Essential Minerals 1 - Magnesium

 a tile showing the chemical properties of magnesium

For the first article in my series on vitamins and minerals, it seems appropriate that I begin with one of the most essential, yet one of the most overlooked, of all our nutrients: magnesium. This micronutrient plays a vital role in the proper functioning of every organ in the body and is involved in over 300 chemical processes.

 Magnesium Cheat Sheet

Magnesium is readily found in many common foods yet, despite its ease of access, around 70% of us in the U.K. are thought to be magnesium deficient. That means that over two thirds of us are not eating enough magnesium-rich foods to support our bodies' essential functions.

 

What it does and why we are deficient

As stated above, magnesium plays an important role in over 300 chemical processes, including regulating the heartbeat, helping brain cells to communicate with each other, strengthening bones, regulating blood glucose, regulating the nervous system and muscle function. So it really is a wonder-mineral, however more and more of us are becoming deficient and the reasons are becoming apparent. As with any mineral, magnesium is found within the earth and so has to be taken in through the food we eat. Modern agriculture methods are causing soil depletion, which means that there are less minerals for crops to absorb as they grow. Additionally, rising digestive disorders and drugs such antibiotics can damage our ability to absorb the magnesium that we do ingest, meaning that we need more than even, just at the time when our natural sources are giving us less.

It has also recently been discovered that magnesium is critical in the activation of nerve channels that are involved in synaptic plasticity. This basically means that magnesium is essential for learning and memory


 A selection of magnesium-rich foods, including dark chocolate, milk, spinach, figs, brown rice, almonds, bananas, swiss chard, black beans and avocados. Photo by Alicia Bennett

Symptoms and Effects of Magnesium Deficiency:

How can you tell if you are magnesium deficient? Because of the wide variety of jobs that magnesium is responsible for, a correspondingly wide array of symptoms can accompany a deficiency. These include:

  • Insomnia
  • Migraines
  • Twitching and spasms
  • Mood Swings
  • Increased PMS
  • Muscle cramps
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Anxiety

These symptoms, while already distressing enough, can actually be a warning of a more serious underlying condition, brought on or contributed to by the magnesium deficiency, including:

  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Multiple sclerosis (M.S.)
  • Glaucoma
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Asthma
  • Metabolic syndrome

The best way to test for a magnesium deficiency is to ask your doctor to perform a blood test. This will give you a pretty reliable result. Be sure to let them know of any symptoms you may be experiencing when at your appointment.

 

How to meet your magnesium quota

The NHS in the U.K. recommends that men take 300mg of magnesium daily, while for women the level is 270mg. A good starting point for achieving this is with your food. Despite the issue of soil depletion, there are still plenty of delicious foods that provide a good source of magnesium. Here is a selection of ingredients to include in your diet:

 Dark Chocolate and Figs are wonderful sources of magnesium. Photo by Alicia Bennett
  • Spinach: 1 cup = 157mg
  • Swiss Chard: 1 cup = 150mg
  • Black Beans: 1 cup: 120mg
  • Almonds: 1/4 cup: 96mg
  • Cashews: 1/4 cup: 91mg
  • Dark chocolate: 28g: 64mg
  • 1 Avocado: 39mg
  • 1 Banana: 37mg
  • Broccoli: 1 cup: 32mg
  • Brussels sprouts: 1 cup: 32mg

 

Supplementing magnesium

As you can see from the sample sources above, it shouldn't be too difficult to achieve your quota of magnesium from food sources. However, there may be times when this is not feasible and supplements may be your next choice. Similar to vitamin C, excess magnesium is easily flushed out of the body in urine and toxicity is usually not an issue. Mild side effects, such as nausea, cramping or diarrhoea may occur in the case of over ingestion so you should always stick to the recommended dosage where possible. Some of the most effective forms of magnesium supplements are: 

  • Magnesium Citrate - easily absorbed and good for constipation as it has a slight laxative effect.
  • Magnesium Taurate - good for people with cardiovascular issues, easily absorbed and has no laxative properties.
  • Magnesium Glycinate - one of the most bio-available and absorbable forms of magnesium. This is also one of the safest options available.
  • Magnesium Chloride - is best for detoxing cells and tissues. Chloride (not chorine) aids kidney function and can boost sluggish metabolism.
  • Magnesium Carbonate - this is a good choice for people suffering from indigestion and acid reflux as it contains antacid properties.
  • Magnesium L-threonate - this is a form of magnesium that can boost cognitive abilities. It provides a form of magnesium that effectively crosses the blood-brain barrier and positively effects synapses. 

Some of the worst forms of magnesium are:

  • Magnesium Oxide - poor absorbtion.
  • Magnesium Sulphate - good for constipation but easy to overdose.
  • Magnesium Glutamate and Magnesium Aspartamate - can be neurotoxic.

Please check back next week, when I will be taking a look at another vital micronutrient: copper.

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