Did you know that magnesium is just as important to your bones as calcium? Or, that it is required to maintain a regular heartbeat, regulate blood sugar, and produce and repair DNA? Not many people do, which is one reason why 75% of the American population consumes less than the recommended daily intake. Magnesium is required for literally hundreds of different functions in the body, yet almost nobody gets enough into their system. Shortages in magnesium can result in migraines, diabetes, heart disease, muscle cramps and spasms, and much more, so the purpose of this health article is to provide some much-needed education about the importance of this magnificent mineral.
Read on to learn exactly what magnesium is, some of the functions it serves, why people have a hard time maintaining proper magnesium levels, and how we can get this critical element back into our bodies.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is considered a macro-mineral, which means it is needed in relatively large amounts to maintain normal functions in the body. Other macro-minerals include calcium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and chloride. Magnesium is technically an alkaline earth metal on the periodic table and it is inorganic, meaning our body cannot create it, so it must be obtained through diet or supplementation.
Magnesium is commonly found in foods grown in magnesium-rich soil and is the central atom within chlorophyll. In fact, chlorophyll is identical to hemoglobin other than its central atom, which is iron. Magnesium can also be found in many compounds, such as magnesium chloride, which is naturally found in the sea. Within the human body, 60% of magnesium is found in the bones, 39% in muscles, and the remaining 1% is found in extracellular fluid.
7 Key Roles of Magnesium in the Body
Magnesium is an enzyme powerhouse. Many of the “behind the scenes” functions of the body are driven by enzymes which are created to do a very specific job. Enzymes are required to initiate and speed up the chemical reactions that accomplish jobs such as digestion, metabolism, hormone production, and much more. Enzymes also protect surrounding tissue and organs since many of these chemical reactions require extreme heat or acidity to be effective. More than 300 biochemical reactions rely on enzymes as their catalyst, and each enzyme requires magnesium to regulate its rate of activity. Without magnesium as an enzyme co-factor, the enzymes would not know when start or stop activity. In fact, most enzymes could not even be manufactured by the body.
Magnesium enables proper regulation of blood sugar. Magnesium and insulin have a very symbiotic relationship. Insulin needs magnesium to help carry sugars into the cells so energy can be created. Magnesium also helps regulate the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which in turn allows more effective blood sugar regulation. The pancreas also needs magnesium to produce and secrete insulin.
On the other side, magnesium needs insulin to help carry it into cells where it is most needed. One study conducted at the Ghonda Diabetes Center at the City of Hope Medical Center in California purposely put subjects on a magnesium deficient diet. Each of the subjects began to develop insulin resistance, which is one of the first events leading to diabetes and heart disease. Insulin also plays a key role in storing magnesium so it can be used when needed.
As you can see, a very critical loop is active where magnesium and insulin are reliant upon each other. If there is a magnesium shortage, it creates an insulin shortage and increases insulin resistance, which develops into more serious concerns such as diabetes. Additionally, an insulin shortage reduces the body’s ability to store magnesium, which amplifies the magnesium shortage.
Magnesium helps the thyroid utilize iodine. Just as the pancreas needs magnesium to produce and secrete insulin, the thyroid needs magnesium to process iodine. Iodine is required to produce the thyroid hormone T4 (read all about the thyroid here), which acts as the key to our mitochondria, or, the energy generators in our cells. Metabolizing iodine and using the components to create this hormone is one of the chemical reactions discussed earlier that is controlled by enzymes and regulated, in part, by magnesium. A proper balance of thyroid hormones is critical to many aspects of our health.
Magnesium is essential for bone development, maintenance, and strength. Remember, 60% of the magnesium in the body is found in our bones. One of the main reasons for this is because once calcium is in the bloodstream, magnesium acts as the “truck” that carries and deposits it into the bones. If calcium enters the bloodstream and magnesium is not available, it is deposited at the ends of the bones, or in the arteries, or in the gallbladder and kidneys instead. These deposits then become bone spurs, arthritis, arterial plaque, and kidney and gallstones. This incorrect deposit also leaves the bones lacking calcium, which allows them to become more fragile, eventually developing into serious problems like osteoporosis.
Growing kids require larger amounts of magnesium to support the rapid growth of their bones. Without it, they can become magnesium deficient very easily, causing fatigue, heart palpitations, anxiety, muscle cramps, and very bad growing pains. Deep growing pains that cause a lot of issues for kids can often be resolved very easily by increasing their intake of magnesium.
Magnesium is required for muscles to relax after a contraction. Another relationship between magnesium and calcium is in the function of muscles. Calcium is the element that's necessary for the nerves to cause a muscle a contract. Magnesium is the element required for the nerves to allow the muscle to relax after a contraction. This is true for voluntary muscle contractions, such as lifting something, but is also true for the involuntary functions like the heart beating.
People suffering from muscle cramps or spasms are most likely deficient in magnesium. Cramps encompass anything that deals with tension, such as tension headaches, hypertension, plantar fasciitis, and pre-menstrual syndrome. Spasms include simple twitches of muscles in your leg, arm, or back, as well as more serious conditions like an irregular heartbeat or asthma. Bronchial tubes are muscular and when they begin to spasm, we call it an asthma attack.
Magnesium helps with RNA and DNA maintenance. The enzymes created with the sole purpose of keeping our RNA and DNA in healthy, working order, are magnesium dependent. If there is a shortage of these enzymes, or the enzymes don’t operate properly because they lack a key component like magnesium, the original strands of RNA and DNA will deteriorate. Then, the body has to “copy” the strand to fabricate a new one. Consider what happens when a photocopy is made of a document, then a copy is made of the copy, and so on. Eventually, the product cannot serve its purpose. The same thing happens when the body has to produce copies of copies of DNA or RNA constantly.
Magnesium aids in cholesterol regulation. Another magnesium-dependent enzyme is tasked with maintaining a proper amount of cholesterol in the body. Remember, magnesium acts as a co-factor which regulates the on/off switch in many of these enzymes. In this case, a deficiency in magnesium means the enzyme doesn’t receive the message to turn off production of cholesterol, causing an excess of LDL and triglycerides, which may lead to heart disease.
Statin drugs target this same enzyme, but instead of restoring the on/off switch (magnesium) to properly control cholesterol, they destroy the enzymatic process completely. While the symptom may appear to be “fixed,” the root of the problem is still present. Increasing magnesium intake to balance this process can be a key element to restoring proper cholesterol levels in the body.
While the seven roles listed here are critical to normal function in the body, they are just a few out of hundreds of ways the body uses magnesium. Understanding the importance of this macro-mineral, it is amazing that most of the population is still lacking adequate levels of magnesium.
Why the Majority of the Population Lacks Adequate Magnesium
The first reason that hinders the population from consuming enough magnesium is poor farming practices. Magnesium begins in the soil as non-bioavailable salts. Microbes in the soil are responsible for creating acids that attach to minerals and enable them to be utilized by plants. When the fields that grow crops are sprayed time and again with herbicides and pesticides, it kills the microbes needed to produce these acids. Plants cannot access the appropriate levels of magnesium (and other minerals) to fill out their nutrient profile, so they begin with a nutrient deficiency. Next, produce is often harvested well before it is ripe to facilitate processing and selling at a grocery store. This also reduces the amount of total nutrients that should be available in specific foods. Finally, to further facilitate grocery store viability, the harvest is processed to the point that 80% of the remaining nutrients are eliminated. The final product is put into a can where it's good for the next 10 years on a shelf. Eating this deficient, overly processed food leads to the second reason the population is deficient.
The next main reason people are deficient in magnesium is due to poor diet. Americans are a convenience-based society that too often chooses speed and ease over health. It is much easier to grab a burger and fries at a drive-through than it is to buy fresh, organic produce and prepare a healthy meal. Each time a choice is made to eat heavily processed foods we are making a choice to move toward illness. Think of the body as a machine and nutrients as the parts needed to keep the machine operating. The machine will begin to break down and will not function as intended if the worn-out parts are not regularly replaced. Consistently moving toward illness leads to the third factor for being deficient in magnesium.
There are nearly three dozen common pharmaceutical drugs that either inhibit the absorption of magnesium or increase its excretion by the kidneys. Drugs known to enhance deficiency are diuretics, certain antibiotics, painkillers, and cortisone. Some of the most common medications are drugs that contain estrogen, such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy; asthma medications such as epinephrine; medications used to treat irregular heartbeat; corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone; and Pentamidine, an anti-fungal drug used to prevent and treat pneumonia. Of course, there are plenty more, but this gives a good idea that many medications can play a role in nutrient deficiency. That said, some natural occurrences have the same effect.
The fourth reason the population is lacking adequate magnesium is due to stress. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol inhibit magnesium absorption and cause less restful sleep. This is a double-negative because a lack of quality rest increases your need for magnesium, which now cannot be absorbed as easily due to the cortisol. Stress can also lead to alcohol consumption, which acts as a diuretic and increases the excretion of magnesium in the urine. Epsom salt baths are a great way to decompress after a stressful day. It relaxes your muscles and increases your magnesium, which can help balance out the high cortisol levels.
How Do We Restore Proper Magnesium Levels?
Diet. The best way to increase the level of magnesium is to eat more magnesium-rich foods. Some of the best foods with the highest magnesium content are:
Almonds, walnuts, dark chocolate, cashews, figs, swiss chard, avocados, spinach, bananas, halibut, wild salmon, quinoa, artichokes, oats, black beans, buckwheat, molasses, and beet root, just to name a few.
Of course, as explained earlier, even increasing magnesium-rich foods via diet may not be enough to provide what is needed. In this case, supplementation may be the only way to restore or maintain proper magnesium levels.
Supplementation. There are many magnesium supplements on the market today in a multitude of forms. Each one acts a little different than the other. For instance, magnesium orotate is good at pulling aluminum out so magnesium can take its place. Magnesium oxide, sulfate, and Epsom salts are all pretty strong laxatives. Magnesium glycinate will cause water to pool in the bowel, which can help with constipation. Magnesium aspartate and orotate both tend to affect the brain and nervous system more. Finally, magnesium chloride is what Dr. Nuzum uses almost exclusively in clinical situations.
Dr. Nuzum’s supplement, Super Magnesium, is made by dissolving magnesium chloride flakes in distilled water until the water is so saturated it takes on an oil-like consistency. There is no oil or petroleum product in Super Magnesium. Then, acarbon-oxygen compound is added to the mixture which combines with the magnesium chloride to become magnesium oxide and magnesium carbonate. This allows for better penetration of the skin so a smaller dosage can be used to achieve results. Additionally, the magnesium oxide helps to oxygenate the system once it enters the bloodstream while the magnesium carbonate helps to neutralize acids.
Topical application of magnesium is preferred because a smaller dosage can achieve the same results as larger doses taken orally. The body can typically absorb around 25% of the indicated dosage of magnesium capsules. However, the body retains 98% of the dosage when applied and absorbed through the skin.
Next, magnesium does not absorb well through the stomach wall without taking a vitamin D supplement. Super Magnesiummixes with the vitamin D in the skin as it is absorbed, so no additional vitamin D supplementation is required as long as you get plenty of sun exposure.
Finally, supplementing with topical magnesium will not have a laxative effect, which can be common when taking magnesium orally.
In some situations where a person is very magnesium deficient, topical application can cause all the capillaries to open up to absorb as much as possible. This reaction produces a red, itchy area where the solution was applied—but should subside within minutes. If this happens, reduce the dosage to one drop per area until the reaction is not as intense, then increase to two drops, then three, and so on. Over time, as the deficiency is corrected, the reaction will no longer occur.
Magnesium should not be used in large amounts as a “cure-all” as some current trends suggest. There are a few trends going around that recommend excessive supplementation with magnesium as a “cure-all” solution. While taking massive amounts of magnesium may make a person who is deficient feel better at first, it will eventually have negative effects. Think back to the machine that needs parts replaced on a regular basis. Once the parts are replaced, it won’t do any good to add more parts. In fact, the extra parts might begin to decrease functionality, which is exactly what happens in the body. Over supplementing with one mineral may begin to displace others. Additionally, the body begins to recognize excess magnesium as a toxin and creates a plan to increase elimination. So, despite taking a large amount of magnesium, the body could still test as deficient because it is purposely expelling what it now considers a toxin. Large amounts may be required initially to correct a severe deficiency, but once the levels have started to normalize (no more than 90 days) intake should be reduced by at least 20% so the body doesn’t start to reject the supplemented mineral.
The Bottom Line About Magnesium
Consider a smartphone for a moment. If all of the memory was removed from a smartphone, how many functions would operate properly? Apps could not be downloaded or used, photos could not be stored, and the owner would have to remember every phone number because the contacts could not be saved. In fact, most of the functions that make the smartphone valuable would not work. Now consider that over 300 functions in the body rely on magnesium to work properly. Magnesium is considered a macro-mineral because it is needed in large quantities yet achieving the required amount through diet alone probably isn’t enough due to poor farming practices, the standard American diet, and pharmaceuticals. A quality supplement may be the only way to restore and maintain a healthy level of magnesium. Without this miracle mineral, the body will continue to move toward illness and become less and less useful over time.