In our efforts to remain healthy and youthful there is a lot of talk about antioxidants, omega oils, calcium and several other nutrients and yet we may have overlooked the missing link in our diets, the mineral magnesium.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and can be found in the teeth, bones and red blood cells. In fact half is found in bone and the rest in soft tissue in the body. The body jealously maintains about 1% of its magnesium within the blood making blood tests notoriously difficult to identify a deficiency (1). Magnesium is our most interactive mineral. It is essential for numerous biochemical reactions carried out within the body (over 350 in fact – more than iron and zinc combined) and interestingly the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are identical to those found in old age and include low energy levels, irregular heartbeat, clogged arteries, migraines and headaches, heavy metals build-up, high blood pressure and insulin resistance (2).
A study published in 2005 (3) showed that a staggering 70% of the US population may be magnesium deficient and 19% didn’t even reach half the Recommended Daily Allowance, which has just been raised to 360mg in the UK. People at serious risk of magnesium deficiency include the elderly, diabetics, children, those on low calorie diets, those over-indulging in alcohol and those engaged in heavy exercise and stressful lifestyles.
Modern Western diets
Unfortunately modern farming methods have depleted the soils and artificial fertilizer favours certain minerals over others. Over processing food depletes magnesium levels as does increasing the shelf life of food. Did you know that we lose over 80% of the magnesium in wholegrain flour when we convert it into white bread? In fact, magnesium levels in our diet are half what they were hundred years ago. Foods rich in magnesium include pumpkin seeds, nuts, wholegrains and dark green vegetables but these rarely feature within our daily staple diet. In addition our calcium intake has never been higher (4). Asian and African populations have a dramatically lower intake of calcium with little incidence of osteoporosis. Their magnesium intake however is at least double that of Western diets.
Magnesium deficiency develops over time so we often only notice problems when we experience changes due to age, the menopause or when our body is under stress.
Low Energy & Fatigue
Magnesium is a key mineral in the enzyme processes that convert food into energy and several studies show that individuals with low magnesium levels use more energy and therefore tire quickly. Magnesium is critical for both the synthesis and secretion of insulin so diabetics are often found to be deficient in magnesium (5).
PMS & Hormonal Imbalances
Sufferers of PMS have significantly lower levels of magnesium suggesting a clear association. In fact research by Dr David Thomas showed sufferers of severe PMS will tend to have common elements within their diet consuming only a quarter of their necessary magnesium but almost 80% more dairy and a staggering 275% more sugar (6)!
The inability to sleep may also be linked to magnesium deficiency. If you find it difficult to sleep or find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with muscle spasms, cramps or stiffness you may benefit from higher levels of magnesium (7).
Although calcium is the most abundant skeletal mineral it is very poorly soluble on its own. It requires sufficient hydrochloric acid (quantity of which reduces as we age) magnesium and vitamin D in order for it to be absorbed into the bone. Calcium that is not made soluble cannot enter the bone and settles in soft tissue such as joints, muscles and in arteries as cholesterol plaque (8).
Cramps & Spasms
Magnesium is essential for the proper function of muscles. Calcium is responsible for the contraction phase of muscles whilst magnesium is needed for the relaxation phase. Cramping at night and irritating twitches in the eyelids are often clear signs of magnesium deficiency. Restless Leg Syndrome, a poorly understood neurological disorder, responds favourably to magnesium chloride rubbed into the muscles (9).
Many studies indicate that there is a relationship between headaches, migraines and low levels of magnesium in the bloodstream. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels, encouraging normalised oxygen flow to the brain (10).
Anxiety, Nerves & Irritability
A deficiency in magnesium can result in the symptoms of anxiety and irritability since magnesium is required for the manufacture of adrenal stress hormones.
Kidney stones, one of the most painful urinary disorders, have beset humans for centuries. A kidney stone is a hard mass of chemicals from urine. The most common type of kidney stone contains calcium oxalate. Studies indicate that magnesium helps prevent recurrence of calcium oxalate kidney stones due to its effects on solubilising calcium in urine (11).
Magnesium is necessary for the elasticity and dermal protection of the skin and low levels will reduce skin cell health (12).
Magnesium absorption through the skin
Our intestines are simply not efficient at absorbing relatively large doses of magnesium from supplements and increasing the intake simply results in diarrhoea. Absorption is dramatically reduced with poor digestive efficiency, particularly as we age or when unwell. This is why hospitals will always favour a slow, gradual supply (IV drip) rather than an oral supplement.
Magnesium chloride is the form favoured by our bodies as it is the result of all other magnesium compounds being exposed to the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs. Magnesium chloride is in fact the result of evaporation of sea water. As pure and as simple as that and it is perfectly suited to absorption through the skin. Cardiff University has just completed the first clinical trial to produce evidence that magnesium is excellently absorbed through the skin (13). And an earlier trial in 2010 showed that the body could remineralise five times faster by skin application than by oral supplementation (14).
Written by Andrew Thomas from BetterYou
1. Last, W., “Magnesium Chloride for Health & Rejuvenation”.
2. Cargue, Otto, Vital Facts about Foods, 1933, quoted in J.I. Rodale, Magnesium, the Nutrient that could Change your Life, Pyramid Books, New York, 1968; also see “Excessive Calcium causes Osteoporosis”, Sircus, Mark, “Magnesium and Calcium”.
3. CSIRO Minerals Report DMR-2378, September 2004.
4. Karpf, Anne, “Dairy Monsters”, The Guardian, UK, 13 December 2003.
5. Office of Dietary Supplements, “Magnesium”. King, D. et al., “Dietary Magnesium and Creactive Protein Levels”, J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 2005 Jun; 24(3):166-71
7. Davis, W. and Ziady, F., “The Role of Magnesium in Sleep”, Montreal Symposium 1976, also see http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/ articles/70832.php
8.12.Sircus, Mark, AC, OCD, Transdermal Magnesium Therapy, Phaelos Books, Chandler, Arizona, 2006, p.199; see http://www. magnesiumforlife.com/ or http://www. magnesiumforlife.com/thebook.shtml
9. Restless legs syndrome is treatable but under-recognised. British Medical Journal. 2 September 2006; 333:457-458 doi:10.1136/bmj.333.7566.457
10. Vergini, R., MD, “Magnesium Chloride in Acute and Chronic Diseases”, or http://www.industryinet.com/~ruby/ magnesium_chloride.html
11. Piesse, J.W., “Nutritional Factors in Calcium Containing Kidney Stones with Particular Emphasis on Vitamin C” (review article), Int. Clin.
13. National School of Pharmacy, Cardiff University. Pub date TBC.
14. A Pilot Study to determine the impact of Transdermal Magnesium treatment on serum levels and whole body CaMg Ratios, Josling & Watkins. Date of publication 09/04/2010.