Minerals like magnesium are vital to maintaining good health, and magnesium specifically plays a key role in controlling diabetes and promoting healthy blood vessels. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the importance of minerals in their diet. Every organ in the body, especially the heart, muscles, and kidneys, needs magnesium to function at its best. Magnesium also contributes to the makeup of teeth and bones. Magnesium activates enzymes, contributes to energy production, and helps regulate levels of calcium, copper, zinc, potassium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients in the body. In short, a good magnesium level is essential for good health, but 9 out of 10 of older Black Americans have low magnesium levels.
Magnesium Deficiency Leads to Diabetes, Heart, and Kidney Problems
Studies have found that African Americans are at a higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney problems, and a lack of magnesium in their diet can worsen these conditions. In fact, due to their increased risk, African Americans require more magnesium than other groups, and a deficiency in this mineral can contribute to poor diabetes control. Additionally, many of the health conditions associated with magnesium deficiency occur more frequently among African Americans. For example, diabetes is up to three times more common in people of African or Afro-Caribbean origin, and they are also at a greater risk for hypertension, osteoporosis and fractures, and frailty. Given this, addressing racial inequalities in vitamin and mineral deficiencies should be a health priority, and magnesium supplementation in African Americans at risk of deficiency could help reduce established health disparities.
Poor Energy Too?
In addition to its role in controlling diabetes and promoting healthy blood vessels, magnesium is also important for muscle function, energy production, and healthy aging. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to problems such as memory loss, weak muscles, and even broken bones. To prevent these health issues, it is recommended to include magnesium-rich foods or supplements in your diet. For example, taking GNetX Sequence Multivitamins for African Americans, which has added magnesium, might help control diabetes, keep blood vessels healthy, and reduce the risk of heart attacks, kidney problems, and strokes.
But PLEASE don’t stop taking your prescribed medication for diabetes or high blood pressure because you started a multivitamin . . . you still need your medicine too. Multivitamins are a way to improve your daily nutrition intake and optimize your health, not correct or cure a disease.
Prostate cancer in African American men is more deadly, occurs more often, and can be easily detected by a blood test called a “prostate specific antigen” or “PSA.” Yet many doctors have been advised against checking for this cancer because of outcomes in non-African American populations. By not checking, prostate cancer rates have been going up in African Americans rather than going down.
No Rectal Exam!
Many men avoid seeing doctors altogether because they are trying to avoid rectal exams, the old way of screening for prostate cancer. Thanks to modern advances, the rectal exam is not needed, and not a preferred way to screen for prostate cancer. So stop avoiding the doctor! All you need is a PSA blood test.
Prostate cancer in African American men is the most common occurring cancer, and the second most common cause of overall cancer deaths. Most men are in their 50’s or 60’s when it is diagnosed and few have any symptoms at the time. If they had not been screened by their doctor, many would not have known they had the disease.
“BPH” or Prostate Enlargement is Also Common in Black Men
Prostate cancer shouldn’t be confused with “BPH” or benign prostate enlargement (hypertrophy) which is also common in Black men and cause increased urination (both day and night) associated with a slower flow of urine. Younger men can stand in front of the toilet to pee, but older men with BPH need to stand over the toilet in order to not make a mess. Some of my patients tell me they were afraid that these symptoms of BPH were actually prostate cancer. A simple PSA blood test can tell the difference.
When compared to White Americans, we see an entirely different prevalence and mortality rates . The prostate cancer incidence is 70 percent higher in African American men. Similarly, the risk of death from prostate cancer is over two and a half times higher than White American men.
Zinc & Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer has been associated with vitamin D deficiency and zinc deficiency, but don’t run out and start taking too much because another study showed that taking high doses of zinc (more than 75 mg a day) caused worse prostate cancer. Like making a cake, you need the right amount of each ingredient.
There are other risks for prostate cancer including exposure to chemicals and poisons. Agent Orange is one of the deadliest.
A good family friend was diagnosed with prostate cancer after it had spread from his prostate to his bone. Because it had gone undetected and unscreened for too many years, it was found too late. Warren was a great guy. Hard working. Family man. Unwavering friend. Always upbeat and smiling . . . until he died from prostate cancer. In addition to all of the great things many of us could say about him, he also served his country in the Vietnam war. The prostate cancer and his service in Vietnam are probably related.
Chemical Exposure Can Increase the Risk for Prostate Cancer
Back on the 1960’s Agent Orange was a frequent pesticide used to clear the dense vegetation that the solders had to endure, and Warren was the point man . . . the man out front. What is ironic is the point man was also frequently the one in the most dander in an army unit. Warren miraculously survived the tour, but ultimately not the war. Studies show that this chemical exposure years earlier cause aggressive prostate cancer later in life.
If you are a man over age 40, get your “PSA” checked every year. Given that there is no cure for advanced prostate cancer, finding it sooner is better than finding it later! If Warren’s cancer had been found sooner, he could still be here and it’s only a blood test and not a rectal exam. Tell all the men in your life!
There are great options for treatment. Ask your doctor to screen you for prostate cancer . . . and the sooner the better!
Colon cancer has been called “the disease no one has to die from,” but African Americans continue to have the highest occurrence and the highest death rate compared to other racial/ethnic groups. Studies show that a Black man is 24 percent more likely to get colon cancer than a white man and 47% more likely to die from it.
Colon cancer also occurs at a younger age in African Americans. The passing of Chadwick Boseman, the portrayer of the Marvel superhero Black Panther, at the age of 43 came as a surprise and shock to many, but not those in the health arena. We see young Black men and women getting diagnosed with colon cancer too often. And the stigma of having “cancer” keeps many quiet about their diagnosis.
Reports have confirmed that Chadwick Boseman fought colon cancer for some years before his death but kept the diagnosis private for personal reasons. As a child, my grandmother had cancer yet survived into old age. As a young physician, I asked what type of cancer she had, and she looked at me with disbelief; how dare I ask such a personal question? For many in the Black community, even discussing cancer or its prevention is taboo.
Early Detection is Critical
If colon cancer is caught early, the prognosis is excellent, with over nine out of ten patients surviving five years. With many cancers, surviving five years is almost equivalent to a cure. But once it has spread to other organs and tissues, that survival rate plummets to only one out of four living five years.
African American men and women continue to be diagnosed at more advanced stages of colon cancer than other Americans. Even when adjustments are made for socioeconomic status, African Americans still have significantly lower screening.
Some of the reasons for low screening is an aversion to the methods we use to screen patients. I have had some patients look as if I insulted them by suggesting they get their stool sample tested.
“That part of my body is for OUT ONLY!”
In a study that included interviews with Black men ages 45-75 in Minnesota, Ohio, and Utah, researchers repeatedly heard concerns that colonoscopy, which involves the placement of a flexible tube inside the rectum, was associated with “gay sex” or was not masculine. “The stigma is because of the body part they’re examining,” researchers reported.
As an African American man who has had a colonoscopy, it is neither as invasive nor uncomfortable as the legend suggests. In fact, I have no memory of my colonoscopy thanks to anesthesia, and felt absolutely nothing but relief that my screening was successfully completed. I’ll die from something, but it won’t be colon cancer.
While I disagree with this dysfunctional and culturally-based viewpoint, I can also respect it as their unique perspective and find a way around it.
What about “Cologuard?”
With Cologuard, a person has a complete bowel movement into the container, seals it, and mails it in for testing. It only uses the “OUT” function of the rectum and shouldn’t offend anyone with those reservations. Researchers have looked at “multitarget stool DNA testing” (Cologuard is the trade name) performance in African Americans and found it to be “comparable to white patients.”
The Cologuard people then examine the genetic material (DNA) in the human stool and report the result back as “negative” (which of course is good in medicine . . . and don’t ask me why now), or “positive” and you will now need a full colonoscopy to find out if there is a true problem.
A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure where a specialist looks at the entire length of the colon and rectum with a flexible scope, the width of a finger, with a light and camera at the end. They can see any pre-cancerous growths and remove them in real time. If your colonoscopy is normal, you won’t need another one for 10 years.
Your primary care provider should begin talking to you about colon cancer screening at age 45. If you have family members with a history of colon cancer, or an inflammatory bowel disorder like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it should be even earlier than age 45. People who have had radiation to the stomach or pelvic area are also at risk for colon cancer.
Many people still wonder why cancer screening is needed? Many say: “I feel fine and I will call you once I have a problem.” The answer is simple, the earlier a cancer is found, the less of a problem it causes. Small cancers usually do not cause symptoms.
Some others feel that any cancer found means a death sentence . . . and that is not true. Early and small cancers of the lung, breast, colon, and others can simply be removed. With modern medicine, early cancers are much more easily treated. Large and late-detected cancers are more likely to give you symptoms, have spread to other organs, and more often result in death.
What About My Diet?
Immigration studies strongly support a major role for environmental factors (urban living, diet, etc.) as the root cause of increased colon cancer in the United States. People migrating from regions with a low prevalence of colon cancer, like Africa, to countries with a high prevalence, like the US, acquire the higher colon cancer prevalence of their new country within twenty years or less.
Our high red meat consumption (beef, pork, and lamb) coupled with an elevated animal fat diet (chicken skin, hot dogs, lunch meat, butter, gravies, sauces) drives up the risk. That combined with decreased fiber consumption makes up the majority of the difference.
Culturally, some African Americans have a defeatist attitude regarding good health. “I’ve struggled so much in my life; if I die, I die.” But this attitude unnecessarily leads to more struggle, suffering, and premature death. Breaking the cycle of seeing more African Americans die unnecessarily due to dysfunctional thinking is ALL of our responsibility. We cannot sit back and continue to watch while other communities take full advantage of what modern medicine affords.
Yes, the Tuskegee study happened. Yes, bias and poor communication still exist in physicians today. But we as African Americans need to rise and move past these injustices. We shouldn’t avoid modern medicine; we should embrace it. If someone experiments on us, we can sue them. If a doctor acts dismissive toward us, find another doctor. It’s that simple. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Ignoring medical advances only preserves the health disparities we so dislike.
Cancer Screening is Key
Get screened for colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer as suggested by your primary care provider. Let’s leave our dysfunctional biases behind.
African American cancer survivors should make a deliberate effort to stop smoking because cancer recurrence or return was much higher in cancer patients who continued to smoke. In this study done at Wayne State in Detroit, Black patients were more likely to continue to smoke after being diagnosed with cancer and were more likely to continue if their partner continued to smoke.
A longer smoking history and living with a smoker increased the odds of continued smoking after cancer diagnosis. Over all, lung cancer survivors were most likely to quit after diagnosis.
These findings are similar to other ethnic populations and highlight that continued smoking after a cancer diagnosis is both common and highly risky. Stopping smoking must remain a primary priority to patients diagnosed with cancer because by continuing smoking, their risk for the cancer returning and spreading is much higher.
Health care providers like doctors and nurse practitioners should emphasize the importance of both the patient and other house members (wife, husband, adult children, etc.) stopping smoking because their success rates are linked.
Why Are Menthol Cigarettes a Problem?
80 percent of African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes compared to 30 percent of White Americans. Why is that? Some believe we were targeted by marketers. Remember the Kool Jazz Festival? Menthol cigarette companies spent so much on advertising in Black magazines, they were financially dependent to remain silent on the frequency of those advertisements.
Take a listen to my podcast on menthol cigarettes and why they may be the worst type of cigarette.
And here is another Better Black Health podcast episode taking about how cigarettes may be contaminated by pesticides and may be why smoking raises your risk for diabetes.
Greg Hall, MD is a physician, author, speaker, inventor, professor, and public health professional, specializing in urban health and the clinical care of African Americans. Dr. Hall’s extensive research in the care of African Americans lead to the development of GNetX Sequence Multivitamins a supplement developed to support African American needs. Most recently, Dr. Hall established the National Institute for African American Health, which is a nonprofit designed to promote health-related education, support students interested in a career in medicine, and serve as an advocate for African American patients. You can keep in touch with Dr. Hall by tuning into his Better Black Health Podcast where he covers Black American health topics.