Why We Need Magnesium (What Happens When We Don't Have Enough?)
Superfoods and Nutrition
04 June 2018
Magnesium in food

Known as ‘nature’s tranquilizer’, due to its calming and relaxing properties, magnesium has been found to benefit many health conditions and symptoms, from insomnia to restless leg syndrome. Due to our modern lifestyles, stress levels and soil quality, magnesium deficiency is very common. You may have experienced symptoms of low levels such as eye twitches, insomnia and chocolate cravings, all of which tend to get worse during times of stress. Magnesium, along with vitamin C, zinc, B vitamins and calcium are all commonly depleted during times of stress, as our body quickly burns through them, in order to try and cope with increased demands.

Energy production

Without magnesium we could not produce energy and our muscles would be in a permanent state of contraction, preventing us from moving. It plays a vital role in the reactions that generate and use Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), the fundamental unit of energy within the body’s cells. Many of the functions carried out by cells require ATP to provide the energy for the action such as muscle contraction, protein synthesis, cell reproduction and transport of substances across the cell barrier. Without the presence of sufficient magnesium, the food that we eat and the air that we breathe could not be turned into ATP by our mitochondria (the energy powerhouses of our cells).

Insulin sensitivity

Higher insulin and blood sugar levels are often observed in people with low plasma magnesium levels. Magnesium has been shown in studies to improve blood sugar regulation and improve insulin sensitivity, therefore it may be an important factor in conditions such as hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, PCOS and type 2 diabetes. Magnesium and insulin work together, without magnesium our pancreas won’t secrete enough insulin, or the insulin it secretes won’t be efficient enough to control our blood sugar levels. Imbalanced blood sugar levels can lead to symptoms such as cravings, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, mood swings and excess belly fat.

Stress and anxiety

As I previously mentioned, magnesium has calming and relaxing properties and can therefore help to lower stress hormones that may trigger anxiety and feelings of burnout. It is a cofactor in the conversion of glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) into GABA (a calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter). This helps to reduce mental over-excitation and instead helps to induce relaxation and sleep. Think of GABA as putting the brakes on mental activity. The correlation between magnesium and anxiety is so strong that researchers can intentionally induce anxiety in lab animals, by depriving them of magnesium! Low GABA is associated with many stress related disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), generalised anxiety and panic attacks. Tight muscles don’t just make you feel tense, they actually trigger the sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight mode) which releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Magnesium helps to combat this by directly lowering the stress hormone levels and relaxing the tense muscles.

Reducing muscle cramps

This relaxant mineral has an opposite effect to calcium, which causes contraction of muscles. Magnesium can benefit individuals suffering with muscle cramps, spasms and pain in different areas of the body. The digestive tract can be benefitted by magnesium, especially in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), where intestinal spasms and gas are often present. It can also help relieve constipation, by helping relax the colon and draw water into the intestines, hydrating the stool and making it easier to pass. Magnesium is also helpful in several different ways for women suffering with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). It can help to alleviate pelvic pain, cramps, mood swings, anxiety, cravings, insomnia and menstrual migraines!

Bone health

Everyone knows about the role calcium plays in developing strong, healthy bones, however magnesium is often forgotten about, even though it is a huge factor for bone health. Did you know that having adequate magnesium levels is essential for absorption and metabolism of calcium? It is also needed for the conversion of vitamin D (another major bone supportive nutrient) into its active form. Even mild magnesium deficiency is reported to be a leading risk factor for osteoporosis. Calcium supplementation if you are dealing with a magnesium deficiency, can lead to calcium deposition in soft tissue, such as the joints, where it can promote arthritis, or in the kidney, contributing to kidney stones.

A Magnesium Rich Diet

Dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, mung beans, wild rice, salmon and cacao are all great dietary sources of magnesium, that you should aim to include in your diet on a daily basis. To reach the recommended daily dose of magnesium you may also need to include supplemental products into your lifestyle, especially if you are going through a stressful period. I love to recommend Epsom salt baths 2-3 times a week, as a way to obtain magnesium sulphate through the skin. I have found it to be very helpful for individuals dealing with fatigue, insomnia and poor recovery from exercise. Using a magnesium oil spray on targeted areas can also provide relief for menstrual, digestive, arthritic and post-workout pain. These two methods also bypass the digestive system, therefore may be more effective than oral supplementation for individuals with gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhoea, malabsorption or general poor digestion. Oral supplementation is generally safe for most people, however always speak to your health care provider if you are taking medication. A dose of 200-500mg per day, in divided doses, is a good place to start if you are dealing with any of the health conditions mentioned in this article. There are many different types of magnesium however I always recommend avoiding magnesium oxide, as this has a strong laxative effect and isn’t well absorbed.

Magnesium Citrate

Beneficial for individuals suffering with constipation, due to its mild laxative effect. Easily absorbed, therefore ideal for those with poor digestion and absorption, such as the elderly. Take in divided doses or lower your dose if stools become loose.

Magnesium Glycinate

This form is great for individuals with insomnia and anxiety as the magnesium is bound to the amino acid glycine. Glycine is beneficial for calming the Nervous system and supporting cognitive function. Magnesium glycinate is easily absorbed, especially at higher doses, as it doesn’t tend to cause digestive issues.

Magnesium Malate

May be beneficial for individuals with muscle pains, myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and other conditions involved in energy production and mitochondrial health. Malic acid, which is the compound bound to the magnesium, is believed to help with muscle performance, reduced fatigue after exercise, and improved mental focus. It is an essential component in the Krebs cycle (a key part of energy production within the mitochondria.)

As always, please aim to include the magnesium rich foods in your diet before supplementing, as food should always be the first choice. Your body recognises and prefers receiving nutrients from real, whole food, as these foods contain a synergistic ratio of nutrients, which help to prevent any imbalances developing.

Explore our range of magnesium supplementation here.



Magnesium Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Hypomagnesemia in Type 2 Diabetes: A Vicious Circle?

Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment


Magnesium fact sheet


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