Magnesium - A Very Essential Mineral

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body.  There are more than 3750 magnesium binding sites on our body’s proteins and more than 300 enzymes relay on this mineral for their proper function. This should give you an idea of its wide ranging health effects.

It is estimated that between 50 to 80% of the western population is deficient in magnesium and health-wise the consequences are significant as it plays an important role in our body’s metabolism through its chemical processes. These include (not an exhaustive list):

  • Creation of ATP which is often referred to as our body’s ‘molecular unit of currency’.

  • Muscle and nerve function (including the heart muscle, more on this below)

  • Relaxation and dilation of blood vessels

  • Regulation of insulin sensitivity and blood sugar (helps prevent type 2 diabetes)

  • Appropriate formation of teeth and bones

  • Inversely associated with C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation.

  • The most powerful relaxation mineral available, and it can help improve sleep.

Lack of magnesium in our cells can lead to deterioration of your cellular metabolic and mitochondrial functions which is a precursor for more serious health complications. In particular, magnesium is essential for your heart health.  For best results, there should be a good balance between magnesium and calcium, however, as I mentioned above many people are deficient in magnesium but despite that they are abundant in calcium as it is tended to be overused and consumed in hefty quantities.

If you are low on magnesium you are likely to suffer from muscle spasms and since our heart is a muscle, the effect can be dire.  The risk factor is even higher if you also have excessive calcium as it causes muscle contractions, the combination of which can be quite harmful.  Without adequate levels of magnesium or an imbalance between magnesium and calcium, the heart cannot function properly which can lead to hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac arrest.  The upshot of this is that if the cause of your symptoms is magnesium deficiency it is easily reversible and cure is often a viable option by adding this nutrient.  In fact, magnesium is often being used in the emergency room. It is a critical “medication” on the crash cart. If someone is dying of a life-threatening arrhythmia (or irregular heart beat), intravenous magnesium is often used. If someone is constipated or needs preparation for colonoscopy, milk of magnesia or a green bottle of liquid magnesium citrate is given to them, which helps emptying the bowels. Pregnant women with pre-term labour, or high blood pressure of pregnancy (pre-eclampsia) or seizures, are often treated with continuous high doses of intravenous magnesium.

Magnesium also acts as an electrolyte which is crucial for electrical conductivity of our body.  Electrolytes such as magnesium (potassium and sodium) facilitate the sending and receiving of electrical signals. Without these signals the heart cannot pump blood and the brain cannot function correctly.

There is scientific evidence that magnesium is a key player in blood pressure management. As mentioned above, it help relax and dilate your blood vessels thereby reducing your blood pressure. It is important to manage hypertension as it is a risk factor for heart disease as well as stroke.

The best way to optimise your magnesium is through a healthy diet.  In fact it is possible to obtain all or at least most of your magnesium requirements from your diet and by that eliminating the need to take a supplement.  A good sources of dietary magnesium is dark-green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, beet, collard, dandelion and turnip greens, Swiss chard, kale, Bok choy and lettuce), and a good way to increase your magnesium levels is to juice your greens.  This will not only increase your magnesium but will also ensure optimisation of other plant-based nutrients. Other good sources of magnesium include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, squash, raw cacao nibs and/or unsweetened cocoa powder, avocado, nuts and seeds, fatty fish( including wild salmon and mackerel),  herbs and spices (including coriander, chives, cumin, parsley, mustard seeds, fennel basil and cloves) and fruits and berries (in particular papaya, raspberries, tomato, strawberries and watermelon), Kelp, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts, dulse, filberts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, tofu, soy beans, brown rice, figs, dates, shrimp, parsley, beans, barley, and garlic.  Having said that, however, if magnesium level is low in the soil due to depletion it will also be low in your produce.  Therefore it is important to source organic fruit and veg preferably grown by regenerative methods of farming. If you eat a balanced diet and show no signs of deficiency it’s a good sign that you’re getting adequate amounts from your diet.  One of the major benefits of getting your nutrients from a varied whole-food balanced diet is that you are less likely to end up with wonky nutrients ratios.  For all intents and purposes, the wisdom of Mother Nature eliminates the guesswork. Nonetheless, if you eat well but still show signs of deficiency (discussed below) you may want to discuss supplementation with your healthcare practitioner. 

Since magnesium resides in the centre of the chlorophyll molecule, not eating enough leafy greens (and other magnesium rich foods listed above) would mean that you’re not getting enough magnesium from your diet alone.  The same goes if you eat a lot of processed food.  Magnesium also be depleted through prolonged or intense stress, elevated insulin levels, alcohol consumption and the use of certain prescription medications (especially diuretics, statins, fluoride and medications containing fluoride such as fluoroquinolone antibiotics).  In addition, magnesium levels are decreased by salt, coffee, phosphoric acid in colas, profuse sweating, chronic diarrhoea, excessive menstruation, and some intestinal parasites. These factors affect a large majority of the Western World population.

Because magnesium is predominantly present in our body’s bones and soft tissue (only 1% shows up in our blood), there is no easily available blood test that will give you accurate reading of your magnesium levels as there is for example with sodium or potassium.

Some labs offer an RBC magnesium test which is fairly accurate and can give you a pretty good idea of your magnesium levels.

Early symptoms of magnesium deficiency include ‘Charley horse’ (painful involuntary spasms or cramps of the leg muscles), headaches and migraines, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue or weakness, insomnia, irritability, sensitivity to loud noises, anxiety, autism, ADD,  angina, constipation, anal spasms, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, asthma, kidney stones, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, PMS menstrual cramps, irritable bladder, IBS, reflux and trouble swallowing.  If you got any of these warning signs you might want to discuss increasing your magnesium intake with your healthcare practitioner). 

A lingering magnesium deficiency can lead to further and more serious symptoms such as coronary spasms, numbness and tingling, seizures and behavioural and personality changes.

The (and in my opinion, defunct) Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) ranges from 310 to 420mg per day, depending on age, gender and physical dimensions.  However, some healthcare practitioners believe that as much as 600 to 900mg daily intake of oral magnesium citrate is required for optimal health.  The good news is that you don’t have to worry about overdosing because magnesium is quite ‘forgiving’ so there’s room for error (unless you suffer from renal failure). 

The most absorbable forms are magnesium citrate, glycinate taurate, or aspartate, although magnesium bound to Kreb cycle chelates (malate, succinate, fumarate) are also good.

Avoid magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide. They are poorly absorbed (and the cheapest and most common forms found in supplements).

An efficient way to tell what is your optimal daily requirement, is by using your intestinal reaction as a maker for ideal daily dose.  As they say, you should trust your gut feeling.  So start out with 200mg of oral magnesium citrate per day and gradually increase it by 50mg until you develop slightly loose stools (since magnesium citrate is known for having a laxative effect).  This should be used as your personal cut-off point.  One again, don’t worry about overdosing. The only adverse effect can be a slightly expensive urine.

As I mentioned above, when you consume a varied whole-food diet you can trust Mother Nature to ensure you’re getting all you nutrients balanced, however, when you are required to rely on supplementation you need to get more shrewd about the subject and sometimes there’s some guesswork involved to avoid landing yourself in trouble.  One good example would is the proper balance between magnesium, calcium (as previously mentioned), Vitamin K2 and D. To complicate things further, in order to properly absorb magnesium we need enough vitamin B6 and selenium to get the job done.  Simply put, we don’t really know for a fact what are the precise ideal ratios but we have some general guidelines and considerations we should take into account:

  • Magnesium help keep calcium ‘stuck’ in your cells for better function.  The ideal ratio is thought to be 1:1. As previously mentioned, your diet is likely to be 2-3 times more ample in calcium than magnesium and therefore your need for supplemental magnesium maybe 2-3 times greater than calcium.

  • Vitamins K2[1] and D[2] work jointly to produce and stimulate Matrix GLA Protein (MGP), which is concentrated around the elastic fibres of the arterial lining, essentially protecting the arteries against the formation of calcium crystals.   Magnesium and vitamin K2 also complement each other, since magnesium aids in lowering hypertension, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. 

  • The ideal ratios between Vitamin K2 and D are yet to be precisely determined, but as a general guideline for every 1000-2000 IUs) of vitamin D you should take 100mcg of Vitamin K2.

 

To assist your body in reducing magnesium drainage you should:

  • Limit coffee, colas, salt, sugar and alcohol

  • Practice relaxation

  • If you are taking medication such as for hypertension or diuretics, check with your doctor if it might be causing loss of magnesium.

Other ways to absorb magnesium is by taking a bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) or to rub magnesium oil on your skin.

 

If you have any questions or require my support please don’t hesitate to contact me.  If you are into self-help I recommend this book which is a comprehensive piece of work. 

 

[1] Vitamin K2 has two very important functions. One is in relation to cardiovascular health and the other in to do with bone restoration.  Occlusions from atherosclerosis are prevented by removing calcium from the lining of the blood vessels and transferring them into the bone matrix.

[2] Vitamin D helps optimise calcium absorption.

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