What is magnesium? Why is it important?
Magnesium is touted as the most essential mineral in the whole body. It is responsible for insulin regulation, muscle relaxation (including the heart), metabolism, parathyroid gland function, teeth and bone integrity, digestion, sleep quality, and body detoxification. Without enough magnesium, these functions and systems will not operate optimally.
Most people groups used to live close to water sources (for dietary and economic reasons), and sand has high magnesium levels. People who live, walk, and work in and around the sand have a higher absorption of natural magnesium than people who live in cities away from water sources. Without natural sources of magnesium, supplementation is necessary.
Food sources such as seaweed, chard, kale, legumes, green beans, almonds, cashews, pumpkin, and sesame seeds can contain high magnesium levels, depending on where and how they were grown. But unless you eat significant amounts of these foods, you’re still likely to be deficient in magnesium without supplementation.
What are symptoms of magnesium deficiency? What factors contribute to its depletion?
Carolyn Dean, MD, a leading expert on magnesium, lists 100 factors associated with magnesium deficiency here. Some of the most common symptoms include irritability and anxiety, lethargy, impaired memory and cognitive function, anorexia or loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, seizures, weakness, muscle cramps and spasms (including the heart), impaired muscle coordination, tics and tremors, involuntary eye movements and vertigo, and irregular or rapid heartbeat.
Magnesium is a rescue mineral, meaning it is released when the body is in potential danger. Every time you do something that could inherently damage the body, it’s going to deplete the body’s magnesium. Processed foods, pharmaceutical drugs, calcium supplements, certain types of Vitamin D, unbound copper, caffeine, nicotine, dehydration, sweating, phosphates, and stress all burn up the body’s magnesium supply.
Age also contributes to magnesium depletion. Magnesium use increases with age, specifically due to the amount of stress that increases with events that come later in life. Think about the difference between the stress of getting married and losing a spouse. The latter burns up a significantly larger amount of magnesium. Some relatively new thinking proposes that diseases that accompany old age are moreso symptoms associated with an imbalance of vital electrolytes (such as magnesium).
How can I test for magnesium deficiency?
Aside from doing a symptom checklist, you can also test for magnesium levels with an RBC blood test (optimal levels from an RBC test are 6.0-7.0). A routine blood test is inaccurate to determine body magnesium levels. Only about 1% of total magnesium is found in the bloodstream. The body takes magnesium stored in the bones and muscles to keep 1% in the bloodstream because it supplies the heart with the magnesium it needs to continue relaxing after each contraction. So a routine test will generally give a good reading (unless you’re severely dehydrated, or have a severe case of vomiting and diarrhea), but it won’t show what’s actually in the body. We offer RBC blood testing at Hopewell Family Care. If your doctor’s office doesn’t offer it, you can request a test for $45 here.
How should I go about supplementing magnesium?
A general rule for magnesium supplementation is to take five times your bodyweight (if you weigh 150 pounds, supplement with 750 mg daily).Magnesium supplements are best absorbed through the skin rather than orally. Oral magnesium supplements give the body too much magnesium at one time so that the body enacts a fail-safe system to get rid of most of it (only about 4% is absorbed), which results in a laxative effect. It’s ideal to find alternative ways for the body to absorb magnesium so it bypasses the gastrointestinal tract and gets into the tissues. If you are going to take an oral magnesium supplement, we recommend a slow-release tablet by Jigsaw Health.
We recommend a topical magnesium chloride oil spray by Ancient Minerals. Health and Wisdom also sells a similar quality and less expensive magnesium oil, which we carry in our office. Epsom salts (which are magnesium sulfate) can be used in a bath or foot soak. Vitamin B6, bicarbonate, boron, selenium, taurine, and zinc are also cofactors that improve magnesium absorption and retention. While getting these from natural sources is ideal (for instance, you can get B vitamins from bee pollen and desiccated liver), taking them in supplement form is sufficient.
There are multiple types of magnesium supplements, recommended based on symptoms. Magnesium Chloride is indicated for detoxing, Magnesium Glycinate for nerve pain or leaky gut, Magnesium Malate for fibromyalgia and muscle pain, Magnesium Threonate for depression, anxiety, or PTSD, and Magnesium Taurate for cardiovascular health. Even so, determining the type and amount of magnesium that’s optimal for you can be difficult. Feel free to discuss this with your medical provider.
Jaimeé Arroyo Novak, FNP