Magnesium was back in the spotlight last week when Dr Michael Mosley was discussing the importance of the essential mineral on Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show. Dr Mosley talked about some of the numerous proposed benefits of magnesium, including how he has used it to support his own insomnia, and how 10% of the population may be “noticeably deficient” in the essential mineral. The therapeutic use of magnesium may not be news to nutritional therapists, but this provides a good opportunity to review magnesium, its benefits, and the latest research.
Magnesium is the 8th most common element in the earth’s crust and is found in a variety of sources. It is an essential component of chlorophyll in plants, like iron is to haemoglobin in animals. Any green leafy vegetable therefore will contain magnesium. It is also found in nuts (particularly almonds), seeds, eggs, fish, seafood, wholegrains, and cocoa.
Magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body and therefore plays an essential role in maintaining the normal function of many metabolic processes. Magnesium critically stabilises enzymes, including many ATP-generating reactions. ATP is required universally for glucose utilisation, synthesis of fat, proteins, nucleic acids and coenzymes.1
Magnesium is therefore needed for normal energy production, and a deficiency in this essential mineral can significantly impact on energy levels. It is always worth considering magnesium supplementation in individuals who are experiencing fatigue and energy issues.
Magnesium is also a cofactor for the manufacture of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is important for mood. Reduced levels of serotonin are associated with low mood and depression. However, research into the therapeutic use of magnesium in depression is inconclusive. This is likely to be due to the fact that, like many conditions, mood disorders are multi-factorial and although improving magnesium may be beneficial to some people, others will require further interventions.
Magnesium and calcium
Another function of magnesium is that it is involved in muscle contraction and relaxation, and works synergistically with calcium. The balance, therefore, between calcium and magnesium is critical to normal muscle function. As calcium is quite abundant in the western diet, this ratio can often become imbalanced.
Fundamentally, calcium allows muscles to contract and magnesium allows them to relax by stimulating calcium re-uptake. Because of its effects on muscle relaxation it is known as nature’s tranquiliser. If there are reduced levels of magnesium, muscles cannot relax efficiently.
In skeletal muscle this can present as muscle cramps, for example, but it can also have an effect on smooth muscle contraction including blood vessels, uterus and the digestive system. This is why magnesium deficiency is associated with symptoms such as hypertension, PMS and constipation.
The balance of calcium and magnesium is also important for bone density, as magnesium helps to balance calcium homeostasis. It is also an essential constituent of bone (nearly 70% of the body’s magnesium is located in bones and teeth). Lower magnesium intake is associated with lower bone density of the hip and whole body.2,3
Magnesium also facilitates glucose uptake in to cells by potentiating the action of insulin. A deficiency in magnesium is thought to be a risk factor for insulin resistance. Epidemiological studies have shown a high prevalence of hypomagnesaemia and lower intracellular magnesium concentrations in diabetics.1,4
Studies into magnesium supplementation demonstrated:
- In non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients, daily magnesium administration contributed to improved insulin-mediated glucose uptake 5
- Oral magnesium supplementation may prevent depression and might be used as an adjunctive therapy 6
- Up to 50% of patients during an acute migraine attack have lowered levels of ionized magnesium. Infusion of magnesium results in a rapid and sustained relief of an acute migraine in such patients. Two double-blind studies suggest that chronic oral magnesium supplementation may also reduce the frequency of migraine headaches 7
- Supplementation of magnesium appears to improve subjective measures of insomnia such as ISI score, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia, objective measures such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin, and serum cortisol, in elderly people 8
- Modified-release magnesium was effective in reducing premenstrual symptoms in women with PMS in a preliminary study 9
- Magnesium supplementation lowered the arterial BP in NOS-inhibition induced hypertension model by restoring the agonist-induced relaxation response of the arteries 10
Magnesium threonate is a form of magnesium which has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore increase brain levels of magnesium. This form of magnesium has positive effects on cognitive health and has been shown to:
- Modulate synaptic plasticity
- Be important for plasticity and memory formation by upregulating the glutamate receptor NMDA
Findings suggest that an increase in brain magnesium enhances both short-term synaptic facilitation and long-term potentiation and improves learning and memory functions.11
Magnesium Intake and Deficiency
Magnesium is a water-soluble mineral and can be excreted quickly via the kidneys. This can be problematic for maintaining adequate levels, particularly if intake is low. The excretion of magnesium is increased by alcohol, medications including diuretics, and oral contraceptives.
Magnesium is also utilised more quickly in the body during periods of stress and intensive exercise. Even when intake is adequate (NRV 375mg/day) it can still therefore be difficult to maintain levels.
Magnesium in food form, or bound to an organic molecule such as citrate or bisglycinate, is better absorbed than magnesium bound to inorganic carriers i.e. sulphate or oxide.
As magnesium has its own hypotensive properties, it can possibly potentiate the effects of anti-hypertensive drugs. Therefore, if patients are on blood pressure medication, magnesium should be used with caution and blood pressure should be monitored carefully.
Boosting Magnesium levels
You can improve magnesium status by:
- Increasing intake of magnesium rich foods such as dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Try adding kale, spinach and rocket to a breakfast smoothie
- Soak in an Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) bath. Magnesium ions can be absorbed through the skin, which can aid muscle relaxation
- Opt for a magnesium supplement 200-400mg per day
- Avoid excess alcohol
- Try stress relieving techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness
- Magnesium is essential for normal energy production and is a cofactor for over 300 enzymes in the body. It can be useful for moderating symptoms of fatigue
- Shown to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, headaches, migraines, PMS, cramps and constipation, due to its effects on muscle relaxation
- Can potentiate insulin mediated glucose uptake
- Cofactor for the production of serotonin and may have beneficial effects on mood and insomnia
- Essential for calcium homeostasis and bone density
- Magnesium threonate can cross the blood-brain barrier and has beneficial effects on synaptic plasticity and memory formation
- Depleted by excess alcohol, stress, exercise and some medications
If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Helen) by email at any time.
Helen Drake and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
Related Cytoplan products:
Magnesium Citrate – is a non-food forms of magnesium. As a citrate, it is readily absorbed into the bloodstream via the citric acid cycle.
Biofood Magnesium – is an organic matrix form of magnesium, complete with natural amino acid carriers.
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