Magnesium is a vital nutrient that is often deficient in modern diets. Our ancient ancestors would have had a ready supply from organ meats, seafood, mineral water, and even swimming in the ocean, but modern soils can be depleted of magnesium and magnesium is removed from water during routine municipal treatment.
Magnesium plays an important role in biochemical reactions all over your body. It is involved in a lot of cell transport activities, in addition to helping cells make energy aerobically or anaerobically.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, a necessary co-factor for hundreds of enzymes, and the most critical mineral of all for coping with stress. Stress-related diseases which run rampant through modern society, like heart attacks and high blood pressure, are often accompanied by magnesium deficiency. Unfortunately, most Americans consume diets that fail to meet the government’s RDA for magnesium, and magnesium intake is even lower than average among people who develop heart disease.
The best food sources of magnesium are vegetables like:
- buckwheat (kasha),
- mature lima beans,
- navy beans,
- kidney beans,
- green beans,
- soy beans (including tofu),
- blackeyed peas,
- Swiss chard,
- whole barley,
- dried figs,
- Brazil nuts,
- hazel nuts,
- shrimp, and
When you are chronically stressed, you can become magnesium deficient even if you eat these foods regularly. The complex relationship between magnesium and stress explains why many of the patients require magnesium supplements, because even a nutritious diet does not correct their magnesium deficiency.
Under conditions of mental or physical stress, magnesium is released from your blood cells and goes into the blood plasma, from where it is excreted into the urine. Chronic stress depletes your body of magnesium. The more stressed you are, the greater the loss of magnesium. The lower your magnesium level to begin with, the more reactive to stress you become and the higher your level of adrenalin in stressful situations. Higher adrenalin causes greater loss of magnesium from cells. Administering magnesium as a nutritional supplement breaks this vicious cycle by raising blood magnesium levels and buffering the response to stress, building your resistance.
It appears that the body’s magnesium economy is an integral part of the stress response system. When stressed for any reason, the body’s hormonal response causes an outpouring of magnesium from cells into plasma. This outpouring is a bit like taking magnesium by injection, except the source is internal. The effect of the sudden increase in magnesium is both energising and calming.
Magnesium is needed to burn sugar for energy; it also calms the excitation of cells produced by the stress-induced release of calcium. If there is insufficient dietary magnesium, or if there is insufficient rest in between episodes of stress, the body’s magnesium stores are slowly depleted. The hormonal response to stress disintegrates. The plasma magnesium does not elevate in response to stress as it should, so that the energizing/calming effect of magnesium is not present to counter the nerve-jangling effects of adrenalin and other stress hormones. Consequently, the disorganizing effects of stress are intensified and coping is impaired. Higher blood pressure, abnormalities of your heartbeat and an increased risk of heart attacks or of angina (cardiac pain) may be one result.
Muscle tension, spasm and twitching are the most characteristic symptoms of magnesium depletion, followed by palpitation and breathlessness. Irritability, fatigue, trouble falling asleep and hypersensitivity to loud noises are also common. The presence of migraine or tension headache, unexplained chest pain, strange sensations of the skin (like insects crawling) and abdominal pain or constipation are further indications of magnesium deficiency. If you are suffer from any of these symptoms, or if you are being treated for heart disease or high blood pressure, you may need a magnesium supplement.
Much has been written about the need to balance the calcium/magnesium ratio when taking supplements. This notion is based upon the known interactions between magnesium and calcium in cells. Calcium freely dissolved in the fluid of each cell has a stimulating effect that leads to rapid contraction of muscle cells and excitation of nerve cells. These cellular effects of calcium result in muscle spasm, poor circulation, and rapid heart beat. Magnesium in the cells of your body is nature’s calcium blocker and many of its protective benefits result from blocking these undesirable effects of calcium, reducing high blood pressure and stopping palpitations. No dietary formula can balance calcium and magnesium in the cells, however. Only your body can do it. Your job is to give your body enough magnesium and enough calcium so it can get the job done right.
Stop Draining Your Body of Magnesium
- Limit coffee, colas, salt, sugar, and alcohol
- Learn how to practice active relaxation
- Check with your doctor if your medication is causing magnesium loss (many high blood pressure drugs or diuretics cause loss of magnesium)
- Eat Foods High in Magnesium
Include the following in your diet as often as you can:
Kelp, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts, dulse, filberts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, tofu, soy beans, brown rice, figs, dates, collard greens, shrimp, avocado, parsley, beans, barley, dandelion greens, and garlic.
It’s crucial for more than 300 enzyme reactions, and it’s involved in a wide variety of systems, particularly adrenal health, cardiovascular health, brain health, muscle health, bone health, and hormone health.
The primary job that magnesium is responsible for is monitoring the flux of calcium in and out of cells. In a healthy cell, magnesium resides within the cell while calcium remains outside. Calcium is necessary for certain functions such as firing a nerve, contracting a muscle or secreting a hormone. When cells need calcium, magnesium opens up channels in the cell membrane which allows calcium to rush into the cell. Once the cell gets enough calcium in it, it will perform the function that it needed the calcium for.
Magnesium doesn’t fix everything, obviously. But it can certainly help. Medical professionals estimate that nearly no one is eating enough magnesium naturally. Paleo dieters might. Lots of leafy greens is the best source of magnesium. Almonds and other nuts and black beans are also on the list. But there’s no magnesium in meat, hardly any in fruit, not in most vegetables. It’s a difficult nutrient to get, there’s no doubt about it.
Magnesium is the second most abundant element inside human cells and the fourth most abundant positively charged ion in the human body.1 2 Within the body’s cells, it serves literally hundreds of functions.
In nature, magnesium can be found in many different forms, bonded with other atoms, such as:
- Magnesium chloride, found naturally in the sea
- Magnesite, the insoluble rock salt also known as magnesium carbonate
- In plant matter, as the central element in chlorophyll
- Magnesium is the second most abundant element inside human cells.
One readily accessible and easily absorbed form of magnesium is magnesium chloride. Because it is soluble in water, magnesium chloride readily dissociates, increasing rate of absorption.
All organic matter—plants, animals, and the human body—is made up of combinations of elements such as such as oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen.
These tiny building blocks join to create the compounds that make up our:
- Bodily fluids
- Microscopic elements that regulate the body’s function.
- Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen form the basis of compounds found in all living matter. Beyond compounds built from these four most common elements, the rest of the body’s contents is made up of minerals.
Magnesium is a macro-mineral, which, unlike trace minerals, is needed by the body in large amounts. Calcium, sodium, and potassium are also macro-minerals. The average human body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, one of the six essential minerals that must be supplied in the diet.
Once magnesium enters the body through food, supplements, or topical applications, it is broken down and released to form independent magnesium atoms, or “ions”. In its ionic form, magnesium has a positive charge, commonly noted as Mg2+.
Magnesium cations function as a part of the structure of the body through their presence in bone. But arguably more important is their function as cell regulators in hundreds of chemical reactions throughout the body.
Magnesium is crucial to more than 300 enzyme-driven biochemical reactions occurring in the body on a near constant basis.
All nutrients used by the human body function as either:
- Sources of energy
- Building blocks for body structures
- Elements needed to regulate and control the body’s many functions
- Like most vitamins, magnesium’s role is primarily regulatory. It allows enzymes to function properly, which in turn enable a vast majority of the body’s chemical reactions.
Enzymes are the basis of the body’s ability to function while supporting life. Many of the necessary chemical reactions that the body carries out, such as the breakdown of sugars in the digestive system, can only normally be performed under extreme heat or acidity. Enzymes, however, allow these reactions to occur without damaging the body’s fragile tissues and organs.
Yet enzymes do not function alone. Substances known as enzyme co-factors must regulate the functions of enzymes in order to control the rate of reactions within the body. These co-factors act as “keys” to switches within each enzyme, instructing it to start or stop activity.
Magnesium is one of the most common co-factors in the body. Its presence is crucial to:
- Glucose and fat breakdown
- Production of proteins, enzymes and antioxidants such as glutathione
- Creation of DNA and RNA
- Regulation of cholesterol production
Without enzyme co-factors—including both hormones and vital minerals such as magnesium—reactions could easily spiral out of control. In fact even slight imbalances can chronically impact the body’s level of performance and health.
Thus, magnesium’s function as an enzyme cofactor can be seen as analogous to the important role that our body’s hormones play. The crucial difference, however, is that our body can manufacture most hormones itself using basic building blocks. Magnesium, on the other hand, cannot be manufactured by the body, it must be taken in.