Magnesium the Magnificent!
Medieval Latin named it “magnesia”, a white lodestone mineral that was highly magnetic and very highly prized by the 15th century alchemists. This group of protoscientists aimed to purify base metals into gold and craft elixirs of mortality, and believed magnesium deposits could be used to craft the mythical “philosopher’s stone”. While unsuccessful in their pursuit, this historically significant movement produced many writings that would eventually be of benefit to geologists, architects, physiologists and biochemists. Today, we know magnesium to be one of the most important, most studied, and most dynamic nutrients in our bodies. As a major mineral, magnesium assists the body in carrying out over 300 enzymatic reactions, stabilizing our cell’s energy currency, and helping our muscles and nerves relax. Individuals with physiological appropriate levels of magnesium tend to suffer less from conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and hypertension. But the benefits do not end there, magnesium may also improve short and long term working memory by improving the density and strength of our nerve network. Luckily, nature has made magnesium ubiquitous and easy to ingest, no matter the eating philosophy, dietary needs, or food selection of even the most finicky eater. Good sources of magnesium are green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, dairy, fish, and legumes (magnesium is mostly synonymous with high fiber foods). As easy as finding and ingesting magnesium should be, there are still large swaths of the population that are in deficiency states. Individuals in chronic unmitigated high-stress lifestyles, alcoholics, caffeine abusers, those engaging in long periods of sweating without proper hydration (exercisers), and individuals eating a highly refined “fiber-less” diet are most at risk for a magnesium deficiency.
Inadequate magnesium may also exacerbate the following conditions:
- Depression- by reducing serotonin levels. Serotonin positively affects almost all of our 40 million brain cells by regulating sleep, mood, sexual desire, appetite, and learning and social behavior.
- Heart health- low levels of magnesium may lead to heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) in combination with calcium.
- Diabetes- magnesium helps to regulate the effects of blood sugar by improving insulin sensitivity.
- Osteoporosis- 50-60% of our body’s magnesium (~25 grams total) are found in our bones.
Magnesium recommendations are 310 milligrams for women and 420 milligrams for men. This dose may be increased in times of acute deficiency with one caveat, high doses of magnesium may cause loose and watery stools (which may be the desired effect for those suffering constipation). Upper tolerable levels for daily use are between 800-1200 milligrams for up to three months. Magnesium can interfere with some medications therefore it is imperative that individuals currently taking any medication discuss magnesium dosing with their doctor.
Magnesium is found in powder form, which can easily be mixed into a drink as well as capsules and liquid. Taking 100 milligrams (up to 250 mgs may be well tolerated after a ramp up period) an hour before bed may help to relax muscles and increases the function of GABA receptors (GABA is a calming “inhibitory” neurotransmitter). If the alchemists taught us one thing, it is our interaction with minerals may greatly influence our longevity and health span. As always, have a healthy day.
C Doussett MPH, RDN