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Unlocking the Power of Magnesium: Why it's essential and why deficiency is so common in the modern world

So, you have been reading and hearing a lot about magnesium in the last couple of years, but why is it so important?

Magnesium is not just any mineral. It's a powerhouse that plays a role in over 300 different chemical reactions in your body. From maintaining energy levels to promoting relaxation and even supporting the health of your heart and blood vessels, magnesium is truly unique. However, it's alarming to note that magnesium deficiency, the most common nutritional deficiency in most developed countries, can have serious health implications.

The reason for magnesium deficiency in the developed world is not a mystery. It's a direct consequence of our modern lifestyle and dietary choices, which often prioritize convenience over nutritional value.

Do you drink carbonated beverages regularly? Most dark-coloured sodas contain phosphates. These substances bind with magnesium inside the digestive tract, rendering it unavailable to the body. Even if you eat a balanced diet, you flush magnesium out of your system by drinking soda with your meals and within 2 hours of food intake.

Do you regularly eat pastries, cakes, desserts, candies, or other sweet foods? Refined sugar, found abundantly in processed foods and sweets, not only lacks magnesium but also triggers the body to eliminate existing magnesium through the kidneys. This double-whammy effect deprives the body of this essential mineral, crucial for numerous physiological functions, including muscle and nerve function, blood sugar regulation, and bone health.

Do you find yourself under a lot of stress? It's important to know that stress can lead to magnesium deficiency, and a lack of magnesium can intensify the stress reaction, creating a vicious cycle. In studies, adrenaline and cortisol, byproducts of the stress and anxiety response, were associated with decreased magnesium. This means that any stressful condition, be it psychological or physical, can lead to deficiency, including surgery, burns, and chronic disease.

Do you drink coffee, tea, or other caffeinated drinks daily? Magnesium levels are controlled mainly by the kidneys, which filter and excrete excess magnesium and other minerals. However, caffeine causes the kidneys to release extra magnesium regardless of body status.

Do you take a diuretic, heart medication, asthma medication, birth control pills or estrogen replacement therapy? Certain drugs have been shown to reduce magnesium levels in the body by increasing magnesium loss through kidney excretion.

Do you drink more than seven alcoholic beverages per week? The effect of alcohol on magnesium levels is similar to diuretics' effect: it lowers magnesium available to the cells by increasing the excretion of magnesium by the kidneys.

What is magnesium good for?

Here are some of the key functions:

  1. Muscle function: Magnesium is crucial for muscle contraction and relaxation, making it essential for normal muscle function and preventing muscle cramps and spasms.

  2. Nerve function: It helps regulate neurotransmitters and chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells, thereby supporting proper nerve function.

  3. Energy production: Magnesium converts food into energy and is a cofactor for many enzymatic reactions in the body's energy production pathways.

  4. Bone health: It contributes to bone density and helps maintain bone strength by regulating calcium absorption and bone mineralization.

  5. Heart health: Magnesium helps maintain a steady heartbeat and supports cardiovascular function. It also relaxes blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease.

  6. Blood sugar regulation: It assists in regulating blood sugar levels by influencing insulin secretion and glucose metabolism, making it essential for diabetes management.

  7. Stress reduction: Magnesium has been linked to the regulation of the body's stress response and may help reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

How would I know if I'm deficient?

Neurological: Behavioural disturbances, irritability and anxiety, lethargy, impaired memory, cognitive function, anorexia or loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, seizures

Muscular: Weakness, muscle spasms (tetany), tics, muscle cramps, hyperactive reflexes, impaired muscle coordination (ataxia), tremors, involuntary eye movements and vertigo, difficulty swallowing

Metabolic: Increased intracellular calcium (bumps around wrists or other joints), hyperglycemia, calcium deficiency, potassium deficiency

Cardiovascular: Irregular or rapid heartbeat, coronary spasms

What are the different kinds of magnesium?

  1. Magnesium Citrate: This form is commonly used as a laxative to relieve constipation because it draws water into the intestines and promotes bowel movements. It also has good bioavailability, meaning it's easily absorbed by the body.

  2. Magnesium Glycinate: Known for its high bioavailability and gentle effects on the stomach, magnesium glycinate is often used to support relaxation, improve sleep quality, and alleviate muscle tension or cramps.

  3. Magnesium Oxide: While magnesium oxide has a higher magnesium content, it has lower bioavailability and may cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some individuals. Due to its high magnesium content, it's often used as a supplement to support bone health.

  4. Magnesium Malate: This form combines magnesium with malic acid, which plays a role in energy production. It's commonly used to support muscle function and alleviate symptoms of conditions like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

  5. Magnesium L-Threonate: Known for its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, magnesium L-threonate is believed to support cognitive function and brain health. It may help improve memory, learning, and overall brain function.

  6. Magnesium Chloride: Often used in topical applications such as magnesium oil or bath salts, magnesium chloride can be absorbed through the skin to support muscle relaxation, stress relief, and sleep quality.

  7. Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt): Widely used in baths or foot soaks, Epsom salt provides magnesium sulphate, which can be absorbed through the skin. It's valued for its muscle-relaxing, stress-reducing, and detoxifying effects.

Choosing the correct form of magnesium for your needs is a crucial step, and it's best done with the guidance of a healthcare professional. Their expertise can help you navigate a wide range of options and ensure that you're making the best decision for your health.

What are some ways to get more magnesium with food?

As with all minerals in foods, the mineral has to be present in the soil where the food is grown; that is why it is hard for us to get enough magnesium now. Our soils are depleted, and with all the processes we have in place with food shipping and preserving, we lose the ability to get it in our food. That is why organic is the best!

The best food sources of magnesium are:

  1. Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens are excellent sources of magnesium (Recommended to blanch or steam before consuming).

  2. Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, peanuts (organic), pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are rich in magnesium.

  3. Whole grains: Foods like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat (organic) contain magnesium.

  4. Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas are good sources of magnesium.

  5. Avocado: This creamy fruit is not only delicious but also provides magnesium.

  6. Dark chocolate: Enjoying a square or two can increase your magnesium intake. You can also consider cacao to make a tasty, healthy hot chocolate.

  7. Bananas: This fruit contains magnesium along with other essential nutrients (organic).

  8. Fatty fish: Some fatty fish, such as salmon (wild only) and mackerel, contain magnesium.

  9. Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, and cheese provide magnesium and other essential nutrients like calcium. Try to buy locally as arge production can lack these nutrients.

  10. Sea vegetables: Seaweed varieties like nori, wakame, and dulse are rich sources of magnesium.

Believe it or not, we absorb magnesium through the skin!

Magnesium can be absorbed through the skin in sprays, creams, or oils. This method is known as transdermal magnesium absorption. Here's why it can be effective:

  1. Direct absorption: When applied topically, magnesium directly contacts the skin, allowing it to absorb through the skin barrier and into the bloodstream.

  2. Bypassing the digestive system: Some individuals may have digestive issues or conditions that affect their ability to absorb magnesium efficiently through oral supplements. Transdermal absorption bypasses the digestive system, making it a viable option for those with such concerns.

  3. Localized effects: Topical application allows magnesium to be absorbed directly at the application site, providing localized benefits. For example, magnesium cream may help relax and soothe sore muscles.

  4. Gradual absorption: Transdermal absorption provides a slow and steady release of magnesium into the bloodstream over time. This gradual absorption may help prevent digestive discomfort with high oral magnesium supplements.

  5. Less risk of gastrointestinal side effects: Some people may experience gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhea or upset stomach when taking oral magnesium supplements. Using topical magnesium products can help avoid these side effects.

While transdermal magnesium absorption can effectively increase magnesium levels in the body, choosing high-quality products and following the recommended usage instructions is essential. Additionally, it's important to note that topical magnesium absorption may not be as efficient as oral supplementation for meeting daily magnesium requirements, so it's often used as a complementary approach rather than a sole source of magnesium intake.

How do we choose the best magnesium supplement?

Choosing the best magnesium supplement depends on various factors, including your health needs, preferences, and lifestyle. Here are some considerations to help you select the right magnesium supplement:

  1. Form of Magnesium: Consider which form of magnesium best suits your needs. Each form offers different benefits and absorption rates. For example, magnesium citrate is well-absorbed and suitable for promoting bowel movements. In contrast, magnesium glycinate is gentle on the stomach and beneficial for relaxation and muscle tension relief (it is usually the most common form).

  2. Bioavailability: Look for supplements with high bioavailability, meaning they are easily absorbed and utilized by the body. Magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium threonate are known for their excellent bioavailability.

  3. Purity and Quality: Choose supplements from reputable brands known for their quality and purity. Look for products that have undergone third-party testing to ensure they meet safety and quality standards. For the safest availability, try to stick with your health food stores.

  4. Dosage: Consider the magnesium dosage in the supplement and ensure it aligns with your recommended daily intake and health goals. It's essential to consult with your healthcare team to determine the appropriate dosage based on your individual needs and health status.

  5. Additional Ingredients: Pay attention to any extra ingredients in the supplement, such as fillers, additives, or allergens. Opt for supplements with minimal additives and allergens to reduce the risk of adverse reactions.

  6. Formulation: Some magnesium supplements combine with other nutrients or compounds, such as calcium or vitamin D, to enhance absorption or provide additional health benefits. Consider whether you prefer a standalone magnesium supplement or a combination formula based on your nutritional needs.

  7. Delivery Method: Choose a delivery method that suits your preferences and lifestyle. Magnesium supplements are available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, powders, and liquids. Additionally, topical magnesium products like sprays and creams offer an alternative absorption method through the skin.

  8. Cost: Compare prices of different magnesium supplements to find one that fits your budget without compromising quality. Remember that higher-priced supplements may not be superior in quality. Still, cheaper options are a waste of money if the quality could be better, so it's essential to consider factors like purity, bioavailability, and effectiveness.

Ultimately, the best magnesium supplement for you will depend on your health goals, preferences, and specific health concerns or conditions. It's essential to consult with a healthcare professional or qualified nutritionist before starting any new supplement regimen to ensure it's safe and appropriate for your needs. Melanie, one of our resident acupuncturists, is also a holistic nutritionist and herbalist; she would be an excellent person to consult. Reach out today, and we can connect you with the right person on our staff to address your health and wellness needs.

Written by: Melanie Snell, Dr.Ac, R.Ac, Reiki Master

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