Are you getting enough magnesium?

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Magnesium is a water soluble mineral that is found in dark green leafy vegetables, unrefined grains, nuts, and beans.  It is involved in over 600 different processes in the body. It is integral to metabolism, or energy production, calcium absorption, nerve conductivity, and muscle contraction just to name a few functions of magnesium.  It is so useful to the body because it is part of many enzymes that keep body functions going.

What does a deficiency look like?

A magnesium deficiency can range from

  • fatigue
  • restless legs
  • muscle cramps
  • PMS
  • anxiety,
  • insomnia

to more long term effects such as

  • cardiovascular disease
  • metabolic syndrome (a constellation of symptoms including high cholesterol, insulin resistance, too much belly fat)
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • stroke.

It really is something to consider!

The magnesium content of traditionally grown foods has been declining in the US, so even if you’re eating a diet that is high in magnesium rich foods, you could have a deficiency. Studies (you can see more information and the studies here ) have shown that the magnesium content of foods has declined an average of 21% from 1963 to 1992.  This ranges from 10% decline of magnesium in spinach to a whopping 84% decline in the magnesium of collard greens.

Another study showed the following decline from 1940 – 1991:

  • Vegetables – 24% decline
  • Fruit – 17% decline
  • Meat – 15%
  • Cheese – 26% decline

 There are several factors contributing to the decline in the magnesium content of our food.

  1. Pesticides – Pesticides save our food from being damaged by unwanted pests, but they also kill beneficial creatures, such as earth worms, and good bacteria living in the soil. Earth worms provide natural aeration and fertilizer for plants, while beneficial bacteria add vitamins to the soil through their metabolism process.  Killing off the good bacteria in the soil decreases the vitamin content available for plants to uptake.
  2. Fertilizers – Most fertilizers focus on the major nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, not micro nutrients such as magnesium.  Couple that with the fact that some common fertilizers, such as potash, actually impede magnesium uptake in plants, and it’s no surprise that our food supply is declining in magnesium content.
  3. Modified Plants – Plants have been modified to grow bigger, faster, to increase yields.  Unfortunately, this  hasty growth is not paired with an increased rate of nutrient uptake, and rarely sees the mineral and vitamin uptake of the slow, steady old fashioned approach.
  4. Food processes – Processed food has lost most of the little magnesium that it had. Refined oils lose all of their magnesium, grains lose 80-97%, and sugar loses all of it’s magnesium.

Benefits of Magnesium

Because magnesium is involved in so many processes in the human body, their are SO many benefits to taking a supplement.  The most common include:

  • More energy
  • Better Sleep
  • Improved mood (Magnesium might work as well as some prescription anti-depressants)
  • Decreased risk of diabetes
  • Decreased risk of heart disease
  • Helps maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • Decrease migraines
  • Improve PMS
  • Studies are now showing promising results of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease

These are just a few of the most common benefits of magnesium.  I think we will continue to see more and more benefits of magnesium being discovered.

Magnesium Supplements

If you feel like you’d like to try taking magnesium supplements, there are a few things you should know.

  • Magnesium can impede absorption of some drugs, such as some anti-biotics and osteoporosis drugs.  It can also potentiate the effects of some muscle relaxers.  If you’re on prescription drugs, it’s always a good idea to run it by your doctor or pharmacist before you start a magnesium supplement.
  • It’s unlikely, but possible to overdose on magnesium.  Extreme doses could cause a slowed heart rate or even a coma, so don’t go crazy with it. Most likely if you take a little more than you need you might experience stomach or bowel pains accompanied by diarrhea until the extra if flushed out.
  • It is excreted through the kidneys.  If your kidneys are not functioning properly, definitely run it by your doc before you start magnesium.

Magnesium can be bound to many different fatty or amino acids. Some are absorbed easier than others, and some work better for certain purposes than others.  This is because magnesium is a cofactor in so many different enzymes.  For our purposes, we’ll just discuss the 3 most common forms and their benefts.

  • Magnesium oxide – This is probably the most common type of magnesium. You can pick it up at drug or grocery store.  It is not the most easily absorbed form, and it is most likely to cause GI distress.
  • Magnesium Citrate – This isn’t too difficult to find. It’s easier for your system to absorb, so there’s less of a chance that it will cause stomach distress. Through all of our reading and research over the years, we’ve found NOW Foods and Nature Made to be reliable supplement suppliers that are made in the USA.  You can find Nature Made magnesium citrate capsules here, or NOW powdered magnesium citrate here. The capsules are a little easier to take, but the powder is more easily absorbed.  To use the powder add 1-2 teaspoons to water to dissolve.  It doesn’t really have any taste, but it’s hard to get it all dissolved, so it is a little gritty.
  • Magnesium Salts – One of the really great things about magnesium is that it can be absorbed through the skin, or transdermally.  You can add magnesium sea salts (magnesium chloride) or epsom salts to a bath  to increase your magnesium levels, especially if you have GI issues that impede absorption or can’t handle taking it internally.  You can pick epsom salts up just about anywhere, or order online in a handy little bucket here.  You can also add your favorite essential oils to your salts, or your bath, but make sure to add a little bit of soap or detergent.  Oils don’t mix with water and you don’t want full strength oils sitting on top of the water coming in contact with your skin.  Just a bit of castile soap (or whatever soap or shampoo you usually use) will disperse the oils through out the water.
  • Magnesium Oil – You can also purchase magnesium oil.  I don’t know why it’s called an oil, because it’s basically magnesium dissolved in water. At any rate, you can spray this directly on your skin for the magnesium to be absorbed transdermally.  You can also make your own magnesium oil by boiling water and adding magnesium chloride (1:1 water:salt ratio) and pouring into a spray bottle.  You can then spritz your skin as needed. (If it feels a little too itchy or drying, you can add more water.)

So there you have it, the good, the bad, and the ugly of magnesium.  Do you think you’ll give magnesium a try? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!