Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?

By: Elizabeth Thompson

We are all very aware these days of the importance of calcium, which is often added to foods such as bread and milk to enrich or replace the natural calcium lost through processing. But we don’t hear anywhere near as much about magnesium, which has an even wider range of roles in keeping our bodies functioning properly – and some specially important roles for our mood and general sense of well-being.

Magnesium, like calcium, is an essential mineral that is first of all needed for healthy bones and teeth (60-65% of the magnesium in your body is used for this). Above and beyond this, both magnesium and calcium are required throughout your body for nerves and muscles to function – and they need to be in balance. It’s thought that in paleo times calcium and magnesium were present in more or less equal amounts in our diet – but now it’s more like 10:1 in favor of calcium.

To make matters worse, taking calcium supplements without balancing with magnesium can end up making a magnesium deficiency worse. Combine this with a diet of largely processed (and magnesium deficient) foods, and it’s no surprise that so many of us suffer from symptoms of inadequate magnesium such as: fatigue, insomnia, depression, poor stress tolerance, heart palpitations, neuromuscular problems, and a range of conditions arising from hormonal and metabolic imbalance.

Magnesium – master mineral for a balanced mood

While magnesium is important on many different fronts, it has some especially important roles in protecting you from stress and emotional disruption.

The first of these is muscle relaxation. Calcium and magnesium together regulate the contraction-relaxation rhythm of every muscle in your body – including your heart, stomach, intestines, arteries, as well as your skeletal muscles. And yes, these are all muscles…

If you don’t have enough magnesium you may find yourself prone to problems such as cramps, twitchiness, and just general difficulty relaxing. You might also experience things like intestinal spasms, heart palpitations, and elevated blood pressure, simply because of these muscles not functioning properly.

But magnesium has an even more crucial role: it’s needed for over 300 enzyme reactions in your body (which covers just about everything).

Magnesium for energy regulation

The absolutely most basic set of enzyme reactions in your body is the ATP cycle, the master cycle for energy production. Lack of ATP energy won’t just make you feel sluggish, though it includes that too. The ATP cycle produces the energy needed for every single thing that happens inside you, and without magnesium, it stops.

It won’t get to that point, of course. Like a company CEO faced with budget cuts, your body will take magnesium from wherever it can: bones, teeth, muscles – and ration it out. But you’ll end up feeling as though you are running on empty, tired and most likely craving sugar.

Magnesium and your brain

Your brain has one of the highest concentrations of magnesium in your body, and for good reason. Every nerve impulse that fires – and there are thousands of them every second – depends on magnesium for its electrical signal.

As well as that, your brain is a real energy hog (20% of your body’s energy needs come from the brain), and so needs a good supply of magnesium just for ATP and energy production.

Finally, magnesium is needed for the enzymes which regulate many brain chemicals, including serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin is a key neurochemical for your mood and sense of well-being. Low serotonin is associated with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and headaches – all of which may respond to a magnesium boost on its own, even without paying attention to serotonin precursors such as 5-HTP and L-tryptophan which will also help raise serotonin levels.

Melatonin – also dependent on magnesium for its functioning – is responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle, so lack of magnesium serves a double whammy for those suffering from insomnia. (In fact a triple whammy, because magnesium deficiency makes muscle relaxation more difficult – something often related to insomnia.)

Boost your magnesium levels

You can – and should – take care to get as much magnesium as possible through your diet. Leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds are all good sources, and so are whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa, and legumes such as black beans, navy beans, and pinto beans.

If you want to take an oral supplement (and you probably should), it’s best to take it at a different time of day to any calcium supplement you are taking.

Another great way to boost magnesium is to use a magnesium “oil” (actually a very concentrated solution of magnesium chloride) as a spray or lotion on your skin – magnesium is absorbed very quickly this way, and it’s great to have some on hand for a quick fix if you are prone to muscle cramps or spasms.

And to show that you don’t have to feel deprived while taking care of your health – chocolate is an excellent source of magnesium too. Just make sure that it is the dark type, 80% cocoa or more… and you can enjoy some guilt-free indulgence on a daily basis. (But please don’t rely on it for your entire daily ration of magnesium!)


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