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Magnesium is an essential nutrient that is deficient in the American diet. Simply put, it is lacking in the soil, which means it is lacking in the food. If it isn’t in the soil, and therefore the food, it isn’t in you, either. Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common simple nutrient deficiencies we identify in patients (along with Vitamin D and essential fatty acids).
So why is this a big deal? Magnesium is a cofactor for at least 325 different enzymes and chemical processes in the body. Magnesium is involved in energy production, serotonin and dopamine synthesis, blood clotting, muscle function, nerve function, and bone formation. If magnesium could talk, it would quote Ron Burgundy by saying, “I’m kind of a big deal”.
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Because magnesium is used in so many places around the body, a lack of magnesium could cause a plethora of symptoms. Here is a quick list of conditions and symptoms associated with magnesium deficiencies:
- Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Depression
- Migraines and Headaches
- Dysregulated Adrenal Hormones
- Diabetes/Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome
- Fatigue, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
- Blood Clots
- Raynaud’s Syndrome
- Bowel Disease and Constipation
- Female hormone imbalances such as PMS, dysmenorrhea, infertility, and preeclampsia .
- Osteoporosis and Tooth Decay
- Heart Disease/Angina and Heart Palpitations
We’ll stop the list there. Magnesium is so central to the foundation of our body and the symptoms are so diverse you could write a book on it. In fact, many people have. I recommend The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean if you are looking to read more. Her website is http://drcarolyndean.com/ and she has a great blog with continually updated information.
Functions of Magnesium
In an effort to not make another giant list like the one above, I am going to simply highlight some of the biggest functions of magnesium in the body. This way you may understand how magnesium is related to some of the symptoms we listed above.
Energy: Magnesium is a required cofactor for the citric acid cycle and the production of cellular energy, ATP. Any energy linked nutrient or supplement ultimately comes down to the citric acid cycle and the electron transport chain inside the mitochondria of our cells. The mitochondria are the “Power Houses” of the cell. Magnesium plays a large role in the proper functioning of these mitochondria and the energy pathway. For this reason, thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones (like cortisol), eating sugar, and any other energy dependent pathway is absolutely linked to magnesium.
Magnesium is also necessary for sensitizing cells to insulin. This means without magnesium, the cells will become insulin resistant. Eating a high sugar, high processed food diet burns through magnesium like it is going out of style. For this reason, I almost never see a patient struggling with weight problems, insulin resistance, or diabetes that does not also have a magnesium deficiency.
Bones and Teeth: Magnesium is structurally bound to calcium and phosphorous in bones and teeth. Roughly 2/3 of the magnesium in our body is stored in our bones and teeth. (The remaining 1/3 of magnesium is mainly in the muscle and nervous system tissue.) This is the first of our three magnesium functions that are extremely related to the calcium/magnesium balance. Magnesium is necessary for calcium to work properly. With too much calcium and not enough magnesium we cannot make strong bones. Paleolithic diet showed a calcium to magnesium ratio in the body of 1:1 or 2:1 rather than our current 5:1 or 15:1 ratio(chapter one source 15).
Muscle function is dependent upon magnesium and calcium. Calcium causes contraction of the muscle and magnesium causes relaxation. If you are cramping during times of relative non-activity (like in your bed) this is caused by an imbalance of calcium and magnesium. What people don’t realize is how many of their problems are caused by an inability to relax their muscles. Contraction of muscles in the arteries will raise blood pressure, causing cramps and possibly chest pain. Calcium, without magnesium to balance it out, causes constriction of the bronchial tubes and leads to asthma. Without magnesium, calcium cannot stay in solution and precipitates out into our arteries causing arteriosclerosis and onto our joints causing arthritis. Migraines and tension headaches come from constriction of blood vessels by the brain and over-activation of the sub-occipital muscles in the neck or in the shoulders. Our hardest working muscle, the heart, is severely affected by magnesium deficiency and can cause heart palpitations and angina. One of the most common drugs given to patients with heart disease is a calcium channel blocker, but magnesium is the body’s natural calcium channel blocker[i],[ii],! Magnesium deficiencies also lead to malfunction in the smooth muscles around our intestines. This means they cannot properly move our food through and we end up with constipation and an irritable bowel.
Magnesium and Brain Function: Serotonin, GABA, dopamine, and melatonin are neurotransmitters highly dependent on magnesium. Magnesium is one of the co-factors necessary for the conversion of 5-HTP to Serotonin. Serotonin is then converted into melatonin, which is the “sleep hormone”. Magnesium is also a cofactor for the GAD-65 enzyme, which converts glutamic acid to GABA, our primary calming and relaxing neurotransmitter[iii]. Magnesium is also necessary for normal MAO enzyme activity, which helps for the normal clearance of both serotonin and dopamine.
Besides the neurotransmitters, magnesium also plays a role in the function of the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors in our brains. These receptors normally contain a magnesium plug, which is removed when a stimulus is sufficiently strong enough. With a magnesium deficiency, the NMDA receptor is driven at too high a level, which can cause neurotoxicity. This is further compounded when people eat high doses of glutamate (MSG) or aspartate. Another term for this is excitotoxicity. These people have accelerated brain degeneration due to a lack of magnesium. This is exactly what is happening with most of my patients who are sensitive to chemicals and particularly to MSG.
Food High in Magnesium
The easiest way to improve the magnesium in your body is to eat foods higher in magnesium! I suggest bone meal, kelp, almonds, cashews, molasses and Brazil nuts. It is present in some grains, but I generally do not recommend grains (especially wheat) to my patients.
High protein diets (like Atkins or done by some body builders) deplete magnesium. Therefore, if you are on this kind of diet, make sure you take some extra magnesium.
Junk food, processed food and sugar greatly deplete magnesium. It can also be depleted by the phosphates found in soda pop, which bind to magnesium and make it unusable in the body. Everyone who comes into our office fills out a diet log. When we make people write down what they actually eat, most are surprised at the amount of sweets and sugar that has snuck into their daily eating habits without them realizing it.
There are many different forms of magnesium supplements on the market. We’ll quickly run through which forms we recommend, which forms we do not recommend, and basic dosages.
Dosage: We recommend 3-4.5 mg/lb of body weight per day as does Carolyn Dean in her book The Magnesium Miracle. We have found this to be clinically effective in our patients, with children and athletes being up towards the 4.5/lb. This puts most patients in the range of 400-1,000mg/day.
Good supplements: We recommend a product that has a blend of dimagnesium malate, magnesium citrate and magnesium lysinate glycinate chelate. This product has worked wonders in getting the magnesium into the cell and changing magnesium (red blood cell) values on many patients’ blood test results. This was a struggle for a long time, but now we have found a product that consistently works.
Magnesium glycinate, magnesium lactate, magnesium citrate, and magnesium chloride are all types of magnesium that we like and have had success using, too. Magnesium citrate helps with constipation as citrate is used to purge the bowel (but at a dose of 12,000 mg of citrate that is used in colonoscopy preparation). Magnesium glycinate has the least laxative effects. Magnesium chloride and magnesium malate are also good forms if someone is really struggling with acid production for digestion. Magnesium sulfate is good used in an Epsom salt bath, but not typically orally.
Magnesium oil is also good, but you need to dose it correctly. This is technically not an oil, but supersaturated magnesium chloride in water. Typically, the magnesium oil that is 25-35 percent solution is 13-18 mg of magnesium oil/spray. Therefore, you will want around 25 “sprays” to get around a 400 mg dose. If the oil feels itchy when it dries, you can wash it off after about 30 minutes as most of the magnesium has been absorbed.
Avoid Magnesium glutamate and aspartate as they break down to glutamic acid and aspartic acid, which can be neurotoxic. Also, avoid magnesium oxide as it is very poorly absorbed. If you are taking iron supplements, it may be necessary to take it separately from the magnesium as it can compete for absorption.
In closing, magnesium is an essential nutrient that is deficient in many patients. If you are experiencing these types of symptoms, consider a red blood cell magnesium test. We run them in our office with every patient. Most people see improvement with magnesium within 2-3 months of supplementation and diet changes, although some see benefit within a few weeks.
At Restorative Health Solutions, we provide a unique approach to your health. We take on a personalized/individualized approach to each patient’s case. We pride ourselves on figuring out the “why” and are determined to find the underlying cause of dysfunction in our patients’ health and, therefore, help them heal. If you are interested in what functional medicine can do for you, please give us a call at 952-479-7801 for a free 15-minute phone consultation!
[i] Iseri LT, French JH. “Magnesium: nature’s physiologic calcium blocker.” Am Heart J 1984; 108:p188-193.
[ii] Seelig MS, “Cardiovascular reactions to stress intensified by magnesium deficit in consequences of magnesium deficiency on the enhancement of stress reactions; preventive and therapeutic implications: a review.” J Am Coll Nutri 1994. 13(5):p429-446.
[iii] Foye WO, Lemke TL, and Williams DA. Principles of Medical Chemistry. Williams & Wilkins. Fourt Ed. 1995.