observation that RBC magnesium levels were low in fibro patients was first presented at a medical meeting, the finding was met with some skepticism.  That led to another researcher looking into this issue and much to his surprise, he came to the same conclusion.  

However, instead of doing a direct measurement of RBC magnesium, he performed a "magnesium loading test."  This involved giving a lot of magnesium intravenously to the patient and then collecting urine over the next 24 hours to see how much magnesium was in it.  Lo and behold!  There was no magnesium in the urine specimens.  Those fibro patients sopped up the IV magnesium like a sponge because their bodies were just that deficient (low) in magnesium.  

Over the next few years, four more studies were done, two by each researcher, examining the magnesium status of patients with other chronic conditions aside from fibromyalgia - such as lupus, myofascial pain syndrome and the Eosinophilic Myalgia Syndrome. (Yes! Lupus!) The researchers took great care in making sure that none of those patients had fibromyalgia.  What all these problems had in common was chronic pain. (Yes!  Lupus!)  Therefore, a link between chronic pain and magnesium was established.  

What is even more interesting is that another study showed that pain threshold is proportional to the magnesium level.  In other words, the lower your magnesium, the more you are going to hurt.  

Thanks to these skeptical and competitive researchers, we now know that magnesium is necessary for proper muscle function and is a co-factor in the synthesis of ATP, a chemical that is directly associated with the energy level in the cells and in the body as a whole.  (This is only a Cliff Notes version re ATP!) 

So, what are those of us suffering chronic pain and/or lupus to do? 

  • Know your RBC magnesium level. (And yes, that means the RBC level of magnesium!)
  • Understand that your level may be in the "normal" range, but that "normal" range may not apply specifically to you since the range is a statistical construct based on the general healthy population.   
  • If your RBC magnesium level is below average you might want to discuss this with your doctor (ASAP).
  • Be careful what magnesium pills you take since magnesium is a component of many laxatives, including Milk of Magnesia.  (Duh!- re the Milk of Magnesia!)  Taking a sustained release (or slow-release) magnesium preparation is probably the best way to go if you are going to take magnesium supplementation. 

Patients with CFIDS, fibro, myofascial pain and lupus often have little control over their illness but the body's level of magnesium can be something that you can control and improve if necessary.  By rectifying a magnesium deficiency you can have some control over the pain and fatigue that accompany these illnesses. It's not a cure, but it can improve quality of life in some patients.

As always, hoping everyone's doing their best, only better!  Ciao and paka! 

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  1. I learned a long time ago that magnesium helps. Good post.

  2. My friend has several health conditions and swears by taking magnesium to help with the aches and sleeplessness.

    1. It's quite the find! So sorry that I just found this comment - fibro-brain strikes again! Thanks for writing in! xx

  3. Yes we should maintain our RBC magnesium level to prevent chronic pain. Great info and keep posting like this article!!!back and neck pain bergen county , low back pain bergen county