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Relationship between Magnesium Intake and Chronic Pain in U.S. Adults

PainSci » bibliography » Tarleton et al 2020
Tags: nutrition, self-treatment, treatment

Three articles on PainSci cite Tarleton 2020: 1. The Complete Guide to Trigger Points & Myofascial Pain2. Does Epsom Salt Work?3. Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements for Pain & Healing

PainSci commentary on Tarleton 2020: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

This study seemed to go out of its way to try study magnesium for pain without actually talking to a patient with pain — pure data analysis. Tarleton et al. mined some old survey data on the health of more than 13,000 American adults (high-volume data, but also poor quality for this purpose, “low resolution”). They reported a “protective effect” of “increased magnesium intake,” concluding that this “warrants further study.” Which everyone more or less already agreed on, but more data is good… right?

Hm, not if it just muddies the waters. Data like this is can be like yelling in a crowded theatre, “There might be a fire! I think I saw some smoke!”

This is a far cry from conclusive evidence that taking magnesium treats any kind of chronic pain. The allegedly protective “increased magnesium intake” they detected is, I believe, inferred from notoriously unreliable self-reporting of diet. The possibilities for confounding factors are endless.

Bonus eye roll: Amusingly, when Tarleton et al. explained why they did this research — that “there is some evidence that magnesium supplementation results in improved pain management” — they cite only a single supporting paper. And what is that single paper? A twenty-year-old study showing an inflammatory response to severe deficiency… in rats. 🙄

~ Paul Ingraham

Common issues and characteristics relevant to this paper: ?Scientific papers have many common characteristics, flaws, and limitations, and many of these are rarely or never acknowledged in the paper itself, or even by other reviewers. I have reviewed thousands of papers, and described many of these issues literally hundreds of times. Eventually I got sick of repeating myself, and so now I just refer to a list common characteristics, especially flaws. Not every single one of them applies perfectly to every paper, but if something is listed here, it is relevant in some way. Note that in the case of reviews, the issue may apply to the science being reviewed, and not the review itself.

  1. Major flaws in experimental design or execution.
  2. Risk of inadequate statistical power.
  3. A junky or trivial little study that was probably published more to pad someone’s resumé than to actually answer a research question. We are drowning in studies like this, which mostly just muddy the waters with more inadequate data.

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

Chronic pain is a public health concern and additional treatment options are essential. Inadequate magnesium intake has been associated with chronic pain in some populations. We sought to examine the relationship between dietary magnesium intake and chronic pain in a large, representative cohort of U.S. adults (NHANES). Of the 13,434 eligible adults surveyed between 1999 and 2004, 14.5% reported chronic pain while 66% reported inadequate magnesium intake. The univariate analysis showed a protective effect of increased magnesium intake adjusted for body weight (odds ratio 0.92; 95%; CI 0.88, 0.95; p < 0.001). It remained so even after correcting for socioeconomic and clinical factors as well as total calorie intake (odds ratio 0.93; 95% CI 0.87, 0.99; p = 0.02). The association was stronger in females (odds ratio 0.91; 95% CI 0.85, 0.98; p = 0.01) than males (odds ratio 0.96; 95% CI 0.89, 1.04; p = 0.32). The potential protective effect of magnesium intake on chronic pain warrants further investigation.

This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights: