Many who see me professionally know that one of my favorite supplements to recommend is magnesium. It is a mineral that has become depleted in our soils and food supply leading to widespread deficiency.
Magnesium is a mineral that is required for 325 enzymatic processes in the body, including the creation of energy by the activation of ATP, our fundamental energy storage molecule. It is nature’s muscle relaxant. When there is excess calcium in the cell and insufficient magnesium, cramping, twitching and spasms occur. Magnesium also helps to transmit nerve impulses to and from the brain and is required to synthesize protein.
What Does Magnesium Help?
Magnesium has been proven to help with numerous health conditions including the following:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Blood clots
- Food cravings (especially carbohydrates, chocolate & salt)
- Heart disease, arrhythmia & palpitations
- Kidney disease
- Migraines & headaches
- Musculoskeletal conditions (including fibromyalgia, muscle spasms, eye twitches, cramping, chronic neck/back pain)
- Gynecological conditions (including PMS, painful periods, infertility, premature contractions, eclampsia of pregnancy)
- Reynaud’s syndrome
- Tooth decay
Unfortunately, many of these conditions are treated using painkillers, diuretics, bronchodilators, insulin, birth control pills, antibiotics or cortisone which further deplete magnesium stores. Interestingly, highly driven individuals who are under chronic stress are also prone to magnesium deficiencies due to the overproduction of adrenaline, which in turn depletes magnesium. Other factors that lead to deficiency include: excessive exercise, heavy sweating, alcohol &/or caffeine intake, high sugar intake and an imbalanced diet.
60-65% of magnesium is stored in our bones and teeth. The remaining 35-40% is found in the muscle/tissue cells and the body fluids. The highest tissue concentration of magnesium is found in the heart, which is why it can be considered nature’s calcium channel blocker, as well as in the brain.
Calcium and magnesium are equally important in our body, however at a biochemical level, they work antagonistically and any imbalance can create numerous problems. Magnesium is required to dissolve calcium properly, and without it, you may experience calcium excess conditions like, muscle spasms, fibromyalgia, hardening of the arteries, calcium deposits and kidney stones. In people who are magnesium deficient, they often require a 1:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium. If they are severely depleted, they may in fact require more magnesium than calcium, despite common beliefs.
Why Are We So Magnesium Deficient?
There are numerous reasons why we all lack adequate magnesium levels. Primarily, our soils have become depleted through modern farming methods using pesticides and herbicides, which has led to poor quality soil and therefore foods that lack adequate magnesium. In addition, our consumption of calcium containing foods has increased 10–fold compared to the diets of our prehistoric ancestors, creating even more need for magnesium rich food. Other factors include soil erosion, burning off magnesium from acid rain and increased consumption of mineral deficient processed food. In addition, the fluoride in our tap water and toothpaste binds with magnesium and makes it unavailable to the body. Inadequate stomach and intestinal digestion, either due to aging or chronic antacid use, also leads to magnesium and other nutrient deficiencies. Certain foods can block magnesium absorption such as: tannins in green and black tea, raw spinach/chard, a high grain or protein diet and unfermented soy products (including tofu, soy milk, soy protein powders).
What is necessary to make magnesium work? Both calcium and magnesium are required for the other to work properly. In addition vitamin D is required for the body to utilize magnesium. Vitamin B1 is required for magnesium to enter into the cell to do its work. Selenium helps magnesium to stay inside the cell where it belongs.
What foods increase magnesium? Increase your consumption of green vegetables, nuts, legumes, green beans, seeds, wheat germ, kelp, brewer’s yeast and sea salt. Some herbs that are high in magnesium include, cilantro, burdock root, chickweed, dandelion leaves, dulse and nettles.
Best Forms Of Magnesium
My favorite form of magnesium supplementation comes from magnesium glycinate, which has lower gastrointestinal effects. The brand I suggest to my clients can be found here. Other good forms include, magnesium taurate (good for cardiovascular problems), malate (good for fibromyalgia), citrate, orotate and topical magnesium. Look for the amount of elemental magnesium contained in your product, that is the amount to count towards your daily dosage. Avoid magnesium oxide which is very poorly absorbed (only 4%).
Topical magnesium is a great way to replenish the body’s stores of magnesium quickly. According to Norm Shealy MD, a pain management expert, oral supplementation can sometimes take 6-12 months to restore intracellular levels, especially if you experience a laxative effect, but topical magnesium can do it in 4-6 weeks. The topical form I recommend is magnesium chloride derived from deep in the earth’s interior, untouched by pollutants and ultra-pure. The topical magnesium I recommend to my clients can be found here. Another option for topical administration is a 20-30 minute soak in the tub with 2 cups of epsom salts.
Optimal Magnesium Dosing
Take your first dose of magnesium when you wake up in the morning and the last dose at bedtime. If a third dose is required, take it late in the afternoon. My preferred method of dosing is to increase by one tablet every 2 days until loose bowels occur. 2-3 soft bowel movements per day is acceptable, but loose diarrhea indicates excessive magnesium intake &/or the need to split up the dosage. If after splitting up the dosage to 3-4x/day, you still experience loose stools you should lower the dose, until your stools become soft rather than loose. If you are unable to reach the level of soft stools, you may have an extreme deficiency and need to use a topical magnesium as well. Other rules of thumb in dosing include: 3.0-4.5 mg/lb of body weight per day, which translates to 600-900 mg/day for a 200 pound man. Others recommend slightly higher levels for athletes or those under extreme stress. Your amount needed may also change over time. As your deficiency is eliminated, your total daily dosage may be reduced. Use your bowel consistency as a guide.
To increase absorption: If you suffer from gas and bloating, take your supplement with a digestive enzyme that includes betaine hydrochloric acid. Magnesium can be taken with or without meals, but it is preferable to take it between meals. It is alkaline, and therefore can act as an antacid and inhibit the digestion of your food if taken with a meal. If loose stools occur, make sure you are not taking all your daily dose at once, rather dividing the dose throughout the day. If you experience diarrhea, split the dose up to 4x/day. If that does not help, then reduce your dosage.
Contraindications For Magnesium Therapy
Those with kidney failure should avoid magnesium supplementation, as they are unable to clear it from the kidneys properly. People with Myasthenia Gravis should avoid IV magnesium therapy, due to the muscle relaxant properties. People with excessively slow heart rates should avoid magnesium as it can slow the heart even further. People with bowel obstructions should avoid magnesium, as they can not eliminate it properly.