Magnesium – the underestimated mineral

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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[3].  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.
  1. 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[4] reported that most people with diabetes have low magnesium levels, it can also worsen insulin resistance.  In the Journal of Diabetes Care[5] 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.
  1. 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[6]. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  1. Sleep is dependent on magnesium: Recent research[7] 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.
  2. Magnesium has a role in helping in the regulation of the immune system.  Evidence[8] 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:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy/fatigue
  • Depression
  • Dementia
  • Memory problems
  • Chronic fatigue/M. E/ Post viral fatigue
  • Anorexia
  • Asthma
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps, twitches, tremors, pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Polio-myalgia
  • Sleep disorders
  • Migraine/headaches
  • Osteoporosis
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Angina
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • 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
  • Avocadoes
  • Bananas
  • Cacao and dark high percentage chocolate
  • Whole grains, oats, brown rice, Quinoa, buckwheat and barley
  • Legumes such as lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas and soybeans
  • Tofu
  • 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

Fiona Gibson

Naturopathic Nutritional Practitioner. D.H.D, DNN, PDNN, CNN. DNNP

College of Naturopathic Nutrition.  www.asknutrition.co.uk


References:

  1. Magnesium News today/com/articles 286839. 06/01/2020.
  2. gov The effects of magnesium supplementation on lactate levels of sportsman. V Cinar et al. 2006 june. Nlm.nih/17063625.
  3. World journal of diabetes/2015 August. 25;6(10) 1152-7.doi:10.4239/wjdv6.110.1152/ pubmed.ncbi.nim gov 26322160
  4. 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.
  5. Harvard Health publishing. Harvard Medical School https://www.healthharvard.edu/a_toz_/cardiac-arrhyythmias-a_to
  6. Daily magnesium fluxes regulate cellular timekeeping and energy balance. 2016 april. Kevin A fearney. https://pubmed.ncb.nlm.nih.gov/27074515.
  7. tandfonline.com/doc/abs/10.1300/J053v02n03-07 volume 2 1994. Karen Kubenam 22 oct. 2008.

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24 thoughts on “Magnesium – the underestimated mineral

    1. Hi Caroline- The seven macrominerals (required over 100mg) are potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride, phosphorus, sulphur, magnesium, most of these can be obtained from diet alone.

  1. Excellent and well researched article on the benefits of magnesium. I am sure that by supplementing my magnesium intake my general health has benefited. Despite being diagnosed with onset type 2 diabetes five years ago I have never medicated and have maintained low levels of glucose in my blood and urine. I could recommend “ The Magnesium Miracle” by Carolyn Dean for further reading as this was my introduction to the many benefits of this mineral.

  2. What is the best magnesium supplement to take please for leg cramps and general use please?

    1. Hi Andrene – Magnesium citrate is usually best for leg cramps and can be used generally where magnesium is needed. Magnesium citrate is bioeffective and gentle and as it reaches high blood levels speedily after ingestion is also quick acting.

  3. Please, can you define clearly the differences between magnesium citrate, and bio food magnesium.
    I have been taking the former( citrate) for years.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Mary – The main differences between these two products are that magnesium citrate is usually better for acute needs, i,e cramping as it reaches high blood levels quickly. But if you are looking for longer term sustainable increase in magnesium levels in the body, then biofood magnesium, which is uptaken more efficiently into cells, will be better.

  4. I am intrigued by your suggestions of magnesium intake. Our slightly non mainstream GP tells my wife and me to take magnesium to bowel tolerance. We have found your Magnesium Citrate to be the best one available but we both need six capsules per day as, without less than six daily, we suffer cramp and, in my case, other neurological problems are worse.

    1. Hi – that does sound quite a high dose to me but as everyone is different I think it is important that each of us finds the appropriate levels for our needs, which again, will vary at different times throughout life.

  5. I am in desperate need of help with restless legs syndrome. Is magnesium something that could possibly help or is there any suggestions ?

    1. Hi -Yes magnesium is well worth a try. I would go for 2 magnesium citrate taken a couple of hours before the probe occurs. If, after 10 days there is no improvement, then you need to review – as maybe other factors need to be considered.

  6. Thank you for the information, very interesting. Some of the things mentioned I can relate to very well. I actually have some of the Citoplan Magnesium citrate, which I have taken spasmodically, as one problem is that I sometimes get cramps in my feet and legs at night. The only thing is I’m on a 20mg dose of Statins, which I take before bedtime. Would it be OK to take both?

    1. Hi – yes magnesium citrate taken before bed could well be helpful. If after 10 days of taking 2 before bed at night there is no improvement, then one would need to consider if the medication is the issue as statins can cause muscle cramps at times. It would be worth talking this through with your Dr if magnesium is not able to help sufficiently to give you comfort.

  7. Great article I knew magnesium was important but still learned a lot from this article. Thank you

  8. Really interesting. I’ve started taking Magnesium Citrate for fatigue and muscle and bone health, and also apply Magnesium as oil to my painful and unreliable knees.
    But I had not realised it is important for cardiovascular health. I have AF which is only mild stage but can be distressing. I take high strength Vit D and have just resumed B12 as a spray for quick absorption, alternating with Complete B. I have a healthy diet but don’t think I absorb well. Looks as if this may be a very helpful trio.

  9. A very interesting and informative article. I have just started taking supplements with more magnesium iin them than I have had before( Cytoplan Bone Health and doubled my 50+). I was taking 2xWholefood Calcium and 1x 50+.
    I , too, had not realised that Magnesium affected Cardiovascular Health. I have AF and heart failure. Is it my imagination or do I already feel a bit better?
    Thank you.

  10. A very informative read, thankyou. I am in my early 50’s, in March after two yrs of pushing doctors & fighting for answers to my groin & hip pain, I received a total right hip replacement & am having my left done ASAP (sadly my appointment has been cancelled for today to see my consultant). I have on both sides lower spine degeneration also the MRI showed. My left thumb is completely dislocated (awaiting operation) this all being due to osteoarthritis. I eat a healthy diet of 80-20 veggie with chicken, salmon or tuna 2-3 times a week. After leading a full & active life, being affected by osteoarthritis so quickly is rather restrictive & painful, affecting day to day life. Would I benefit from taking Magnesium & what dosage (had been taking Biofood magnesium x2 a few yrs ago from yourselves, along with a 2x Krill oil supplement, 1-2 whole food Multi vitamin, 1x Super B, 1xCherry C, & Siberian Ginsing. So how, I stopped taking anything. I have struggled to get to sleep for 10yrs (ptsd) & reluctantly take a sleeping tablet each night, which help get me off. I am also a long term, slow release antidepressant which I hate taking (have reduced to 1/2 a tablet for the last 12mth) . What would you recommend along with magnesium to start taking if anything. I don’t want to take a lot of pills (do believe a good balanced diet should give you all you need really) but maybe I need a little boost regarding my hips & whole body osteoarthritis?? Any help & advise would be greatly appreciated before I re-order. Many thanks, Fiona( I attended your Diet X training yrs ago & my machine is still wonderful!

    1. Hi Lisa – The most important thing for osteoarthritis is to reduce inflammation and to support the integrity of the joint. Magnesium aids this indirectly as support muscle relaxation and is important for bone formation. You could additionally add back in the Krill Oil and CytoProtect Joints (support cartilage production) if you want to further support healthy inflammation you could add in 2 x Boswellia.

  11. Thankyou very interesting
    I wonder if magnesium would help my problem
    I have tried alsorts gp physio acupuncture cranial sacrum and still have this weird pain in my left hip
    It’s like lightning up the front of my leg in my groin I’m sure it’s a nerve I can’t turn my leg in certain positions for this bolt like pain
    Any thoughts on trying magnesium please xx Thankyou

    1. Hi Gail – Magnesium is great for muscle pain and stiffness do it would be worth trying. However it is also important to reduce inflammation and support nerve function therefore I would recommend 2 x CoQ10 multi, 2 x Krill Oil and 2 x Boswellia per day to support this in a more holistic way.

  12. Hi Fiona. I’ve just signed up for the newsletter. Brilliant blog on magnesium. I use Cytoplan mag citrate or Bionutri mag. You have reminded me to take it more regularly! Thank you

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