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Magnesium: The Magic Mineral

Magnesium and Human Health

To say that magnesium (Mg) is an important mineral in the human body is an understatement. Mg is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions including protein synthesis, cellular energy, neurotransmitter release and cell signaling, muscle function (through improving oxygen uptake and electrolyte regulation), DNA repair and many other important processes. Magnesium is also a component of mineralized bone, multiple enzyme complexes, mitochondria (the cell's energy producers), proteins, and nucleic acids.Additionally, magnesium participates in the synthesis of one of the most potent antioxidants in the body called glutathione.(1)

Diagnosing Mg Deficiency

Despite its importance for human health, magnesium deficiency is not easily diagnosed since it does not present with unique identifiable clinical manifestations compared to other nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin C, which results in scurvy, or iron, which leads to anemia.(2)

Most of the symptoms associated with Mg insufficiency can be attributed to other conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety and autoimmunity. Additionally, currently available testing to establish one's magnesium status is far from adequate. Serum levels, which are those generally measured, reflect only a small percentage of total body stores. Intracellular (RBC) levels may provide a better assessment but are also not ideal. It is worth mentioning that intracellular content can be low, despite normal serum levels in a person with clinical deficiency. (2),(3)

Most of the magnesium in the human body (close to 99% in fact) is stored in tissues, primarily in bone and skeletal muscle. Extracellular magnesium accounts for about 1%–3% of total magnesium stores and is primarily found in serum and red blood cells. It is currently estimated that more than half of the US population is deficient in magnesium, and the majority of us (over 60% in fact) are not reaching the required daily intake of the mineral -- adult dose is estimated at between 320 to 420 mg/day.(2)

Symptoms of Mg Deficiency

Chronically low levels of magnesium have been linked to numerous debilitating conditions such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, neuropsychiatric disorders, sleep problems, anxiety and depression, among others.

Below is a comprehensive table outlining common signs and symptoms associated with Mg deficiency (1):

Source: Gröber U, et al. Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy; Nutrients. 2015 Sep; 7(9): 8199–8226

Is Food a Good Source?

Due to unsustainable farming practices and resulting soil depletion, as well as the heavy use of pesticides today, most of the foods once considered good sources of magnesium, are now nearly depleted of this important mineral. These include green vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and unrefined grains. Most of the plant foods part of our diet today have lost large amounts of minerals and other nutrients over the past 100 years with estimates that vegetables have dropped magnesium levels by 80–90% in the U.S. and other Western countries.(2) This loss of mineral content across healthy food choices has also been exacerbated by a historical rise in the consumption of processed food shown to prevent magnesium absorption and contribute to the current state of deficiency. Long-term use of common pharmaceutical drugs like proton pump inhibitors, NSAIDs and antibiotics, as well as overconsumption of caffeine and alcohol also leads to excessive urinary excretion of magnesium. It is worth mentioning too that stress, which most of us are chronically subjected to in our fast-paced lives, significantly increases the need for magnesium and can deplete body stores.(2)

Mg Supplementation and EMF Exposure

Additionally, overexposure to EMF radiation today -- a major concern of many health experts and scientists across the globe -- can lead to an influx of calcium into brain cells increasing one's susceptibility to anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, headaches, and insomnia.(4), (5), (6)

The calcium and magnesium flux across the external cell membrane is regulated by a calcium-magnesium-ATPase, calcium channels, and binding to the cell membrane. Optimal Mg supplementation can help restore proper electrolyte (Ca/Mg) balance and reduce calcium influx into cells and the negative effects associated with this phenomenon. EMFs have also been shown to disrupt mitochondrial function and induce oxidative damage in the body.(7) As mentioned earlier, magnesium can directly support mitochondrial structure and function and participate in the synthesis of the powerful antioxidant glutathione.

Due to all the above-listed lifestyle and dietary factors, I advise most of my clients (unless they have impaired kidney function) to get on a good quality magnesium supplement. Often times, this has a profound effect on quality of life and on reducing widespread symptoms of fatigue, muscle soreness, migraines, brain fog, constipation, anxiety and depression among others.

Best Forms of Supplemental Mg

There are plenty of magnesium supplements available on store shelves today, but not all of them are worth the investment. Solubility of magnesium is an important factor in the mineral's absorption. In the treatment of magnesium deficiency, organic bound magnesium salts are best due to their high solubility and bioavailability.(8)

Below is a list of the top Mg supplements I recommend in clinical practice based on individual symptoms and therapeutic application:

  • Mg Citrate - a form of magnesium bound to citric acid. It works particularly well for resolving symptoms of constipation as it has a gentle laxative effect. Dosing can vary depending on the person's metabolic profile as well as severity of symptoms. Typically, I suggest a starting dose between 400-600 mg, split in two doses.

  • Mg Malate is magnesium bound to malic acid. This is the most bioavailable form of magnesium, easily absorbed in the GI tract and great for replenishing Mg stores. My suggested adult dose is typically between 600-800mg depending on a client's nutrition status and severity of symptoms.

  • Mg Glycinate - combines magnesium and the amino acid glycine; shown to promote relaxation and improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia. This form of Mg is easily absorbed and very gentle on the gut. Great to use before sleep.

  • Mg L-threonate - the salt formed from mixing magnesium and threonic acid, a water-soluble substance derived from the metabolic breakdown of vitamin C. Due to its ability to increase Mg uptake into brain cells, this form of magnesium is especially helpful with improving brain health, symptoms of depression and cognitive function.

  • Mg Sulfate - combines magnesium, sulfur and oxygen. It is also known as Epsom salts and it is the easiest and most relaxing way to replenish your body's Mg stores. Simply add 1-2 cups of Mg Sulfate to warm bath water and soak for 15-20 min, 2 to 3 times per week. Mg Sulfate works well for relieving sore muscles, joint pain and stiffness, and also helps to improve detoxification by supplying the body with sulfur. If you feel drowsy or very fatigued after taking a bath, this may be an indication that your body is in need of magnesium. You can lower the dose and after awhile, and once your Mg reserves have been replenished, these symptoms will most likely go away.

To determine what form or dose of Mg works best for each person requires a careful assessment and a thorough nutrition analysis. If you have any questions as to your individual supplementation needs, please schedule a one-on-one consultation with a nutrition or health professional.

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