You’ve probably heard of magnesium. You may even be taking it. Or at least thought about taking it. So what is so good about it, why all the fuss (aka is it all just a load of hype) and should you be taking it?
In short, Magnesium is one mineral that ‘most’ of the population is deficient in, and many people could benefit from more of, especially if you have symptoms of a magnesium deficiency.
First, what is magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral found in every cell of the body and is crucial to more than 300 biochemical reactions occurring in the body pretty much all day every day.
Magnesium allows enzymes to function properly, which in turn enable a vast majority of the body’s chemical reactions.
So what are enzymes then? Well, enzymes are the basis of the body’s ability to function and support life. Many of the necessary chemical reactions that the body carries out, such as the breaking down sugars in the digestive system, can only normally be performed under extreme heat or acidity. Your body’s enzymes, however, allow these reactions to occur without damaging the body’s fragile tissues and organs.
However enzymes, like all of us, need a bit of help in life. Other substances known as enzyme co-factors help enzymes to control the rate of reactions within the body. These co-factors act as “keys”, instructing an enzyme to start or stop activity.
Magnesium is one of the most used enzyme co-factors in the body. Its presence is essential for:
- Breaking down fat and glucose
- Producing proteins, enzymes and antioxidants such as glutathione
- Creation of DNA and RNA
- Regulating of cholesterol production
Without enzyme co-factors—including both hormones and vital minerals such as magnesium—reactions could easily spiral out of control. In fact even slight imbalances can chronically impact the body’s level of performance and health.
Thus, magnesium’s function as an enzyme cofactor can be seen as analogous to the important role that our body’s hormones play. The crucial difference, however, is that our body can manufacture most hormones itself using basic building blocks. Magnesium, on the other hand, cannot be manufactured by the body, it must be taken in.
In the same way that multiple bodily systems suffer in cases of thyroid malfunction or insulin resistance, magnesium deficiency has far-reaching implications for the body’s level of functioning.
Why are many people so deficient?
There are a few reasons why we become deficient in magnesium – usually because we are using more of it in the body or because there is not enough intake, or a combination of these two factors. One of the reasons we aren’t getting enough in our diet, even though we are all eating plenty of food and often eating foods that were traditionally high in magnesium, is because the soil that crops are planted is is often farmed many time over without rotation of crops and is deficient in nutrients in the soil, which then lowers the amount of magnesium present in the food grown. Other reasons include:
- Digestive disorders that lead to malabsorption of magnesium and other minerals in the gut
- Medication and antibiotics that damages the digestive tract so that magnesium cannot be absorbed and properly utilized
- In periods of high stress the body uses more magnesium. In studies, adrenaline and cortisol, byproducts of the “fight or flight” reaction associated with stress and anxiety, were associated with decreased magnesium. Because stressful conditions require more magnesium use by the body, any time the body is under a stressful condition it may lead to deficiency, including both psychological and physical forms of stress such as post heart attack, heart surgery, illness and chronic disease.
The body uses magnesium every day performing normal functions, such as muscle movement, heartbeat, energy production and hormone production. We may only need small amounts of magnesium relative to other nutrients, however we must regularly replenish our stores in order to prevent deficiency.
The kidneys primarily control levels of magnesium within the body and excrete magnesium via urine each day, which is one reason why urinary excretion is reduced when magnesium and other electrolyte statuses are low.
Magnesium supplements may also effective in the treatment of patients with congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy. Patients with very diseased hearts can have low levels of magnesium and coenzyme Q10 in their myocardial (heart) cells.
What are the benefits?
Magnesium health benefits may include:
- Relieving constipation
- Strengthening bones
- Helping to reduce migraines and headaches
- Helping to improve heart health
- Relieving premenstrual symptoms
- Helping reduce anxiety
- Increasing energy levels
- Stimulating the absorption of minerals
- Helping to prevent eclamptic attacks during pregnancy
- Reducing inflammation.
- Reducing arrhythmias and palpitations
- Reducing symptoms of heart failure
- Help maintain healthy blood pressure
Dr Sanjay Gupta, a cardiologist from York, UK, has some fantastic videos all about magnesium and the benefit to the heart. Rather than me writing all about the benefits, you can simply listen to him talk about how magnesium is used in the heart and how it may help palpitations, increase energy levels and improve your blood pressure. He has videos on the following topics:
What is it found in?
- Seafood, especially kelp and oysters
- Whole grains, especially buckwheat, millet and wild rice
- Leafy greens, especially collards, beet greens, spinach and kale
- Nuts and seeds, especially cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds and pistacio nuts
- Dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 80+% or more (2 squares per day otherwise the sugar content undoes the good effect)
What types of magnesium supplements are there?
- Magnesium Citrate — magnesium combined with citric acid. This may have a laxative effect in some cases when taken in high doses. Usually taken for those with constipation.
- Magnesium Chloride Oil — an oil form of magnesium that can be applied to skin via a spray (it’s usually mixed with water). It can help those who have trouble digesting supplements. Magnesium oil may also help to improve sleep, increase energy and endurance and reduce muscle aches. Start with a 2-3 sprays after your bath and gradually increase the amount of sprays you are doing each day. I spray around 20 sprays on my legs each night, giving around 400mg of magnesium chloride. I use THIS one.
- Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salts) – these are a popular home remedy. Epsom salt foot or body soaks can be used to relax muscles and relieve muscle tension. Since magnesium plays an essential role in muscle contraction and nerve function, it has been hypothesised that the skin can absorb magnesium, however there is a lack of peer-reviewed, published research supporting that topical application of magnesium increases body magnesium levels. My theory is, if it helps you to relax and unwind tight muscles, then go for it. Add a cup of these (they are the cheapest of the highest grade I could find) to your bath and soak away.
- Magnesium Glycinate — this type is easily absorbable and is often recommended for anyone with a known magnesium deficiency and can be less likely to cause laxative effects than some other magnesium supplements.
- Magnesium Threonate — has a high level of absorbability/bioavailability since it can penetrate the mitochondrial membrane. This type is not as readily available, but as more research is conducted, it may become more widely used.
- Magnesium Orotate — these supplements have orotic acid, and magnesium orotate may be beneficial to the heart. However it seems that the benefit occurs at high doses and there has been some research to show that magnesium orotate at high doses may not be safe.
- Magnesium Oxide – this type is a laxative and may also be used to help reduce acid reflux. This form of magnesium can have poor bioavailability (around 4% is absorbed), magnesium oxide supplements may contain up to 60% more magnesium than other supplements so that enough can enter the bloodstream and provide the intended effect, so it may look like you are purchasing a larger dose but not all of it will be absorbed.
- Magnesium Malate – Malic acid is a key component in energy production in the body. Magnesium malate can help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms, increase energy and reduce fatigue as well as muscle pain. I have used this one as it is a slow release formula and has been tested with clinical trials. It also contains all the magnesium co-factors to ensure best absorption. This is a bottle of 240 tablets which lasts about 2-3 months as you will be taking 4 a day after a few weeks of gradually increasing the dose.
- Magnesium Taurate – this contains both magnesium and taurine. Once inside the body, it will combine with water and separate into magnesium ions and taurine. It is combined with taurine as it is used by the body to transport magnesium ions into and out of cells through the cell membranes. Balancing with the free calcium outside cells, magnesium works almost exclusively inside cells. By reducing the level of free calcium in our body, magnesium exerts tremendous influence on blood pressure and heart function, acting as a natural ‘calcium channel blocker’. Congestive heart failure depletes the heart muscle of a number of important nutrients, including taurine. I would love to have a supplement that contains taurine, magnesium, coenzyme Q-10 and L-carnitine, all of which improve heart function and increase survival. For now we seem to have to take each one separately. I’ve talked about all of the other supplements in previous posts – read all about CoQ10 and L-Carnitine.
Do I need to supplement?
I would definitely you are getting enough magnesium rich foods in your diet (see above) but even if you have a great diet, you may still be deficient. If you have a heart condition, or any of the symptoms listed above, you may benefit from taking a magnesium supplement.
How much should I take?
If you have a heart condition or are taking diuretics long-term, build up to taking around 400–800mg of magnesium per day as a supplement. The key is that you ‘start low, go slow’ and gradually increase the amount you are taking. If you take too much too soon, it can cause diarrhoea and headaches so don’t rush into taking it.
Go for the more easily absorbable forms of magnesium, such as magnesium orotate, taurate or glycinate.
Note: Excessive magnesium levels can be dangerous in patients with renal (kidney) failure. If you have a renal insufficiency or kidney failure, do not take a magnesium supplement unless prescribed and monitored by your physician.
Please note that the information provided is a guide only and does not take into account your individual circumstances. Please seek advice from a medical professional before commencing any exercise programme or new diet. Please seek advice from your doctor AND your pharmacist before starting any supplements.