Magnesium is an element crucial to our health and considered an essential nutrient. –
Essential in a dietary context means your body does not make it and you need to ingest it.
Unfortunately, many of the articles and studies seem to assume you did biology and are sitting with a medical dictionary beside you. So, while there is a plethora of information on the internet (with just as many supplements to go with it), what seems to get lost is that there are different types of magnesium which have different uses.
Here are 10 things you should probably know about Magnesium before you stock up on the supplement- (I have tried to keep the information as straightforward as possible, but it is the human body and the scienc-y stuff is unavoidable. This is also a long blog post, but still does not cover everything):
1) What does Magnesium actually do? [i]
Magnesium is either required for or contributes toward many functions in the body like:
- cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body
- energy production,
- crucial to the Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) system
- structural development of bone
- synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione
- transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes (associated with nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, heart rhythm)
ENZYMATIC REACTIONS FOR THOSE OF US THAT DON’T KNOW BIOLOGY…[ii]
At any given time there are thousands of chemical reactions taking place in your body. For these reactions to happen you need enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for getting the chemical reactions started, then speeding them up and finally making sure there is a consistent end result.
In the digestive system, enzymes are responsible for breaking down proteins into amino acids; another enzyme will break down carbohydrates into glucose, and other fats into fatty acids.
When these reactions are working properly or slowing down it can affect our digestive system, bone and muscle health, blood pressure and many other components that are important to maintaining health.
THE ATP SYSTEM IN NUTSHELL [iii]
The ATP system is the primary energy carrier in all living organisms on earth. Without it our bodies would not be able to store energy metabolized from food and light sources.
2) How do we know if we have enough Magnesium in our body? [iv]
Seeing how important it is in your body, you may be tempted to rush off and test your magnesium levels. This is unfortunately difficult to measure as it is found inside our cells or bone. While there are a number of different tests used, the general consensus is that there is no single satisfactory measure and a combination of clinical and laboratory tests may be required.
This can be pricey and probably not necessary for the average person. If you think you may have a deficiency or toxic levels, discuss it with your health care professional first.
3) How much Magnesium do we actually need?[v]
Average recommended daily allowance (RDA) is between 300-420 mg for adults. This is however affected by many things like: age, gender, health status, diet and environment
RDA’s – RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCES [vi]
RDA’s are simply an amount required to meet ±90% of a normal healthy populations needs. This does not take into account any variances like medication, diet and lifestyle that may be overly stressing or depleting the body’s resources. It is simply the amount you need to not get sick.
4) Where do we get Magnesium from?
If it is so important, why aren’t we all downing handfuls of supplements? Well, supplements are exactly what they say they are – supplements! The idea is that you use supplements to add or boost an already healthy eating plan. They are not replacements, there is a big difference!
There are many arguments for and against supplements, but you cannot escape the fact that they are processed and expensive they can also be a great help when you are dealing with a genuine deficiency or to help you through a difficult time. But, in my opinion, your first point of call should always be diet. A wholefood diet should provide you with the bulk of what you need.
A wholefood diet is usually rich with magnesium as well as the necessary cofactors to make it more bioavailable.
Foods that are rich in magnesium are[vii]:
- green leafy vegetables (spinach, swiss chard, beet greens)
- nuts (brazil, cashew and almonds),
- seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, mustard, flax)
- whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat)
- raw cacao powder (which means a good quality dark chocolate is on the menu – yum!),
Packaged and industrialized food sources are usually ‘fortified’ or ‘enriched’ with vitamins and minerals[viii]. This is either due to processing which destroys or removes them or adding nutrients that weren’t there to begin with. The quality and bioavailability of these fortified substances are questionable and are more often than not simply flushed out of our systems. As mentioned at the start of this blog, magnesium comes in different forms, some of which our bodies are able to absorb more efficiently than others. There is no way of knowing the quality and type of magnesium that processed food is being fortified with. I’m going to say it is a safe bet that it’s the cheapest and probably not the best quality. However, if you feel your diet is lacking or that your lifestyle may cause you to need supplementation there are some that will be more effective.
5) A word of caution[ix]
Caution must be taken when you begin using supplements. We assume that supplements are all safe, but considering the important role these nutrients play in our body, it is always prudent to do your homework and consult with someone in the know first.
Magnesium is a common ingredient in laxatives and is also found in heartburn and antacids medications. So diarrhoea is a very possible side effect. If you do purchase a supplement, make sure it is a trusted brand and start off with the minimum dose then work your way up to larger doses. If you do experience diarrhoea, cut back and wait a while longer before increasing the dose. This builds what is called bowel tolerance. Adding a teaspoon of choline citrate can sometimes assist with absorption and tolerance of magnesium.
Depleted magnesium levels are difficult to assess and symptoms are commonly shared with many other types of deficiencies. So be careful not to jump to the assumption that you have a deficiency. However if you are taking medication, have a stressful lifestyle and your diet is lacking in fresh whole foods it should not do you any harm to introduce a good quality supplement.
6) What are some deficiency symptoms?[x]
- Stress and irritability
- Irregular heartbeat
- Cramps and twitching muscles
- Muscle weakness
- High blood pressure
Severe deficiencies can include mental disorders like schizophrenia because magnesium is critical to many brain chemicals.
7) What are the types of magnesium?
- Magnesium L-threonate[xi] –
Found under a group of supplements called nootropics. Great for brain and neural health and may be beneficial to conditions related to hyperactivity, depression, anxiety and memory issues
- Magnesium glycinate[xii] –
Gentlest on the gut and easiest to be absorbed. Great for relaxation, gut health and reducing nerve pain.
- Magnesium malate[xiii] –
Malic acid, found naturally in fruit and often used in skin care products, is combined with magnesium to create magnesium malate. Considered the most absorbable magnesium. Great for improving energy levels, relieving pain and help with lifting moods.
- Magnesium orotate & taurate[xiv] –
Used for treatment of magnesium deficiencies and can be very expensive. Great for cardiovascular health.
- Magnesium chloride[xv] –
Often mixed with water to create Magnesium oil, (it just feels oily, but it isn’t actual oil). Great for sore muscles.
- Magnesium sulfate[xvi] –
Commonly known as Epson Salts. Great as a laxative and possibly great for easing aching muscles.
8) What types of Magnesium should you avoid or use caution?
Magnesium citrate, hydroxide and oxide[xvii] should be used with caution. They are the most common versions found in laxatives. Using this form of magnesium too often can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Magnesium citrate and oxide are used in high doses as a colon cleanser before surgery and can cause severe stomach upset.
Magnesium aspartate and glutamate should be avoided as much as possible–These are both considered to be excitotoxins[xviii] which stimulate neurons to fire to the point of injury or cell death. This is often part of athletic supplements and found in artificial sweeteners like aspartame (which contains aspartate) and food additives like MSG (which contains glutamate).
9) What are the side effects of Magnesium?
Like with everything in life, too much of anything can be a problem and even though magnesium overdosing is very rare it can happen. Always be aware of side effects when starting with a new medical treatment and that includes natural supplements. (If you are concerned be sure to consult a professional health care provider). Some things to look out for are:
- Digestive issues that can include: nausea, vomiting, upset stomach and diarrhea
- More serious effects can include: drop in blood pressure, arrhythmia, confusion, breathing problems.
10) Where do you buy Magnesium?
Most health stores will stock well sourced supplements and if you ask them to assist, they will advise on the best brands. There are ready made sprays, creams and supplements that can help with everything from aching muscles to sleeplessness. There are also buckets of Epsom Salts or Magnesium chloride flakes that can be used in baths, foot soaks or made into creams or sprays. Checking the ingredients of supplements are vital and ultimately your responsibility. If you are considering taking larger doses always do so strictly under the guidance of a trained health professional.
As with everything in life, the application of common sense and a dash of caution is always a good practice. It is very easy and tempting to identify with symptoms and pin all our hopes on a single supplement, food or medication which often leads to disappointment. Your overall health is just that – overall and it involves your mind, body and nutrition. If you are battling with various symptoms then I urge you to put your detective hat on and investigate all parts of your life that may be affecting you. Consider things like relationships, living and work environment, your self care routines and how you talk to yourself. All of these aspects and many more have a distinct chemical reaction in our bodies that can affect our state of mind and being.
[ii] Exocrine Secretions of the Pancreas, www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/pancreas/exocrine.html.
[iii] “Adenosine Triphosphate.” Adenosine Triphosphate, hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Biology/atp.html.
[iv] Jahnen-Dechent W, Ketteler M. Magnesium basics. Clin Kidney J. 2012;5(Suppl 1):i3–i14. doi:10.1093/ndtplus/sfr163
[v] Jahnen-Dechent W, Ketteler M. Magnesium basics. Clin Kidney J. 2012;5(Suppl 1):i3–i14. doi:10.1093/ndtplus/sfr163
[vi] Jr, William C. Shiel. “Definition of Recommended Dietary Allowance.” MedicineNet, www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=22382.
[vii] Magnesium, whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=75.
[viii] Ferreira, Mandy. “Fortified Foods: Benefits and Risks.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 11 Oct. 2017, www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/fortified-and-enriched-foods#2.
[ix] Jahnen-Dechent W, Ketteler M. Magnesium basics. Clin Kidney J. 2012;5(Suppl 1):i3–i14. doi:10.1093/ndtplus/sfr163
[x] Jahnen-Dechent W, Ketteler M. Magnesium basics. Clin Kidney J. 2012;5(Suppl 1):i3–i14. doi:10.1093/ndtplus/sfr163
[xi] Lou, Zhi-Yi, et al. “Dietary Intake of Magnesium-l-Threonate Alleviates Memory Deficits Induced by Developmental Lead Exposure in Rats.” RSC Advances, vol. 7, no. 14, 2017, pp. 8241–8249., doi:10.1039/c6ra26959a.
[xii] Sewell, Christine Lamontagne John A. “Rapid Resolution of Chronic Back Pain with Magnesium Glycinate in a Pediatric Patient.” Journal of Pain & Relief, vol. 01, no. 01, 2012, doi:10.4172/2167-0846.1000101.
[xiii] Uysal, Nazan, et al. “Timeline (Bioavailability) of Magnesium Compounds in Hours: Which Magnesium Compound Works Best?” Biological Trace Element Research, vol. 187, no. 1, 2018, pp. 128–136., doi:10.1007/s12011-018-1351-9.
[xiv] Torshin, I. Yu., et al. “Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials of Cardiovascular Effects of Magnesium Orotate.” Terapevticheskii Arkhiv, vol. 87, no. 6, 2015, p. 88., doi:10.17116/terarkh201587688-97.
[xv] Engen, Deborah J., et al. “Effects of Transdermal Magnesium Chloride on Quality of Life for Patients with Fibromyalgia: a Feasibility Study.” Journal of Integrative Medicine, vol. 13, no. 5, Sept. 2015, pp. 306–313., doi:10.1016/s2095-4964(15)60195-9.
[xvi] “Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt)) Side Effects, Interactions, Uses & Drug Imprint.” EMedicineHealth, www.emedicinehealth.com/drug-magnesium_sulfate/article_em.htm.
[xvii] “Magnesium Oxide: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a601074.html.
[xviii] “Review of: Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills.” American Nutrition Association, americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/review-excitotoxins-taste-kills.