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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

A Healthy Heart - the Mineral Connection
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David B. Milne

Coronary heart disease is this nation’s number one killer. World wide it is estimated to kill 800,000 annually.

Considerable attention has been focused on factors that increase risk, such as diets containing high amounts of fat and saturated fat, and on increasing nutrients thought to reduce risk. These include folic acid and antioxidant vitamins, such as beta carotene, and vitamins C and E.

Research at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center and at several laboratories around the world has demonstrated the importance of two essential elements, magnesium and copper in maintaining a healthy heart.

A recent review relates low magnesium intake to a high incidence of cardiac deaths, particularly in soft water areas where magnesium in the water is low. Chronic magnesium deficiency in both humans and animals is known to produce hypertension, atherosclerosis, abnormal heart rhythms and electrocardiograms, damaged heart tissue, and sudden cardiac death.

The body needs magnesium in a variety of body processes, including normal muscle contraction and nerve function.

Research suggests that mild copper deficiency also contributes to all stages of atherosclerosis and increased risk of heart disease. Abnormal electrocardiograms, high blood cholesterol, and elevated blood pressures have been seen in both humans and animals experimentally depleted of copper.

The body needs copper to maintain the elasticity of the heart and blood vessels as well as the activity of an important antioxidant enzyme in the blood.

Surveys of daily diets in North America and Europe indicate that more than 30 percent contain less than 1 milligram of copper. That’s insufficient for adults based on studies conducted at the Grand Forks center.

Foods that are rich in magnesium are generally high in copper and vice versa. Good sources of both minerals include seeds, nuts, legumes, and cereal grains. Dark green vegetables are an additional source of magnesium. Other foods that are high in copper are oysters, liver, chocolate, and shell fish. Adding sunflower seeds to a copper and magnesium-poor lettuce and dressing salad can change it into to one that is a good source of both copper and magnesium.

By contrast, diets high in refined foods, meat, and dairy products are usually lower in both copper and magnesium than diets rich in vegetables and unrefined grains. Following the guidelines of the USDA’s food pyramid provides diets that contain healthy amounts of both copper and magnesium, as well as antioxidant vitamins and other nutrients needed for maintaining good health.

The heart has held special significance throughout history as a symbol of life and disease, as the place of the soul, as the source of feelings of love. Attention to the foods we eat is an important part of a healthy life style needed to maintain a healthy heart and quality of life.


Last Modified: 4/4/2007
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