Wayne was only four years old, but he had been suffering epileptic seizures for 3 1/2 years. Though the seizures were particularly severe during stress periods, he was never completely free of them.
Anticonvulsant drugs were used, but none was successful. The boy's parents were resigned to the probability that he would have a life plagued with severe epilepsy.
At that time Dr. Lewis B. Barnett, head of the Hereford Clinic and Deaf Smith Research Foundation in Hereford, Texas, began a series of experiments. The boy became a subject. He was given, in addition to a normal diet, 450 mg. of magnesium gluconate and a thyroid extract. Within two weeks all signs of epilepsy vanished, and within the past three years there have been no signs of the illness.
Is It Magnesium Deficiency?
In 28 more cases, the same story has been repeated. Children of all ages, stricken with epilepsy failed to respond or responded only slightly to modern drugs and therapy. Placed on high oral doses of magnesium, they experienced stunning improvement.
Barnett did not start out to investigate a relationship between magnesium and epilepsy. He says, "My original work was directed toward the role of magnesium in bone apatite, and while investigating that field, it became obvious that magnesium might play a vital role in the physiology of the central nervous system." He studied the relatively few reports in medical literature concerned with the mineral, and found one by Martin, Meke, and Wertman. These researchers reported that in a state of epilepsy there is a deficiency of magnesium in the blood.
Children who definitely suffered from epilepsy were used in the Hereford study. First, their blood magnesium levels were established. In all cases, the levels were below normal, supporting the findings of Martin, Meke, and Wertman. Next Barnett decided to correct the deficiency by giving oral magnesium preparations. "It was hoped that the magnesium supplement would control the seizures," he told us in an interview.
Within a matter of weeks the blood magnesium level returned to normal, and in every case, except one there was definite clinical improvement.
"After reviewing most of the literature," Mr. Barnett says, "not very extensive according to references, it became obvious to me that very little work had been done in this most important and extremely active mineral--especially in its relation to the physiology of the central nervous system."
In his experiments, Barnett used magnesium gluconate, a form of magnesium which is easily absorbed by the system. 'Taken orally in this form, magnesium is harmless in almost any quantity," he reports. "The worst that can occur is that some individuals will become drowsy."
This tendency toward causing drowsiness is one of the key properties of the mineral.
It has been known for many years that magnesium is an analgesic. It is found both in the blood and in the spinal fluid, and is the only electrolyte found in higher concentration in the spinal fluid than in the blood. This is an important fact for two reasons:
First, testing for a deficiency of magnesium in the spinal fluid is easily done by taking a blood test and deciding what the magnesium level in the blood is. Scientists have found that the lower the blood level, the lower the spinal fluid level.
Second, the reason for the high magnesium content in the spinal fluid is that the mineral is necessary for balancing the stimulant effect of body hormones. The purpose of thyroid, gonadal, adrenal and other hormones is to charge up or excite the body. Magnesium and some other substances tend to slow down and relax the system, thus regulating the hormones and achieving a happy medium.
When magnesium deficiencies occur--and there are a number of reasons why this can happen--there is no regulation. Among the dangerous results of this state listed in medical literature are heart damage, osteoporosis, periodontal disease, and epilepsy. Another is hyperirritability. "A great many people have a magnesium deficiency manifesting itself in hyperirritability," Barnett said. These people may often have a metabolic rate 125 percent higher than normal, he says.
Their bodies and minds are greatly overactive, and they are constantly irritated. This is undoubtedly a partial explanation for the high rate of juvenile delinquency, divorce, and emotional instability rampant in modem society.
Pituitary Gland Important
A magnesium deficiency, according to Barnett, is a prime cause of the three million clinical and 10 to 15 million subclinical epilepsy cases now in this country. Deficiency may occur not from a lack of magnesium in the diet but because of malfunctioning of the pituitary gland. As far back as 1952, researchers observed that people suffering a magnesium deficiency had reactions similar to those in people who had had the Pituitary gland removed. The reason for this is not hard to understand.
The pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, is believed, to regulate the functions of all the other glands of the body. It is the gland through which magnesium works as a prime component of pituitary secretions to regulate the functioning of the other glands. If magnesium is not available or the pituitary is not functioning properly, the body will suffer symptoms of a magnesium deficiency or a pituitary malfunction, depending on how you look at it. (It must also be pointed out that fluoride bonds with magnesium in the blood, into the insoluble magnesium fluoride. This means that the magnesium cannot be assimilated by the pituitary, with the consequent failure of the pituitary to function properly that leads to the symptoms of magnesium deficiency.)
The first step in treating the symptoms of magnesium depletion, especially among children, is to eliminate milk from the diet, according to Dr. Barnett. He reports that nine out of ten childhood epileptics drink milk. Calciferol (synthetic vitamin D), like fluorine, tends to bind the magnesium, he says. Milk is loaded with this substance and therefore enhances the problem. The synthetic form of the vitamin is 10 times more active than the natural form--which means it is 10 times more potent in binding magnesium. For this reason the natural vitamin, as found in fish liver oils, will not cause magnesium depletion, but milk can and does.
The second step, though new to medicine, is "old hat' to ranchers. Green grass tetany, the cattle equivalent of human hyperirritability, costs ranchers about a half billion dollars a year. This problem can be effectively treated only by adding magnesium to the animal's diet, but this must be done before the disease reaches serious proportions.
According to Barnett, this same therapy is often effective in humans. He considers dolomitic limestone an excellent form of the mineral.
Although compared to the early days of Barnett's research there have recently been many studies done on magnesium, its relation to epilepsy treatment has been largely ignored. Barnett hopes that now his studies will lead to other clinical experiments, and that eventually doctors will be able to control many cases of epilepsy without using depressant drugs. "By balancing their physiological state, with special emphasis on intracellular chemistry, an easier and finer control of these unfortunate individuals may be possible," he said.