Magnesium is one of the most important essential minerals for human health, along with sodium, potassium and calcium. It is known that it is a vital cofactor of several hundred metabolic processes that support our life and health (according to some estimates, magnesium is necessary for up to 600 different biochemical reactions in our body!).
Magnesium is so important, but surprisingly, it is one of the most common mineral deficiencies among our population and is the reason why it is part of our basic supplement recommendations.
Our bodies contain about 25 mg of magnesium, most of which is found in our bones, muscles and brain. About 1% of our magnesium circulates through the blood.
Magnesium is involved in protein synthesis, nerve conduction, energy metabolism, DNA and RNA synthesis, the production of antioxidants, muscle contraction and the maintenance of normal heart rhythm.
It is very important for our body to function as intended, and even extreme failure reduces health and performance. [i],
Why our magnesium status is usually not optimized (and how to find out if it’s yours).
The recommended diet (RDA) for most people to avoid deficiency syndromes is set at 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men, but dietary surveys show that many adults cannot reach these levels only through diet. [i],
Western diets are probably adequate enough for magnesium to avoid obvious (clinical) deficiencies, but intake is not enough to establish high normal serum magnesium concentrations that protect against various [chronic] disease [iii],
Over the past few decades, our food products have become less dense and more refined, as we switched to the convenience foods that pack the shelves of our grocery stores. Even if you try to eat a healthy, unprocessed diet, like the 2000 calorie example below, you will consume a little less than 400 mg of magnesium per day, which is simply not recommended for people with a sedentary lifestyle:
In addition, some models in our modern lifestyle increase our need for magnesium, either by increasing the loss of magnesium, or by increasing the amount of dietary magnesium needed.
Some of the dozens of factors besides magnesium intake that increase the risk of insufficient absorption or magnesium status are [iv]:
- Diuretics (common medicines for blood pressure)
- Insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
- Antibiotic use
- Alcohol consumption
- Gastrointestinal Disorders and Diarrhea
- Proton pump inhibitor or antacid use
- Use of calcium supplements or intake of calcium-fortified foods / drinks [v][vi][vii]
- Phosphoric acid intake (e.g. dark cola, diet, or regular)
- Vitamin D deficiency / deficiency
- Vitamin B6 deficiency / deficiency
- Exercise stress
- Emotional or psychological stress
- Excessive consumption of poorly absorbed magnesium (such as oxide, chloride, or citrate forms used in most brand-name mineral supplements)
Diagnosing magnesium deficiency is extremely difficult because there is only one method for measuring magnesium status; There are tests to measure blood serum levels, red blood cell saturation, tissue, urine and saliva concentrations, but none of them are reliable enough to stand out as the “gold standard”.
Even without clinical measurements of low magnesium levels, you can recognize signs of low or insufficient levels of magnesium in yourself from this incomplete list:
In my experience, whenever I meet someone who doesn’t feel as healthy as they want, and who haven’t completely optimized their nutrient intake, it is safe to assume that their magnesium status is minimal at best.
How can you get more magnesium?
An ideal way to optimize magnesium intake and minimize negative risk factors caused by insufficient magnesium levels is to consume more foods high in magnesium:
- Nuts and seeds
- Leafy greens, especially spinach
- Beans and Legumes
- Salmon or halibut
- Dark chocolate
- Whole grains
Very similar to the diet example shown above, right? This shows how difficult it is to get optimal magnesium intake. This type of diet change works best if it is performed while reducing / minimizing caffeine and alcohol and limiting the intake of sugary foods and drinks.
It is also worth noting once again that our magnesium needs to be increased when we consume excess calcium from food and / or additives, and many commonly consumed foods and drinks, such as prepared cereals, bread, orange juice and non-dairy “milk”, are fortified with calcium . but bad sources of magnesium.
Calcium is an exciting ion in our body, which means that it helps a lot when contracting or tightening muscles, while magnesium is needed to help balance these effects so that our muscles relax. Perhaps this is why we are beginning to realize that our aggressive recommendations for calcium fortification and supplementation directly increase the risk of cardiovascular events? [viii] [ix]] [x]
What about supplements?
Whenever the dietary intake of nutrients is inconsistent, insignificant or insufficient, I turn to supplements to fill in the gaps or proper nutritional intake and status. Although all vitamins and minerals are important for optimal health, magnesium is perhaps one of the most widely used for various metabolic processes.
If you analyze the available research for yourself, you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of well-designed studies of the beneficial effects of magnesium intake in people with or without chronic diseases.
It amazes me that many of these problems associated with inadequate magnesium status are “subclinical,” that is, problems caused by inadequate magnesium status are not detected by modern definitions of the disease state, but are significant enough to burden people's health, and also lays down a huge burden on our health system as a whole.
Many of the most common chronic conditions (depression, anxiety, blood pressure, or problems with glucose balance) and causes of death (heart attack or stroke) can be alleviated or reduced if we simply include a more effective supplement program, as we are also trying to clear our diets .
It is enough to look at some of the positive effects that magnesium supplements (in addition to consumption with food) showed in clinical trials in humans:
- Magnesium supplements can have a beneficial effect on subjective anxiety in people prone to anxiety. [xi]
- Taking just under 400 mg of magnesium per day significantly improved plasma glucose levels in people with prediabetes. [xii] and improved insulin sensitivity in patients without diabetes with low (but not clinically critical) serum magnesium [xiii][xiv]
- 3 months of oral magnesium intake reduced hsCRP (a marker of inflammation) in healthy individuals with prediabetes [xv]
- Improves metabolic profile and blood pressure in individuals with metabolic obesity and normal body weight. [xvi]
The dosage for most available studies is 200 to 600 mg per day of magnesium, and a positive effect on various health conditions seems to begin in the middle of this range. In other words, regardless of diet, doses of supplements that are effective are consistent with current RDA.
Even with these seemingly high levels of consumption, the risk of any negative effects with magnesium is minimal. The most common unwanted effects of getting too much magnesium are weak bowel movements, since too much magnesium (especially certain forms) can create a laxative effect.
If you and your doctor decide that adding a magnesium supplement is in your interest, don't just go outside and buy the cheapest magnesium you can find. Magnesium comes in many forms, many of which are poorly absorbed or poorly tolerated.
magnesium oxide or Carbonate These are perhaps the cheapest, most widely available forms found in supplements. The absorption or “bioavailability” of these forms is very low. These are forms that are usually found (in inadequate amounts) in vitamin and mineral supplements once a day at a bargain price. If you take a few hundred milligrams of these forms, you will want to be near the bathroom.
magnesium Citrate is another cheap, common salt with good absorbency at low doses (less than 200 mg at a time). However, if you need higher amounts, you should avoid the citrate form if possible, since higher doses are usually used as laxatives or colonoscopy preparations.
magnesium glycinate It is a favorite form of practitioners of functional medicine, because it is very well tolerated and very well absorbed, even in large doses. It consists of elemental magnesium bound to glycine (actually two glycines in the form of bisglycinate). It is a bit more expensive, and usually has a sedative effect compared to other forms. Life Time currently uses magnesium bisglycinate in our AM / PM multivitamin formulas.
magnesium Threonate it is a new form that has been shown to best overcome the blood-brain barrier and exerts its influence on cognition, memory and sleep. At a high price, this is a relatively inefficient source of increasing the status of magnesium in the body, since only a few milligrams of magnesium can be delivered per 100 mg of material (therefore, it takes up a lot of physical space in supplement formulas).
Di-magnesium malateA magnesium salt combining two magnesium molecules with malic acid may be the best combination of bioavailability (absorbability), price, and metabolic support. It is simple in the gastrointestinal tract, provides a high concentration of elemental magnesium and is affordable. It is also believed that the form of malate helps to support everything: from blood pressure and stress resistance to sleep quality and pain control. A serving of malic acid is also extremely beneficial for all of our cells for use in energy production (ATP), without providing a stimulating effect. It is being investigated as a potential treatment for chronic fatigue and pain in fibromyalgia. [xvii],
Check your home supplement cabinet and you will most likely find oxides, carbonates, or citrates in the foods you take. Also check the dose, as most multivitamin / multimineral formulas sold in mass retail stores include only 50-100 mg of these cheap, poorly absorbed forms of magnesium, which should make you doubt if you are taking something that can really be beneficial your health.
If you are trying to optimize your health and magnesium levels, start by taking high-quality multivitamins (Life Time contains at least 150 mg of magnesium per day in the form of bisglycinate) and consider taking extra magnesium in addition to a complete diet. Just select the shape wisely.
Life Time is preparing to release a separate product containing magnesium malate, as well as a combination of calcium + magnesium malate product for those who want to maintain their mineral intake and overall health. Talk to a fitness specialist today to learn more about which supplements can help support your health and fitness program, and as always, consult with your doctor before making any significant changes to your supplement program.
In Health, Paul Kriegler – Corporate Nutritionist
This article is not intended to cure or prevent disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. The use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the reader’s choice and risk.