Magnesium and Detoxification

Magnesium is required for detoxification of cells. The need for functional detoxification systems in the body is a fact of life because natural minerals like calcium can accumulate within cells, for example, when magnesium deficiency causes cells to lose the ability to maintain normal mineral concentrations, and therefore exhibit toxic effects.

Magnesium is a foundational nutrient on which detoxification systems depend for their function. The health of detoxification systems also is critical because exposure to environmental contaminants, synthetic chemicals, and pollution is a reality in our industrial world. Magnesium detox is one weapon in the arsenal against chemical toxicity.

The Science Behind Magnesium Detox

Magnesium supports detoxifications systems in the body through its major role in the production of energy (as ATP), which provides cells with the energy they require for pumping out toxins before, during, and after they accumulate.

High levels of energy are needed for the function of sodium/potassium ATPase, the enzyme that uses this energy to pump sodium ions from cells and potassium ions into cells. Cells use ATPase as the pumping mechanism for transporting nutrients, preserving proper concentrations of minerals within cells (and extracellular fluid), and removing toxins.

Abundant magnesium allows for the creation of energy needed to pump excess calcium from cells and thereby to maintain proper calcium to magnesium ratio within cells. Excess calcium in cells reduces the amount of available magnesium and rigidifies cell membranes, thereby reducing cell function. In addition, the entry of calcium into cells can overwhelm the capacity of ATPase to remove it.

When too much calcium enters into a cell, entry of magnesium is blocked, and the cell loses its ability to pump out calcium.

When this occurs, the cell cannot transport nutrients, regulate its membrane, or preserve proper concentration gradients of minerals within itself or in the fluid outside its membrane (extracellular fluid). It is critical that proper concentration gradients of minerals be maintained in order that cells avoid being overwhelmed by toxic substances, including calcium and toxic metals.

Aluminum Detox, Lead Detox and Mercury Detoxification

Magnesium is a critically important mineral because it detoxifies metals, including aluminum, mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, and nickel.1

Maintaining sufficient levels of magnesium supports the body’s efforts to detoxify metals whether for day-to-day heavy metal detox (in order to prevent accumulation within cells), or when levels of metals have become extremely high (as in heavy metal poisoning) due to chronic or acute exposures.

Maintaining high levels of magnesium can prevent deficiencies that lead to breakdowns in detoxification systems and reduce the body’s functional capacity to detoxify metals. When the body does not detoxify metals at an optimal rate, then metals accumulate and result in toxicity.


Lead and cadmium, for example, are known to exert cumulative toxic effects on the heart and kidneys.2 Due to lead’s high toxicity, in cases of exposure lead detox is imperative. Magnesium appears to competitively inhibit uptake of both metals, especially when they are found together.3 One study found that increased intake of magnesium facilitates elimination of lead and cadmium through urinary excretion.4


It is also known that mercury dramatically increases excretion of magnesium from kidneys. It has been suggested that magnesium loss is responsible for kidney damage witnessed in mercury poisoning.5 That kidney damage may relate to magnesium losses in mercury poisoning appears likely given that the body’s demands for magnesium increase as metal toxicity rises.

The capacity of magnesium to compete with toxic metals for uptake on receptor sites explains increased requirements for magnesium. Another explanation for magnesium loss in mercury poisoning is that greater amounts of magnesium are required for the production energy needed to support the pumping action of ATPase, which must work overtime to pump mercury from cells (while simultaneously performing its normal functions). When providing supra-normal pumping activity in order to remove high levels of mercury, cells may utilize magnesium at higher rates than usual. This may lead to significant magnesium losses and subsequent damage to organs when magnesium levels decline to extremely low levels.

Magnesium Deficiency and Detox

Magnesium deficiency can result both in calcium entry into cells and toxicity caused by the loss of capacity to remove toxins, including metals. This scenario plays out when magnesium levels are not maintained at sufficient levels.

When cells lose their capacity to remove toxins during magnesium deficiency, results not only may include metal poisoning and abnormal calcification of tissues, but also nervous system agitation, decreased energy levels, and cell death. Sufficient magnesium helps ensure that cells are provided with enough energy as ATP to preserve their capacity to maintain proper concentration gradients of minerals, keep membranes flexible, pump out excess calcium, and remove toxins.

The Magnesium Antioxidant?

Magnesium plays a significant role in supporting the body’s antioxidant systems. An important aspect of detoxification with respect to antioxidant status is that magnesium helps prevent the accumulation of oxidative byproducts within tissues.6

It is known that magnesium deficiency causes accumulation of oxidative products in the liver, kidney, skeletal muscles tissues, and red blood cells.7 When antioxidant systems fail to function properly, increased free-radical activity creates oxidative products that damage tissues and cells, and can significantly reduce their function. By supporting optimal antioxidant activity within the body, magnesium helps reduce free-radical damage and thereby lessens harmful effects related to excessive activity of oxygen radical species.

Antioxidant systems play a major role in detoxification processes. When the body is deficient in magnesium, it cannot support optimal function of antioxidant systems. Magnesium deficiency, for example, causes losses of glutathione, a very important antioxidant that defends the body against free-radical damage from cigarette smoke, radiation exposure, chemotherapy, alcohol, and many other toxins.8

Regarding mercury detoxification, glutathione is among the few antioxidants known to neutralize mercury.9 The fact that magnesium deficiency is associated with dramatic increases in free-radical activity and with glutathione depletion indicates the potential for magnesium deficiencies to result in significant oxidative damage within the body.

When the body simultaneously experiences dramatically increased free-radical generation and declines in glutathione levels, then oxygen radicals that under typical conditions could be quenched by glutathione (and other antioxidants) become a source of potentially massive oxidative damage.

In these circumstances, reduced functional capacities of antioxidant systems can lead to increases in oxidative products known to impair detoxification systems in the body. Impaired detoxification systems can further reduce the function of antioxidant systems.

Simultaneous declines in the function of antioxidant systems and detoxification systems results in a positive feedback loop in which magnesium deficiency not only accelerates losses of antioxidants, but also accumulation of toxins and oxidative products. These effects may cause magnesium deficiencies to deepen because while the body has increased need for magnesium, its reserves are depleted.

Magnesium, Detoxification and Aging

The impacts upon health of a high degree of magnesium deficiency can be low energy levels, deterioration of homeostasis, accelerated aging, and other forms of damage that result from increased levels of levels of toxins and free-radicals.

The importance of magnesium for detoxification, therefore, relates not only to the production of energy and the capacity of cells to remove toxins, but also to the maintenance of antioxidant systems, on which depend the functional capacities of detoxification systems.

  1. Sircus, Mark, Ac., OMD. Transdermal Magnesium Therapy (2007), 97. []
  2. Dean, Carolyn, MD, ND. The Magnesium Miracle (2007 ed.), 186. []
  3. Dean, 186. []
  4. Dean, 186. []
  5. Dean, 185. []
  6. Sircus, 96. []
  7. Sircus, 96. []
  8. Sircus, 98. []
  9. Sircus, 98. []

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