Magnesium1 is one of seven macro minerals that needs to be consumed in levels of over 100mg a day. It plays an important role in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body. According to the Human Genome Project more than 3500 proteins have binding sites for magnesium, so it is essential for numerous functions within the body. 50-60% of it is found in the bones, the remaining 50-40% is mainly found in muscles, soft-tissue and bodily and cellular fluids. European Union NRV levels recommend 375mg daily.
In this blog we look at the functions and benefits of magnesium. Mechanism of action within the body and deficiency associated symptoms.
The Benefits of Magnesium:
- Magnesium2 is required for the activation of over 300 enzymic and biochemical processes in the body. It plays an important role in regulating metabolic functions. It influences the manufacture of DNA and RNA and protein. It also helps in regulating the acid/ alkaline balance of the body, excess acidity is associated with increased inflammation and therefore many nutritional interventions are involved with optmising the acid/alkaline balance.
- In conjunction with the B vitamins, magnesium is essential for energy production. It helps our bodies generate energy from the food we eat in two ways: firstly, by activating ATP (Adenosine-Triphosphate), which is the main source of energy required by every cell. And secondly by aiding the glucose from food to transfer into the cell, allowing for glucose uptake, thereby also improving insulin sensitivity. Clinically it is relevant for helping individuals who suffer from low energy or chronic fatigue.
- Cellular and functional detoxification is dependent on magnesium and no cleansing protocol would be advisable without it. Magnesium supports detoxification pathways by supporting the production of glutathione (the body’s master antioxidant) as glutathione is also used in Phase 2 liver detoxification magnesium plays an essential re in the removal of toxins and waste products. Additionally, it helps to maintain osmotic potential of cells. Therefore, it helps to regulate intra and extracellular fluid balance. Aiding hydration but also flushing of waste products out of the cell.
- Magnesium is essential for healthy bones. Adequate levels are essential for bone density, aid calcium absorption and bone crystal formation. Magnesium also improves Vitamin D bioavailability and activation, thus enhancing calcium absorption to the bones and protecting against such conditions as bone pain, osteopenia and osteoporosis.
- Muscle health and relaxation is dependent on good levels of magnesium. It helps build strong fibres within the muscles and is also required for the excretion of lactic acid. It is especially important to have good levels for muscle recovery time, if doing a lot of sportor heavy manual labour, or exercise. It is lost during sweating highlighting the need for additional magnesium during intense exercise. When levels are low it can easily lead to cramps or muscle tension and spasms, or muscle or ligament injuries. In the animal field it is common practice to feed horses, particularly race or event horse, magnesium. It is given to aid performance, energy production, muscle recovery time and to calm the animals if over excitable.
- Diabetes: Research has linked high magnesium diets with lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes. This is due to its role in carbohydrate and insulin metabolism. In 2015, a review in the World Journal of Diabetes reported that most people with diabetes have low magnesium levels, it can also worsen insulin resistance. In the Journal of Diabetes Care there was an article published on magnesium intake in relation to systemic inflammation, insulin resistance and incidence of diabetes. It concluded that higher magnesium in the blood was related to lower levels of inflammation. This showing that higher magnesium lowers the C reactive protein, which is linked to lower inflammation in the body. Good levels of magnesium were shown to lower C reactive protein. This is one of the markers that is linked to diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer. Taking magnesium can improve insulin sensitivity, so this needs to be monitored by a professional if on medication for the condition. Magnesium can also help with the lows that people often experience if they suffer from hypoglycaemia, feelings such as tiredness, energy dips, faintness or mood swings.
- Cardiovascular health: The body needs magnesium for the health of all muscles, including the heart. It helps regulate the correct beating of the heart as well as maintain good muscle tissue. Low levels are associated with abnormal heart rhythm and abnormalities such as atrial fibrillation. The risk of heart issues with low levels of magnesium are particularly in people who also have low potassium levels. Potassium is found in most fruit and green vegetables but can be low if on a refined non-fruit veg diet. It is also depleted with excess alcohol, excessive sweating and diuretics. Magnesium naturally competes with calcium, which is essential for the contraction of the heart, by stimulating the muscle fibre. Magnesium counteracts this effect, helping the cells and muscles relax. It also helps regulate the sodium/potassium pump and has a key role in regulating healthy blood pressure. Low levels have also been linked to susceptibility of thrombosis in patients with coronary artery disease.
- Migraine/Headaches: Magnesium is regularly taken as a natural way of combating frequency and duration of headaches. It helps relax blood vessels aiding the flow of blood and oxygen to the head. It also helps relax muscle tension in the neck and shoulders and reduce stress levels.
- Hormonal issues: Magnesium can help reduce PMS symptoms such as bloating, cramping, mood symptoms and breast tenderness. Healthy pregnancy is dependent on good levels and therapeutically can somewhat ease birthing pains, due to its relaxation effect on the womb and aiding in the function of smooth muscle contraction. It has been shown to reduce hot sweats in menopausal women. Interestingly, magnesium is lost with sweating and hence this can cause a vicious cycle of losing more when one has hot sweats, which then exacerbates the symptoms.
- Anxiety and Depression: Magnesium plays a major roll in these emotional mood disorders. It supports a healthy stress response by aiding muscle relaxation and, in conjunction with B vitamins, helps maintain a healthy nervous system by helping to regulate correct nerve signalling. studies have found an association between magnesium levels and a cofactor for the production and distribution of two neurotransmitters, GABA and serotonin. GABA an inhibitory neurotransmitter associated with calmness and relaxation and aids muscle relaxation. Serotonin is essential for the feeling of happiness and low levels are linked to depression and anxiety.
- Sleep is dependent on magnesium: Recent research has found that in human cells, algae and fungi levels of magnesium rise and fall in a daily cycle and may play a role in regulating circadian rhythm It also helps with the regulation of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Magnesium is required for the production and activation of serotonin, which ids then converted to melatonin at night when light levels fall. Melatonin should naturally rise at the end of the day to make you feel tired and sleepy. When people suffer from insomnia their serotonin and melatonin tend to be low and stress is one of the things that throws the two hormones/neurotransmitters out of balance. Signals to the brain to tell it is night-time which helps you fall into a deep, restful sleep. Clinically, if having difficulty getting to sleep take magnesium with your evening meal. If you can get to sleep but then keep waking, it can be useful for some to take magnesium with water on an empty stomach, which will usually help you stay asleep. It is dose dependant so contact a nutritional therapist for the required dosage. It is also used clinically for palpitations and general anxiety disorder.
- Magnesium has a role in helping in the regulation of the immune system. Evidence indicates a role for magnesium in the functioning of lymphocytes as well as helping with regulation of IgE and IgG antibodies. It has been shown to down regulate excessive immune and inflammatory responses. It is required for the enhancement and function of Vitamin D, which is required for the innate and adaptive immune system.
Magnesium is seen as one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the Western world. Interestingly within my clinical practice of over 28 years, I can detect a magnesium deficiency symptom indicator in most of my clients.
Common symptoms associated with low levels of magnesium:
- Memory problems
- Chronic fatigue/M. E/ Post viral fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps, twitches, tremors, pain
- Sleep disorders
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Menopausal issues
With an exhaustive list of symptoms associated with low levels of magnesium, why is it so common?
A major problem is the soil no longer has the levels of magnesium that it once contained. My Grandfather was a farmer, who farmed during the first and second world war, and he would rotate crops and cattle on his land as part of his farming know how. He would take crop, either grains or vegetables from a field, on average every three years, leaving the land to recover and use organic cattle manure as his fertilisers. During the second world war when food was rationed due to shortages, the government implemented the use of newly developed crop fertilisers. Every piece of land had to be fertilised and intensively farmed every year to feed the struggling nation. My grandfather did not agree with this method, but he had no choice in the matter hence intensive farming was born.
The fertilisers that were added to the soil (then and now) were added to increase the yield and make the crops grow quickly. The advantage was quicker yield growth but poorer quality nutrients in the soil. Magnesium was and is not a standard macro mineral that is in the fertilisers, as it is not the main component for plant growth. Phosphorous does however aid crop growth. Also, other pesticides that are sprayed tend to contain calcium bases that by nature need magnesium as a co-factor. So, the sprays that are added onto the crop deplete magnesium even further. You can only take for so long from the soil without it having a negative impact on the mineral status. Also, when a crop is harvested it tends to be refined and processed beyond recognition from its original state. Magnesium, if in the soil, will be found in whole grains, but once refined and processed away from their whole grain state contains virtually none.
There are also a variety of dietary and life-style factors that negatively impact magnesium levels in the body. The intake of refined carbohydrate e.g., white bread, rice, pastries, fizzy drinks, alcohol and dairy products, impact magnesium levels due to their high calcium content requiring magnesium as a co-factor.
Stress really reduces magnesium, alongside poor sleep patterns. Intensive or excessive exercise, especially weight training, as magnesium is needed to repair microscopic tears that occur when pushing muscles.
Bowel habits are also relevant, as if a person suffers from diarrhoea then magnesium gets leached out of the body while constipation can slow down and impact magnesium absorption. Certain medication can lower magnesium even further in the body, such as the contraceptive pill, heart medication and diuretics, HRT, Proton Pump inhibitors/antacids. Blood pressure medication and certain corticosteroids, alongside antibiotics.
Foods that contain magnesium
- Dark green leafy vegetables, spinach, chard, broccoli, kale, mustard greens
- Cashew nuts, almonds, brazil nuts
- Pumpkin seed and sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds
- Cacao and dark high percentage chocolate
- Whole grains, oats, brown rice, Quinoa, buckwheat and barley
- Legumes such as lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas and soybeans
- Some fish, such as salmon, mackerel and halibut
In conclusion, magnesium levels are found in short and low supply in most foods nowadays, due to modern farming and processing. Along with the modern-day stresses, pace of life and poor food choices and certain medication; is it any wonder that so many symptoms that people regularly accept as normal or part of the aging process are in fact a simple magnesium deficiency.
Taking a good magnesium source is essential when taking a supplement. Magnesium citrate or Biofood magnesium are excellent sources, and the bio food range is the one that I personally take every day and have done for many years. From a clinical perspective and observational point, I find that, when using with clients, the Biofood range is very well tolerated as it is food based it is very unlikely to cause an adverse reaction.
It seems to work well at a cellular and tissue level bringing the body back into balance in a gentle way. The other advantage is you can take it on an empty stomach, as it is highly absorbable in its Biofood state. However, if wanting correct dosing and co-factors for an individual issue, it is always best to consult a qualified practitioner to get the correct advice.
About the author
Naturopathic Nutritional Practitioner. D.H.D, DNN, PDNN, CNN. DNNP
College of Naturopathic Nutrition. www.asknutrition.co.uk
- Magnesium News today/com/articles 286839. 06/01/2020.
- gov The effects of magnesium supplementation on lactate levels of sportsman. V Cinar et al. 2006 june. Nlm.nih/17063625.
- World journal of diabetes/2015 August. 25;6(10) 1152-7.doi:10.4239/wjdv6.110.1152/ pubmed.ncbi.nim gov 26322160
- Ameriacn diabetes association https://care.diabetesorg/content/33/12/2604 Magnesium intake in relation to systemic inflammation. Insulin resistance and incidence of diabetes care 2010 Dec:33(12) 2604-2610 http://doi.org/10.2337/dc10-0994.
- Harvard Health publishing. Harvard Medical School https://www.healthharvard.edu/a_toz_/cardiac-arrhyythmias-a_to
- Daily magnesium fluxes regulate cellular timekeeping and energy balance. 2016 april. Kevin A fearney. https://pubmed.ncb.nlm.nih.gov/27074515.
- tandfonline.com/doc/abs/10.1300/J053v02n03-07 volume 2 1994. Karen Kubenam 22 oct. 2008.