01.03.2011 Naturopathy

Marvellous Magnesium

Most people are probably lacking magnesium, an important mineral for many key body functions, says Jeremy Hill

Correcting a simple magnesium deficiency can have a significant impact on several important aspects of health, improving both subjective symptomatic and measurable biochemical parameters.

According to one recent study, this is information many of us need to hear, with over 75% of study participants ingesting less than the recommended daily intake (RDI) for magnesium.

And given that magnesium is required for such important stuff as nervous system health, brain function, blood vessel health, blood pressure regulation and heart function, the fact that magnesium deficiency is actually as common as it is these days is both surprising and very concerning.

Involved in over 300 enzyme functions within the body and crucial to effective cellular mitochondria (the cell's energy factories), magnesium is strongly involved in energy production within the body's cells. It takes a higher priority than even the well known B vitamins within the citric acid cycle to produce Adenosine Triphosphate. ATP is the chemical our bodies make to give us the energy needed to perform everything from walking and talking, to breathing, detoxifying and keeping your heart beating.

As many people who have low magnesium may not be suffering the extreme signs of acute deficiency, the condition typically remains unnoticed and thus uncorrected. Subsequently, the slower, but still significant, consequences of a chronic deficiency over many years can lead to a wide array of metabolic disorders. These can include fatigue, a tendency to gain weight due to a sluggish metabolism, a lower stress threshold and increased anxiety, elevated blood pressure, headaches and muscular twitches, cramps, aches and pains.

Leafy greens, legumes and nuts and seeds may be good sources of magnesium, but many soils are lacking a good level of the mineral. And plants that grow in deficient soils simply cannot pass on what is not there.

Modern processing of whole grains into more refined forms has also severely affected the level of magnesium found in one of our major sources of this helpful mineral.

My favourite magnesium source by far has to be wonderful chocolate, but it has to be a low sugar, cocoa-rich dark chocolate. And, as with chocolate, attaining good amounts of magnesium from the rest of your diet involves choices.

Many people do not seem to respect their bodies enough or they simply lack the basic level of nutritional knowledge needed to allow them to choose and prepare a balanced mix of foods that are both nutrient dense and calorie poor.

And I include here chronic consumption of alcohol, which has been shown to be one of the major causes of magnesium loss from the body.

Apart from dietary deficits, other causes of low magnesium levels can include an increased loss through sweating, or through greater demand from being under a lot of stress over a long period of time. In keeping with the stress effect, chronic insomnia has likewise been shown to deplete the body's magnesium stores.

Inflammation can also decrease your level of magnesium, with acute phase proteins binding to magnesium in the blood. For this reason, chronic inflammation can affect magnesium and the level of other crucial minerals such as zinc. A low magnesium level will also reduce energy production in such obscure areas as the absorptive cells of the digestive system. This has the effect of reducing the absorption of any nutrients that enter the body by way of active transport systems. This includes magnesium.

Finally, magnesium absorption, like so many things we value, just gets markedly worse as we age.

Magnesium is often employed to help relieve a wide range of conditions, such as PMS and hypertension, and with a quarter of the body's magnesium found within the muscles, it comes in handy when addressing the muscle pain and weakness of fibromyalgia.

And with over half the body's magnesium stored in our bones and playing a role in supporting osteoblast cell function, it is no surprise to find it is also used to support bone health all the way through from growing bones to strengthening osteoporotic ones.

Magnesium is particularly important for cardiovascular health, with a low level inducing several detrimental changes, including higher cardiac cell calcium levels, more oxidative stress and an increase in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure levels. These changes are obviously unwanted in everyone, but particularly unwelcome in those with an already unhealthy heart, especially when combined with the reduced energy production that a low magnesium level brings to the poor cardiac cells.

Magnesium has even shown benefits in managing certain types of depression, as well as improving the level of exercise tolerance, particularly in those with specific increased metabolic needs.

There are several forms of magnesium available, with some formulated more for musculoskeletal relief, while others have been put together with cardiac issues more in mind. Some are even designed to address bowel issues such as constipation by inducing stool looseness due to the poor absorption of this type of magnesium. Interestingly, this form is the one most commonly used in formulas (chosen for cost, not quality).

Absorption can vary quite a lot between mineral forms, so be sure to choose one that is appropriate to your needs and take it at a dose that is right for you. Ideally, seek the advice of a qualified naturopath.

Good health, Jeremy.

Jeremy Hill

Jeremy Hill AdvDipNutMed, AdvDipWHM, NDAdv is a Perth-based naturopath