Magnesium is an essential mineral, may help with RLS


Hello, again, dear readers. We’re back with the second of our two bonus letters columns. Let’s dive right in.

-- After a column that referenced magnesium, we heard from a reader from Deltaville, Virginia, whose wife had been diagnosed with very low levels of the essential mineral. “What actually causes low magnesium levels?” he asked. “What can be done about it other than the four-hour infusion sessions she is going through?” Magnesium plays a role in hundreds of chemical reactions throughout the body and is crucial to heart, muscle, nerve and kidney function. Low levels arise from poor absorption, or excessive excretion, of the nutrient. Conditions such as chronic diarrhea; kidney disorders; and high levels of certain hormones, including thyroid hormones, can all increase magnesium excretion. So can the overuse of certain types of antacids. People with gastrointestinal issues, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, are often unable to adequately absorb magnesium. Some medications can also interfere with absorption. Infusions are used when deficiencies are quite severe. As levels stabilize, a switch to oral magnesium supplements may be adequate.

-- Speaking of magnesium, a reader from Rye Beach, New Hampshire, wrote in response to a column about restless leg syndrome, or RLS, a condition that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs. “Please suggest a simple and inexpensive mineral that’s important to the whole body -- magnesium,” she wrote. Although it doesn’t work for everyone, some people with RLS do find that increasing magnesium in the diet can help ease symptoms. As with all supplements, check with your health care provider for guidance. Taken in large amounts, magnesium supplements can be unsafe and can lead to side effects such as heart arrhythmias, low blood pressure and impaired breathing.

-- In response to a column about persistent hiccups that last for weeks, or even months, a reader from Spokane Valley, Washington, shared an unexpected avenue of relief. “My mother had those hiccups,” she wrote. “A friend of the family suggested she go to a chiropractor. She did, and the hiccups went away and never came back.” Persistent hiccups, while rare, interfere with quality of life. We aren’t aware of any studies that back up a chiropractic approach to dealing with hiccups. However, there is anecdotal evidence from patients who say that visiting a licensed chiropractor has offered relief.

Elizabeth Ko, MD and Eve Glazier, MD

-- A reader from Fresno, California, asked for help with compression stockings. “I’m 89 years old, have poor circulation and am allergic to compression stockings,” she wrote. “I walk a mile every day, and the stockings would be helpful.” It’s possible that you’re allergic to latex, which gives many brands of compression stockings their stretch. The good news is that some brands of compression stockings are latex-free. We think it would be a good idea to give them a try and see if you have better results. Meanwhile, congratulations on your impressive fitness regimen -- you’re an example to us all.

Thank you to everyone who writes to us. We look forward to hearing from more of you, and will be back with our regular letters column next month.

(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)