Fun fact: I began supplementing with magnesium over a year ago and within a week felt great relief. Long story short, it was the answer I had been searching for FOR YEARS.
And after a little bit of research, it seemed that, hey, magnesium may be the answer others are searching for as well. Thousands, millions of others suffering from migraines, insomnia, anxiety, blood clots, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis…. and so the list goes on.
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and is essential for initiating more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps the heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, keeps bones strong, regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.
Magnesium deficiency affects approximately 80% of the population. It has been called “the silent epidemic.”
In the past, humans were able to get enough magnesium through a varied diet. (Oh, the simple days.) Unfortunately, modern farming methods and chemical fertilizers have stripped natural magnesium from the soil. This, coupled with the fact that stress and certain medications (diuretics and antibiotics) decrease the absorption of magnesium, has led to what really could be considered an epidemic of magnesium deficiency.
According to Doctor Carolyn Dean, author of The Miracle of Magnesium, the following 22 conditions are triggered by magnesium deficiency:
- Anxiety and panic attacks: Magnesium keeps stress hormones under control
- Asthma: Magnesium deficiency increases histamine production and bronchial spasms
- Blood clots: Magnesium thins blood, much like aspirin but without the side effects
- Bowel disease: Magnesium deficiency causes constipation, potentially leading to toxicity, malabsorption of nutrients, or colitis
- Cystitis: Magnesium deficiency can increase the frequency and severity of bladder spasms
- Depression: Serotonin, which elevates moods, is dependent on magnesium
- Detoxification processes: Magnesium is necessary for the natural removal of toxins and heavy metals
- Diabetes: Magnesium enhances insulin secretion, facilitating sugar metabolism. Without magnesium, insulin is not able to transfer glucose into cells.
- Fatigue: Magnesium is necessary for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. As such, when the body is magnesium-deficient and these enzyme reactions are not working properly, we experience fatigue.
- Heart disease: Mg deficiency is common in people with heart disease. Mg is administered in hospitals for acute myocardial infarction and cardiac arrhythmia. Like any other muscle, the heart muscle requires Mg. Mg is also used to treat angina, or chest pain.
- Hypertension: Magnesium deficiency causes blood vessels to spasm and increases cholesterol levels, which lead to blood pressure problems.
- Hypoglycemia: Magnesium regulates insulin, keeping blood sugar levels constant.
- Insomnia: Magnesium deficiency interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.
- Kidney Disease: Magnesium deficiency contributes to kidney failure and throws off lipid levels.
- Liver disease: Magnesium deficiency commonly occurs during liver transplantation.
- Migraines: Magnesium balances serotonin levels. Serotonin deficiency can result in migraines.
- Musculoskeletal conditions: Fibrositis, fibromyalgia, muscle spasms, eye twitches, cramps, and chronic neck and back pain may be caused by magnesium deficiency
- Nerve problems: Magnesium alleviates peripheral nerve disturbances throughout the whole body, such as migraines, muscle contractions, gastrointestinal spasms, and calf, foot and toe cramps. It is also used in treating central nervous symptoms of vertigo.
- Obstetrics and gynaecology: Magnesium helps alleviate PMS and menstrual cramping; plays an important role in fertility; helps alleviate premature contractions, preeclampsia, and eclampsia in pregnancy; helps alleviate morning sickness and pregnancy-induced hypertension. It is also given to pregnant mothers to decrease the risk of cerebral palsy and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). According to Dr. Dean, “Magnesium should be a required supplement for pregnant mothers.”
- Osteoporosis: When combined with calcium and vitamin D, magnesium helps increase calcium absorption. For this reason, magnesium deficiency promotes bone loss.
- Raynaud’s Syndrome: Magnesium helps relax the spastic blood vessels that cause pain and numbness of fingers.
- Tooth decay: Magnesium deficiency causes an imbalance of phosphorus and calcium in saliva, which damages teeth.
Note that these conditions are ” triggered” – not caused – by magnesium deficiency. So while upping magnesium intake will not cure these conditions, it can significantly decrease symptoms. For me, magnesium greatly reduced the severity and frequency of the painful bladder spasms that come with IC, but I am still careful to avoid those foods that are sure triggers for me to have a flare. After supplementing with magnesium, I no longer have to see a pelvic floor physical therapist each week (which was extremely pricey even under my great medical insurance), I no longer have to call out of work because of excruciating pain, and I no longer have to constantly worry that a bladder spazz-attack could be around the next corner.
So how much magnesium should we be getting?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is between 350 and 400 milligrams per day. But this is just enough magnesium to ward off deficiency. Twice the RDA is suggested for those suffering from the 22 conditions triggered by magnesium deficiency.
Leafy greens and nuts are great sources of magnesium, but likely not enough. One tablespoon of almonds has 33 milligrams of magnesium. So you would have to eat more than 20 tablespoons to consume the suggested amount! That’s a lot of almonds.
Fortunately there are many ways to supplement magnesium: oral supplements, magnesium oil (which is really just magnesium chloride diluted in water; this may irritate some so be sure to spot-test first), and magnesium flakes which can be diluted in water to make your own magnesium oil or sprinkled in baths. Since oral magnesium supplements can have a laxative effect and are not easily absorbed, applying magnesium topically is a great way to supplement.
Everyday after showering, I spray some magnesium oil (again, not really oil so it won’t stain clothing) on my legs and arms. It absorbs completely before I dress. I consider this a critical part of my daily routine along with dry body brushing and my morning warm lemon cayenne pepper water.
Don’t go crazy now! Though it is thought to be impossible to overdose on magnesium, you know what they say about too much of a good thing. Individuals with improperly functioning kidneys may not be able to handle magnesium supplementation and should consult a doctor. Furthermore, magnesium may interact with certain prescription medications, so be sure to do your homework!
Sources and further reading:
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Magnesium
- Dr. Carolyn Dean, The Miracle of Magnesium
- WebMD, Magnesium