The Magnificent Micronutrient
Almost everyone is looking to be better or do better at something. I don't know anyone who is completely content and wants nothing to change. This applies to many facets in life including health.
Regardless of what lifestyle diet you try to follow (ketogenic, raw food, vegan, vegetarian, weight watchers, paleo, Mediterranean, flexetarian, open, etc.) you have to ensure your body gets adequate nutrients to keep it running efficiently. Maximize your chances by eating a balanced diet rich in a multitude of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and protein. Remember without good nutrition, your body becomes prone to disease, infection, fatigue, and poor performance.
Nutrients are split into macronutrients and micronutrients. There are three macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates and fat. Each have their own specific roles and functions in the body. This is why we need large amounts of these every day to stay healthy! Micronutrients are no less important than macronutrients even though we need far less (quantity) daily. Micronutrients work in tandem with macronutrients to keep you healthy and are crucial for energy, metabolism, cellular function and disease prevention. Their main function is to enable the many chemical reactions to occur in your body. There are three micronutrient types (vitamins, minerals, & antioxidants.)
The micronutrient magnesium is a mineral that is particularly interesting because it plays a key role in health - but most people don't get enough. Due to chronic diseases, medications, decreased magnesium content in food, and the prevalence of processed foods, the vast majority of us are at risk of magnesium deficiency. Even worse, because blood magnesium levels do not reflect intracellular magnesium (where 99% of your magnesium is) most cases of magnesium deficiency remain undiagnosed. Consuming the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium is just enough to keep you going, but not enough to improve your magnesium levels and actually be healthy. Unfortunately less than half of us get even the RDA level of magnesium.
Magnesium is necessary for the functioning of over 300 enzymes, helps maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a strong immune system, keeps the heart beating properly, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aid in the production of energy and protein. Low levels of magnesium are associated with a number of chronic conditions including migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Magnesium deficiency is one of those conditions that often doesn't cause immediate symptoms, so it can remain undiagnosed for a long time. However over time, it can lead to more serious problems including:
· Loss of appetite
· Nausea and vomiting
· Fatigue and weakness
· Muscle contractions and cramps
· Personality changes
· Abnormal heart rhythms
· Low blood calcium and potassium level.
Having adequate stores and consistently getting enough magnesium has many benefits including:
· Increasing energy levels (Because of its close relationship with cellular energy or ATP)
· Calming nerves by interacting with your hormones
· Having a good restful night’s sleep by reducing muscle contractions and pain
· Relieving muscle cramps, aches and pain
· Reducing both the frequency and severity of migraine attacks
· Improve the mood, reduce water retention and other symptoms in women with PMS
· Reducing blood pressure in those with high blood pressure
· Reducing inflammation and subsequent pain
· Improve blood sugar regulation
· Reducing some symptoms of depression
· Improves digestion by relieving constipation and improving regularity
The RDA recommendation for magnesium in women is 310–320 mg/day while men need 400-420 mg/day. For teenagers it’s 350 mg/day and for pregnant women it’s 400 mg/day. However we know that less than half of us meet those levels.
Although magnesium is a ubiquitous mineral, there is no major food that provides an extremely high amount of magnesium. In addition, the percentage of magnesium present in food has decreased dramatically over the years. Most people can get significant magnesium by eating leafy greens, unrefined whole grains, beans, nuts, and fish. However, most of us have diets that are lacking in these foods. Combine a lack of these foods with the hectic schedule of modern life and avoidance diets and it’s easy to see why we are coming up short on magnesium.
Some of us are susceptible to having low magnesium levels. People who abuse alcohol or have Crohn's, celiac and diabetes are likely to have reduced magnesium absorption.
Another compounding factor is STRESS! When we are stressed we use and eliminate more magnesium. Also certain conditions and drugs (e.g. heartburn drugs and diuretics), as well as intense physical activity cause us to increase the elimination rate.
Realistically, virtually everyone regardless of diet should be supplementing with magnesium daily. Hitting the RDA is the BARE MINIMUM and we should aim higher. Excessive magnesium (Hypermagnesemia) is exceedingly rare because your kidneys work to get rid of the excess. Overdose is most often seen in people with kidney failure after taking medications containing magnesium, such as laxatives or antacids.
When selecting your magnesium supplement there are key points to look for:
Solubility – Powdered magnesium that stays soluble in liquids is easier to absorb than capsules, tablets, other powders or chalky liquids (suspensions).
Bioavailability – Look at the form of magnesium. Some forms (Magnesium citrate, and Magnesium ascorbate) are more bioavailable. Look for absorption enhancers (vitamin C and inulin) to further boost absorption levels.
Elemental level – Look at the amount of actual magnesium. Taking 500mg of Magnesium gluconate will only give you 27mg of magnesium (Magnesium gluconate is only 5% actual magnesium). Look for the elemental (or actual magnesium) level on product labels.
I use Easy Vitamins & Minerals brand Magnesium. It’s a soluble powder, easy to take, high in elemental magnesium, has no taste when mixed in citrus drinks, causes no stomach upset and includes Fiberrific (inulin) and vitamin C making it one of the most absorbable magnesium products available.
No supplement can take the place of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Start with a healthy foundation of a well balanced diet, ample water and exercise. Supplement your healthy lifestyle with supplemental magnesium to reap the healthy rewards.
Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.