Like vitamins, minerals are an essential part of a healthy diet. They are responsible for the effective running of many crucial systems in your body. Some are needed in minute quantities and are called trace minerals. Others are required in larger quantities and are called macro-minerals. Therefore, minerals are also considered an essential nutrient.
Essential in a dietary context means your body does not make it, and you need to ingest it.
Magnesium is an essential mineral and plays a vital part in our overall health. Here are ten things you should 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 science stuff is unavoidable):
1) What does Magnesium actually do? [i]
Magnesium is integral to several systems in the body:
- 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, speeding them up, and ensuring a consistent result. For example, enzymes break down proteins into amino acids; another enzyme will break down carbohydrates into glucose and other fats into fatty acids. When these reactions aren’t working correctly, it can affect our digestive system, bone and muscle health, blood pressure and many other essential components 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 store energy metabolised from food and light sources.
2) How do we know if we have enough Magnesium in our body? [iv]
Seeing how important it is tempting to rush off and test your magnesium levels. Besides being difficult to test (you need a combination of clinical and laboratory tests), it is very pricey. A doctor may request these tests for certain medical conditions, but not readily if you simply want to know your levels. You should be fine if you eat a varied diet with a good selection of fresh produce (especially leafy greens, nuts, and seeds).
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]
The Average recommended daily allowance (*RDA) is between 300-420 mg for adults. However, this is affected by age, gender, health status, diet, and environment. It is possible to overdose on mineral supplements. It is always prudent to check with a health care professional before upping the recommended dosing or beginning a supplement regime.
*RDA’s – RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCES [vi]
RDA’s are simply an amount required to meet ±90% of an everyday healthy populations needs. RDA’s do not consider any variances like medication, diet, and lifestyle that may overly stress or deplete the body’s resources. It is simply the amount you need not get sick.
4) Where do we get Magnesium from?
Why aren’t we all downing handfuls of supplements if it is so important? 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 that they are processed and expensive. On the other hand, they can also be a great help when 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 whole food diet should provide you with the bulk of what you need.
A whole food diet is usually rich in Magnesium and 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]. Nutrients are either added to ‘bump up’ their nutrient claims or added as a result of nutrients being lost during processing. The quality and bioavailability of these fortified substances are questionable and are often simply flushed out of our systems. For example, Magnesium comes in different forms, some of which our bodies can absorb more efficiently than others. There is no way of knowing the quality and type of fortified Magnesium is being added to processed food. I think it’s a safe bet that it’s the cheapest and probably not the best quality.
5) A word of caution[ix]
It would be best if you took caution when you begin using supplements. Of course, we assume that supplements are all safe, but considering these nutrients’ vital role 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 possible side effect. If you purchase a supplement, make sure it is a trusted brand, start with the minimum dose, and then work your way up to the recommended doses. If you experience diarrhoea, cut back, and wait a while longer before increasing the amount. This builds what is called bowel tolerance. Adding a teaspoon of choline citrate can sometimes assist with the 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 lacks fresh whole foods, perhaps discuss supplementation with your health care professional.
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. Used 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. Used for relaxation, gut health and reducing nerve pain.
- Magnesium malate[xiii] –
Malic acid, found naturally in fruit and often used in skincare products, is combined with Magnesium to create magnesium malate and is considered the most absorbable Magnesium and promoted for improving energy levels, relieving pain and helping with lifting moods.
- Magnesium orotate & taurate[xiv] –
Used for treatment of magnesium deficiencies and can be very expensive. Also used for cardiovascular health.
- Magnesium chloride[xv] –
Often mixed with water to create Magnesium oil, (it just feels oily, but it isn’t actual oil). Used for sore muscles.
- Magnesium sulfate[xvi] –
Commonly known as Epson Salts. Used as a laxative and soaking in 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. In addition, magnesium citrate and oxide are used in high doses as a colon cleanser before surgery and can cause severe stomach upset.
Avoid Magnesium aspartate and glutamate as much as possible. These are both considered 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 everything in life, too much of anything can be a problem. Even though Magnesium overdosing is very rare, it can happen. Always be aware of side effects when starting with a new medical treatment, including natural supplements. (If you are concerned, consult a professional health care provider). Some things to look out for are:
- Digestive issues can include: nausea, vomiting, upset stomach and diarrhoea
- More severe 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 is 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 easy and tempting to identify with symptoms and pin all our hopes on a single supplement, food or medication, often leading to disappointment. Overall, your overall health is just that – overall, and it involves your mind, body, and nutrition. If you are battling with various symptoms, I urge you to put your detective hat on and investigate all parts of your life that may affect you. Consider things like relationships, living and work environment, your self-care routines and how you talk to yourself. All these aspects and many more have a distinct chemical reaction in our bodies that can affect our state of mind and being.