If you could only supplement one nutrient, magnesium would be a good choice. Most people are not getting enough magnesium in food. Combine that with lifestyle factors and health conditions that drain your body's reserves and there are many reasons you need more magnesium.
Understanding Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium affects more than 300 processes in the body, which is why it can feel like your health (and life!) are falling apart if you don’t get enough.
Most people aren’t. Surveys show that more than 50 percent of the U.S. population is deficient in magnesium, consuming less than the U.S. government recommended intake of 400 mg per day. Not only is your magnesium intake probably inadequate, research shows that many situations warrant a higher magnesium intake than the U.S. RDA.
This article will go into how this essential mineral protects your body and give you five reasons you may need more magnesium.
Reason #1: To Balance Blood Sugar & Prevent Diabetes
A great reason to get more magnesium is to protect your metabolism. Known as the mineral of insulin sensitivity, magnesium helps insulin to bind with cell receptors. Magnesium also increases expression of GLUT 1 and 4, which are molecules that act like buses, shuttling glucose into your cells so that it can be used for energy or stored as glycogen.
Studies show that magnesium has a protective effect against diabetes, with the greatest benefit in people who have an unhealthy diet that is high in refined carbs and low in fiber. For example, one massive survey of over 150,000 Americans found that magnesium intake was inversely associated with diabetes risk, and the effect was greatest in the context of a high-carb, low-quality diet.
Take Away: For many Americans, simply getting their magnesium intake up to par could go a long way in slowing the diabetes epidemic and keeping people healthy.
Reason #2: To Counter Stress & Balance Cortisol
Battling stress on a daily basis is one reason you need more magnesium. Cortisol is a stress hormone pumped out by the adrenal glands when the going gets tough. Magnesium is necessary for the metabolism of cortisol, and it has a relaxing effect on the sympathetic nervous system. For people who are deficient in magnesium, supplementing can calm anxiety and improve sleep. It will also lower heart rate and counter the flight-or-fight response.
Take Away: A simple solution to counter the negative effects our high-stress society is to supplement with magnesium.
Reason #3: To Prevent Depression
Struggles with depression are an indicator you need more magnesium. Magnesium is one step in the neurotransmitter cascade that produces serotonin, the chemical that regulates mood and helps you feel calm and optimistic. Most anti-depressant drugs try to improve serotonin levels, but getting your magnesium up may be just as effective since it solves multiple problems at once.
For example, a new study that tested 6 weeks of supplementation of 248 mg of elemental magnesium per day found a significant decrease in depressive symptoms compared to a control group. Researchers concluded that magnesium is effective for mild-to-moderate depression in adults and that it works quickly and is well tolerated without the need for close monitoring for toxicity.
Take Away: If you’re feeling down in the dumps for any period, your first line of defense should be to get your magnesium status up to par.
Reason #4: To Optimize Physical Performance
Intense physical training is a primary reason you may need more magnesium. The body uses magnesium to sustain muscle contractions and deliver oxygen to working muscles. It also plays a role in recovery, impacting protein synthesis and your ability to tamp down inflammation that coincides with intense training.
For athletes with a high-carb intake, magnesium needs are even greater due to the role this mineral plays in metabolic function and insulin sensitivity. One reason that many serious athletes may have suboptimal blood sugar control is lack of magnesium intake.
Take Away: If you are having trouble recovering or you just don’t feel like you’re getting everything possible out of your training, try raising your magnesium intake.
Reason #5: Strengthen Bones & Prevent Fracture
Low bone density is an important sign you need more magnesium. We always think of calcium for bone health, but it does nothing if you don’t have adequate levels of magnesium and vitamin D. Magnesium activates cellular enzyme activity, allowing the body to convert vitamin D into its active form to help with calcium absorption and bone building.
Magnesium also leads to the release of the hormone calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure and draws calcium out of the blood and soft tissues and back into the bones. Further, magnesium suppresses parathyroid hormone, which breaks down bone.
Studies point to the importance of calcium and magnesium in a near equal ratio. However, the average person has a skewed intake, getting much more calcium than magnesium. Vitamin D is also important due to the integrated role of vitamin D in bone health.
Take Away: If you’re supplementing with calcium, combine it with magnesium in equal doses—and don’t forget about vitamin D!
How To Get Enough Magnesium:
Magnesium is available in leafy greens, almonds and sunflower seeds, and grains, however, the bioavailability from grains is low.
Supplementation should happen slowly so that the body can adjust. Magnesium has a relaxing effect on the bowel and if you take too much too quickly, it can lead to diarrhea or urgency going to the bathroom.
For most people, the optimal dose will be around 10 mg/kg of body weight of magnesium daily (400 to 1,200 mg).
When supplementing, opt for magnesium chelates. A chelate refers to whatever molecule the magnesium is bound with. Chelates such as glycinate, malate, and taurate are a few that are more easily absorbed than oxide, which is cheap and the form typically found in supplements.
When testing for magnesium, you need to do a red blood cell magnesium test. The standard test used by medical doctors for magnesium measures serum magnesium levels in the blood, but only about one percent of this mineral is found in the blood. Rather, about 66 percent is found in bone and 33 percent found in skeletal and cardiac muscle. Testing red blood cell magnesium reflects how it is used by the body.