Magnesium (Mg) is an essential element that comes from the soil. A significant percentage of our world population has a deficiency of Mg. It is involved in over 300 known biological processes, so a low level can manifest as several problems that are seemingly not related, such as high blood pressure, migraine and other headaches, muscle spasms, seizures, PMS and osteoporosis.
Measurement of Mg is not something that is done routinely, and if a doctor orders a standard blood (serum) Mg test, it will not accurately reflect a deficiency. This is because most Mg resides within the cells, not the bloodstream. An intracellular Mg test often confirms that levels are low even if the blood level is normal or high.
“Within Normal Limits”
Measuring and dosing Mg properly requires familiarity with the pitfalls of lab testing. The “normal range” is based on testing a group of people and using these measurements to statistically predict a normal range.
If we know that a large percentage of our population is low in Mg, it is possible that what we consider normal range may be low. This is certainly true for other lab tests, such as Vitamin D and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, which have had their normal ranges adjusted recently. With Mg and other nutrients, staying on the higher side of normal is prudent.
Benefits of Mg
- Bowel Function. Low Mg can be a significant contributor to constipation. On the other hand, if the bowels are given more Mg than they can absorb (or the wrong form of Mg), then it can draw fluids into the bowel, causing diarrhea. Taking the proper form of Mg is necessary for optimal absorption.
- Muscle. Mg is intimately involved with muscle contraction and relaxation. It works closely with calcium. If Mg is low, muscles can have difficulty relaxing, or even spasm. This is often a factor in PMS muscle stiffness, pain and cramps, high blood pressure, migraines and other headaches and other conditions. Epsom salt is Mg sulfate.
- Heart. There is a statistically significant relationship between low Mg levels in a community’s drinking water and the rate of heart attacks in that community. This is because many heart attacks, more so in women than men, are due to spasm of the coronary arteries rather than clogging by plaque.
- Energy. Mg is critical for energy production in every cell of the body. This is most apparent when it comes to muscles, which require a lot of energy when functioning. Low Mg can manifest as muscle weakness or fatigue. Since the heart is a big muscle, generalized fatigue or feeling out of breath can be due to low Mg. Sometimes muscle pain after exercise is another manifestation.
- Bone. As with muscle, bone needs a balance of calcium and Mg to have optimal strength. While many women focus on calcium intake, Mg intake may be even more critical. Many supplements formulated for women do not have sufficient Mg, or they have it in a form that is not well absorbed.
- Aluminum Absorption. One of the factors involved in Alzheimer’s dementia is aluminum acting as a toxin for brain cells. Mg competes with aluminum for transport into brain cells, blocking its absorption.
- Other Functions. Mg is involved in hundreds of biochemical processes of our body. It’s a basic ingredient, almost as ubiquitous as water.
For most of us, the risks of Mg supplementation are small for the body and the wallet. It is a relatively inexpensive supplement. If we take too much Mg, or increase intake too quickly, it will simply cause loose bowel movements. On the other hand, the risks of taking too little Mg are greater than those of taking too much.
Magnesium Nutrients and Supplements
While Mg is relatively easy to supplement, many patients have low Mg values even after supplementation. Absorption requires normal gastrointestinal function. Dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome, conditions where the gut is not working properly, will cause malabsorption.
Food sources of Mg include nuts and whole grains, but most of us would benefit by taking additional Mg as a supplement. The best way to add Mg is to go slowly and work with an experienced practitioner that can help with testing and proper dosing forms.
Michael Cheikin, M.D., practices holistic medicine and physiatry at Center for Optimal Health, in Plymouth Meeting. For more information, call 610-239-9901, email [email protected] or visit CohLife.org. February 2019