Magnesium's role in the body
Magnesium is a Goldilocks mineral: the amount you get needs to be just right. Getting too much or not enough can cause a bunch of problems. To better understand its influence, let’s examine its role in greater detail.
- The body uses magnesium to produce bone cells. It also likely protects against fractures, osteoporosis and loss of bone density. Lower-than-normal magnesium levels have been observed in women with osteoporosis.
- Magnesium has an anti-inflammatory effect and is therefore useful in cases of chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.
- The heart’s invaluable ally, magnesium relaxes blood vessel walls, which helps prevent hypertension. It also lowers the risk of arrhythmia and heart attacks.
- Magnesium prevents migraines, perhaps due to its effect on blood vessels or because it blocks the neurotransmitters linked to pain. Conversely, a magnesium deficiency increases the risk of migraines.
- It seems as though magnesium is also involved in regulating blood glucose. Furthermore, people whose diet is rich in magnesium have a lower risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
- Magnesium plays a role in metabolizing fats and favours good cholesterol.
- It plays a leading role in nerve transmission and in relaxing muscle cells after they contract. Through this action, magnesium is not only useful for the heart, but it also plays a role in managing stress and anxiety.
- This same relaxing action on muscles also lessens menstrual cramps.
A little aside: You might not know it, but magnesium is often applied externally to relieve sore muscles or simply to relax them. In fact, the Epsom salts you can add to your bath are actually magnesium sulphate. Try soaking for a while in a good, hot bath with some Epsom salts and calming essential oils like lavender or ylang-ylang. Pleasure that’s good for you… as long as you don’t drink the bathwater.
Risks associated with a deficiency
Certain factors can increase the risk of a magnesium deficiency, but it’s tough to determine whether it’s caused by an insufficient intake or over-elimination. These factors are:
- Advanced age
- Digestive problems, especially those that hamper the absorption of nutrients, such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease
- Type-2 diabetes
Careful! Some medications can also influence magnesium levels.
- Some antibiotics
- Oral contraceptives
- Other mineral supplements, because the body attempts to establish an equilibrium between the minerals it needs, such as calcium, potassium and sodium
Furthermore, if you take magnesium supplements, notify your doctor and pharmacist, as magnesium affects the absorption of certain medications.
Over the long term, insufficient magnesium levels have been linked to conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis and migraines. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) varies throughout our lives, but for women aged 31 or over, the RDA is 320 mg, while for men of the same age, it’s 420 mg per day.
The signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency
- Muscle twitching, spasms and cramps: twitching eyelids, calf cramps, etc.
- Anxiety and irritability
- Mental disorders: trouble concentrating, apathy, lack of emotion; extreme cases can include delirium and coma
- Muscle fatigue and weakness
- Asthma: deficiencies have been observed in some patients suffering from severe asthma, but magnesium’s role has not been clearly defined
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Heart arrhythmia and palpitations
- Vertigo and dizziness
- Headaches and migraines
None of these symptoms on its own indicates that you lack magnesium. There are many other possible causes. However, if you are experiencing a number of these signs and symptoms together, consider having your magnesium levels checked.
And what about too much?
Too much magnesium and you’ll end up spending a lot of time in the bathroom! Magnesium has a laxative effect and if you get more than you need, you’re likely to experience cramps, diarrhea and nausea. Note that some laxatives and antacids contain magnesium.
Food is still the best place to find your magnesium. Usually, with a healthy diet and no underlying conditions, you should be able to get plenty of magnesium. Your kidneys act as a filter, controlling the quantity of magnesium eliminated through the urine in order to maintain an appropriate equilibrium. According to recent studies, a surprising number of people don’t get enough. Here’s a list of foods containing magnesium:
- First, the good news: chocolate!!! Magnesium helps relieve menstrual cramps and chocolate contains magnesium. So chocolate is good!
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, peanuts
- Whole grains: whole wheat, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.
- Vegetables: avocados, okra, alfalfa and other sprouts, artichoke, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and Swiss chard
- Soy products: tofu, soy milk, soy yogurt, etc.
- Legumes (pulses): black beans, chick peas, kidney beans, lentils
- Ocean products: laminar seaweeds, seafood, halibut, pollock
I’m actually amazed that there’s a link between twitching eyelids, menstrual cramps, hypertension and asthma! This wide range of conditions says a lot about magnesium’s influence on health. Given all that, I think I’m going to go have a square of chocolate, because you can never be too careful!