Magnesium ‘Miracle Mineral’

In my first blog about Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, I explained that it is unusual for Nutritional Therapists to recommend a single nutrient supplement, but that Vitamin D could be the exception.  Why?   Over many years, science has shown how insufficient vitamin D levels contribute to health concerns on virtually every level and many have responded by boosting levels with supplementation or quality time in the sun.   But here is another nutrient which has a similarly wide-reaching effect in the body, which is also largely deficient in the population and could benefit from supplementation.  Magnesium!  Every known illness is associated with magnesium deficiency.  Like vitamin D, magnesium supports seemingly endless functions and bodily systems.   It is a macro-mineral, the fourth most abundant in the body and a co-factor (a molecule that assists in chemical processes in the body) for the proper functioning of 325 enzymes.  Ongoing magnesium deficiency has been linked to numbness and tingling, muscle cramps and twitches, headaches and migraines, constipation, insomnia, irregular heart rhythms, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, premenstrual syndrome, personality changes, anxiety, fatigue and weakness, fibromyalgia, vertigo, and seizures…. and that’s just for a start!   But why such widespread lack?  Historically humans met their needs for magnesium through clean spring, river or lake mineral rich water and ate food grown in mineral rich soil.  Magnesium is much more plentiful in the diet than vitamin D, provided you are including magnesium rich foods.  Even so, mineral depleted soil produces a much lower mineral content in natural foods as compared to the beginning of the last century.  Other modern day factors also contribute to its depletion in the body such as stress, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods and sugar.  In this context, deficiency is easier to fathom!  Like vitamin D, having sufficient levels of magnesium could stack the potential for many more health benefits in your favour.  If you are interested in knowing more about magnesium, the best dietary and other sources, and the best type of magnesium to supplement with, then read on!   Q. Prefer to watch a video?  I have posted a link at the end of the blog.

More About Magnesium

The chemical symbol of Magnesium is Mg.  It is an essential mineral meaning we have to get it from our diet.  It is a water soluble salt.  About 65% of our magnesium is stored in the bones and teeth, the other 35% is contained in the body’s blood, fluid and tissues.  The highest concentrations are found in the brain and heart cells.  Almost all of our magnesium supplies come from the vegetable kingdom although it is also quite high in seafood.  It is a component of chlorophyll which is why dark green vegetables are a good source.  Both calcium and magnesium are essential minerals and work together in the body but calcium is much more present in our modern diet than magnesium.  The old adage is “Calcium: bind and contract, Magnesium: loosen and relax”.  Magnesium acts as a counterbalance to calcium by softening its effect and so without enough the body produces symptoms such as cramps, constipation, anxiety, headaches, tension etc.   My memory of the blue bottle of ‘Milk of Magnesia’ from childhood was a reliable for tummy upset and constipation.  An easily recognized symptom of depleted magnesium is ‘the shakes’ after consuming a lot of alcohol.  Alcohol acts like a diuretic with magnesium, flushing it out of your body.  Loosen and relax nicely describes many of the benefits of magnesium but researchers are discovering more and more all the time, earning it a well deserved reputation as a ‘miracle mineral’.

What are the food sources of Magnesium?

Kelp (sea vegetable), wheat bran, rye, nuts (almonds, cashew, brazil, pecans, walnut and peanuts) are all rich sources of magnesium in that decreasing order.  Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and flaxseeds, cacao 70-85% solids, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, brown rice and avocados are all good sources.  Also, beans such as pinto and black beans.  It is important to note that even though grains, nuts and seeds are a rich source, magnesium can be lost in the processing and refining of foods and boiling can leach magnesium into the water.  Including some fresh, raw greens and raw or sprouted nuts and seeds in the diet is valuable.  That said, the phytic acid in grains and oxalic acid in green vegetables may form insoluble salts with magnesium making it harder to absorb into the body. Interestingly, excess intake of Zinc and other minerals or excess protein or fat can also adversely affect absorption of magnesium.   All this and the fact that the soil in which food is grown today is much more deplete in minerals than it was a century ago, makes ensuring you get enough magnesium, a little tricky.

Who is at risk for deficiency?

Inadequate magnesium levels affect about 75% of the population.  Modern diet and lifestyle factors like chronic stress, excess intake of sugar or salt, refined carbs and processed foods, an over consumption of alcohol, caffeine, magnesium depleting medicines (including the contraceptive pill, chemotherapy etc.) and the presence of mercury from dental amalgams and vaccinations, all contribute to low magnesium levels.  Mercury binds to magnesium rendering it inactive.

If you are a heavy drinker you are particularly at risk.  If you are highly stressed, eating a highly processed diet, reliant on stimulants and if dietary sources of magnesium mentioned above are lacking, you are at risk.  Risk increases if you have any intestinal conditions like leaky gut, IBS, coeliac or inflammatory bowel disease.  Type II diabetes, heavy menstrual periods, excessive lactation and sweating, can also lower magnesium levels.

Symptoms associated with magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is associated with muscle weakness, twitching, tremor, cramps, pain and lack of co-ordination, disturbed heart rhythm, palpitations, arrhythmias, hypertension, poor circulation and water retention.  It is also associated with a range of psychiatric symptoms including agitation, anxiety, confusion, irritability, insomnia, depression, disorientation, hallucinations, hyperactivity, nervousness, restlessness, seizures, increased startle response and even psychosis.   An impressive list of possible symptoms, and as many reasons to make sure you have enough, I’d say!

These symptoms link to conditions that are shown to be alleviated by adequate magnesium levels discussed next, but first it would be good to share how to check your levels, especially if you suffer any of these more serious symptoms.

How to check magnesium levels?

Based on everything mentioned so far, it’s a fairly safe bet that most of us are lacking in magnesium.  Yet even if you have a condition associated with magnesium deficiency, levels are seldom checked in conventional medicine.  And, only 1% of magnesium is present in the blood, so even this may show as normal whilst tissue levels are depleted.  Magnesium can also be tested in red blood cells, urine and with a magnesium loading test.  These are not usually carried out by mainstream medicine but are available.  To find out more you can click the following links to labs that do these tests and enter the word ‘magnesium’ in the search.

Quest          LabCorp          BioLab

Your first approach should always be to increase magnesium rich foods in the diet. This approach will not only benefit your magnesium levels but contribute to an increase of many other beneficial nutrients.

What conditions can benefit from adequate magnesium?

Heart Health:  The heart is a muscle and magnesium is vital for keeping our muscles healthy.  As an electrolyte, magnesium aids in the transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes and enables nerves and muscles to work smoothly.  Its role in preventing muscle spasms keeps both the heart and peripheral blood vessels relaxed.  It works to lower blood pressure in those who are also deficient in potassium.   Patients with cardiovascular disease including angina, retain up to nearly 68% of intravenous magnesium loading into the heart muscle compared to healthy subjects who only retain up to 5%, revealing the heightened need for magnesium in this muscle tissue when deficient.  Cases of irregular heart beat and even post heart attack are also associated with lower tissue levels of magnesium.

Insulin Resistance: Insulin is a hormone released from the pancreas to regulate blood sugar levels. Magnesium supports proper insulin secretion from the pancreas and without it, insulin cannot do this job.  Magnesium deficiency therefore contributes to blood sugar imbalance.  Out of control blood sugar levels can lead to insulin resistance, a condition that often precedes Type II diabetes.   Sufficient levels of magnesium have been shown to actually slow or stop a person’s progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes.

Brain Health:  Magnesium has several roles in brain health and function.  Magnesium is needed to make both dopamine and serotonin the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters in the brain.  It also modulates other chemicals in the brain like glutamate and GABA helping to bring mental balance.   Red blood cell magnesium deficiencies are present in the brains of ADHD sufferers.  Magnesium is also an important nutrient to block excitatory chemicals involved in epileptic seizures and is thought to be deficient in 75% of epileptics.

Bone Health:  We are pretty well versed on how Vitamin D is essential for bone health but it does not work alone in this.  Calcium, magnesium, Vitamin K2, phosphorous and boron also contribute to keeping our bones and teeth healthy.  Magnesium is crucial in supporting the proteins that transport vitamin D in the blood and it is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium.

Pain / Fatigue / Restful Sleep:  Some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are so similar to those of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome [CFS] and Fibromyalgia [FMS] that some researchers believe it is a factor in the origin of these conditions.   Magnesium is a key nutrient used in the production of energy at a cellular level.  Patients with these conditions are shown to benefit from administration of intramuscular magnesium resulting in reduced pain, better energy and emotional states.

Pre-Menstrual Tension [PMT] is alleviated with increased magnesium intake.   Magnesium also relieves muscle contractions (cramps) and therefore period pain and it is thought that a craving for chocolate around this time is symptomatic of magnesium deficiency.  Cacao is very high in magnesium as it happens!!

Magnesium has the important job of helping us get a good night’s sleep.   It may help stimulate neurotransmitter receptors that affect how our brains relax and fall asleep.  As a muscle relaxant it also helps reduce leg and muscle cramps, which can keep people awake at night.

How much should you be getting?

The minimum required intake can be expressed as about 6mg per kg (2.2 lbs) of body weight.  So a 150lb person would have a minimum daily requirement of 410mg.   Supplementing with magnesium is generally safe as any excess is excreted from the body, but if you have any loss of kidney function you should consult your doctor before supplementing .

You can gauge how much is coming from your diet, and taking factors that might also deplete it into account, you could then supplement an additional amount to bring it up to adequate.   For example, if you have 100g or more of raw nuts, seeds, a couple of squares of dark chocolate or some green leafy veg every day then you may be getting enough from your diet.  However, if you have any of the factors that deplete it in the body then allow for this.  If you have a deficiency related condition you should consult a nutritional therapist or dietitian for a supervised therapeutic dose.  Loose stools are a sign you may be taking too much so reduce your intake if this occurs.

What is the best type of Magnesium?

There are several types of magnesium.   Its level of absorbency is critical for delivery to the tissues and cells where it is needed.  Magnesium oxide and hydroxide are the least easily absorbed and are often used in cheap supplements. Slightly better is magnesium sulphate better known as Epsom salts.  This can be taken orally but is better used in a bath to ease and relax muscles and is also absorbed into the body in this way.  It is especially helpful for reducing histamine levels.  Magnesium oil sprays are also now available for muscle and joint pain.  I’ve heard if you spray the soles of your feet at night you will sleep well!  Magnesium glycinate, lactate, citrate and carbonate are types that are much better absorbed.  Magnesium malate is recommended for CFS and FMS.  Magnesium L-Threonate is recommended for improved brain function including sleep, anxiety, memory and mood etc.

Magnesium should be taken between meals or at night before bed as it works best on an empty stomach and aids restful sleep.  Its absorption can be enhanced by vitamin D or E but other minerals compete with it for absorption so it is best taken as a single mineral supplement.

My Ode to Magnesium!

Magnesium …..  Mineral salt to loosen and relax ….. Epsom salts in a soothing bath …. Making my muscles calm and relaxed ….

Softening my heart and ….Soothing my brain …. Lifting my mood …. Disappearing  my irritation and pain …. I’ll will stress less …. Now I’m better able to think ….  I’ll avoid the things you don’t like …. Like coffee and sugar and the demon drink ….

I’ll eat more nuts, seeds and greens …. ‘Cause I know I need more of you coursing through my veins …. You are vital to my health ….

But from the roof tops they shout about another …. The ‘Calcium’ creed! ….   But it’s you we’re lacking …. It is you that we need

So take your place in the Limelight …. Miracle Magnesium Salt …. You’re like a best kept secret …. a hidden treasure vault!

References:

  • Clinical Nutrition, A Functional Approach, IFM {Magnesium}
  • Haas, Elson, M. ‘Staying Healthy with Nutrition’ {Magnesium}
  • Galloway, S. ‘The Diagnosis and Treatment of Common Functional Illnesses’  {Magnesium}

Want to know more?  Here are some links:    

© AOS2018

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