The magic of magnesium
Posted on 15th November 2017 at 07:30
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the difference between minerals and vitamins. How important they BOTH are to good health and the complex web of relationships between them.
As promised this week we’re focussing on one mineral in particular, magnesium, which has been the subject of much research in recent years. Interestingly, this has highlighted the large number of people who are deficient in this mineral AND the part this then plays in many health problems. It has also emphasised, once again, the part played by poor ongoing lifestyle choices. And they’re the ones we mention regularly – lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, dehydration, stress, lack of exercise and smoking.
Anyway, before we go any further, here’s a quick reminder about magnesium. Like all minerals, it’s an inorganic substance found in soil and water. Needed by the body in – relatively – large amounts it’s classified as a “macro mineral.”
It’s estimated that 50 to 60% of all the magnesium found in the body is locked up in the bones and teeth. Another 10% is found in the heart muscles – more about this later – with about 1% in the blood itself. The remainder is found in the cells – where it’s needed for a huge number of different biochemical processes – particularly those in the muscles, nerves and liver.
Foods rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, watery fruits and berries, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit and dark chocolate. Sea salt or, even better, himalayan crystal salt also contain good amounts of magnesium; along with many other trace minerals such as potassium and zinc.
Signs of low magnesium levels include pains in the neck and back, muscle weakness / spasms, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, insomnia, abnormal heart rhythms, diarrhoea and muscle twitches.
It should also be mentioned that stress quickly depletes magnesium levels. This is one of the many reasons we crave chocolate when stressed, as magnesium levels have become low and chocolate is high in magnesium.
However, before you go and raid the nearest sweet shop (!), we should emphasise that the chocolate needs to be good quality and at least 60% cocoa solids. If not, the benefits are vastly outweighed by the high sugar content, which will send your blood sugar levels rocketing (!) leaving you feeling jittery and wired. You have been warned!
To date, magnesium has been identified as playing a part in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. These include helping to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, a healthy immune system, steady heart beat and strong bones. It also plays a part in detoxification, the regulation of body temperature and blood glucose levels, as well as in the production of energy and protein.
If we were to focus on a couple of things that magnesium helps with – and we talk to clients most often about – the first would have to be muscle cramps, particularly in the calves. These tend to occur at night and / or in the summer, usually when the person has exercised hard or is dehydrated – or both (!) – and can be excruciating.
Why is this? Quite simply because magnesium is a nerve and muscle relaxant. With it being burnt up during exercise – and lost in sweat – it’s easy to see how people can become deficient if they’ve exercised hard, or failed to keep hydrated, particularly during hot weather.
However, the calf muscles aren’t the only ones affected by low levels of magnesium. The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, which is the reason why magnesium is found in such large quantities there. It’s also why low levels of magnesium are linked to many heart / blood related problems including irregular heart rhythm, angina, heart attacks and high blood pressure.
Alongside this magnesium is also found in the blood along with many other minerals including sodium, potassium and chloride. Here it helps to regulate acidity and how efficiently oxygen is absorbed into the blood before being circulated around the body.
Looking at the muscular system generally, magnesium deficiency also plays a part in muscle cramps, twitches, seizures and epilepsy.
Less obvious is the part it plays in asthma, with attacks triggered by the contraction of the bronchial muscles in the lungs.
Low magnesium levels also play a part in constipation in two different ways. Not only does magnesium help ensure the muscles in the walls of the digestive system contract strongly; but it also helps draw water into the gut itself, so helping ease the movement of the contents.
Given this dual function, it’s not surprising that things tend to grind to a halt when magnesium levels are low. It’s also explains why the traditional solution for constipation was a tablespoon of epsom salts in warm water – which are high in magnesium – at bed time.
The other thing we regularly talk to clients about is magnesium’s relationship with calcium. As already mentioned magnesium helps relax muscles, while calcium constricts them. Where levels are out of balance problems can occur – either by magnesium levels falling or calcium rising.
However, it’s usually the part magnesium plays in building strong bones that we focus on. In recent years, calcium has become a popular supplement for women – particularly post menopause – to help strengthen the bones and protect against Osteoporosis.
While it’s true that calcium is a major component of bones, it’s not the only mineral required to build them. Sadly, without also taking magnesium – as well as other trace minerals such as silica, phosphorus, boron and zinc – the body can’t fully utilise it.
Ironically, rather than helping to strengthen the bones, other minerals are released from the bones as the body tries to excrete – or deposit elsewhere – the calcium it can’t use. Rather than being strengthened, the bones are actually weakened, while the excess calcium can then cause problems elsewhere in the body. These include cataracts and calcium deposits in artery walls and large muscles.
This is why it’s so important to take magnesium and calcium together, as well as the other trace minerals ALONG WITH Vitamins D3 and K2 which help control the formation of bone. Where these are out of balance, many bone related problems can occur including bone deformities, Arthritis, Osteoporosis and Ricketts.
We should mention one other magnesium related issue which has only become apparent in recent years. This is the link between low levels of magnesium and Diabetes. Few people appreciate that magnesium also plays a part in the release of insulin, which is triggered by an increase in blood sugar levels.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Increased levels of sugar in the blood lead also increase its acidity as well as blood pressure. With both of these being seen as major risk factors for heart attacks, it’s easy to see how Diabetes is now being linked to heart problems. Matters are then made worse by magnesium being vital to maintain a healthy heart, as already mentioned.
Magnesium is often included in many multi vitamins and minerals, with 200 to 250mg per day being the suggested dose. Side effects are rare, with its relaxing / laxative quality meaning that diarrhoea is usually the result. However, if you have any concerns, please take advice before taking it.
Finally please remember that, like all minerals, magnesium comes in many different forms. Some the body can absorb, many it can’t. This means that it’s important to check the form the magnesium is in before buying a supplement. Magnesium citrate, taurate and chloride are all forms the body can utilise. Magnesium oxide, the form most often used in cheap supplements, it cannot.
Alternatively, a very quick and easy way to take magnesium is as a tissue salt, magnesium phosphate. It’s taken in a similar way to homeopathic remedies and can be dissolved in water and sipped, which is a great way to help alleviate muscle cramps and migraines. Alternatively, epsom salts can be used as a short term emergency measure; either taken in warm water or added to a bath, where it’s absorbed through the skin.
As always, the choice is yours.
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