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Magnificent Magnesium

Nathan Zassman

This article was featured in Lifestyles55 (in two parts)

According to Bruce Ames, the famous professor of biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, we need a healthy diet and about 28 micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids) each day to slow down the aging process, keep our minds sharp, and help prevent DNA damage that can lead to the diseases of aging, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune system dysfunction, dementia and cataracts.

Ames' Triage Theory predicts that the consequence of a deficiency of even a single micronutrient like magnesium can result in DNA damage that is equal to the damage caused by radiation.

The second most abundant mineral in soft tissue (after potassium), magnesium is critical for energy metabolism, and is vital to the production of ATP (required for energy), which the body requires for mental, physical and biochemical processes. It also relaxes muscles and to help reduce stress, as it acts as a natural tranquilizer and anti-stress mineral, while helping to improve sleep by reducing the stress hormone cortisol.

Magnesium is a critical co-factor for the production of proteins, enzymes, and over 300 biochemical and enzymatic reactions in the body. It plays an important role in the synthesis of proteins, the metabolism and utilization of carbohydrates and fats, and the synthesis of glutathione, the most important antioxidant in the body. Magnesium inhibits platelet aggregation which may help prevent blood clots, and helps to relax and dilate blood vessels, improving circulation.

Magnesium is required for growth and development, maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, regulating heartbeat, wound healing, temperature regulation, cognitive performance and mental health, heart and skeletal muscle contraction, building bone mineral density and immune function. A recent meta-analysis of 11 controlled trials found that magnesium supplementation may reduce chronic inflammation. As an important co-factor for the production of detoxification enzymes, magnesium helps the body eliminate toxins, including lead, mercury, aluminum, cadmium and arsenic.

Because magnesium is required for so many biological and biochemical processes, a deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms and conditions that may not seem related. Estimates are that at least 60% of North Americans are deficient in magnesium. While magnesium deficiency can be due to a poor diet, many prescription drugs deplete magnesium. With age, many have a gradual decrease in the stomach acid required to break down and assimilate minerals. In addition, the mineral levels in foods are decreasing due to farming practices and soil quality.

Early symptoms of magnesium deficiency include fatigue (physical and mental), irritability, twitching under the eyes, leg and muscle cramps, foot pain, muscle spasms, loss of appetite, numbness or tingling, abnormal heart rhythm and back pain. Other symptoms can include neck pain, upper back, neck and shoulder tension, tension headaches, TMJ (jaw joint pain), bruxism (jaw clenching, teeth grinding), constipation, menstrual cramps, difficulty swallowing, sensitivity to loud noises, adjusting to bright oncoming headlights, insomnia, breast tenderness, anxiety, hyperactivity (the inability to sit still), lack of mental focus, panic attacks and agoraphobia. Craving salt, carbohydrates and cocoa (cocoa/chocolate is high in magnesium) can also be a symptom of magnesium deficiency.

Dr. Norman Shealy states, "Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency" and that, "magnesium is the most critical mineral required for electrical stability of every cell in the body. A magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other nutrient." Magnesium may be the most important micronutrient needed by the body, after oxygen, pure water and nutritious food. Dr. Marc Sircus, a magnesium authority, believes magnesium deficiency is directly related to diabetes and is at the root of many if not all cardiovascular problems.

Magnesium can help improve sleep quality, fight fatigue and may lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that more than 50% of pre-diabetics given magnesium supplements saw improvements in fasting and post-meal blood glucose levels as well as insulin resistance. As well, magnesium improves insulin sensitivity and can reduce the risk of retinopathy. Magnesium improves blood clotting, can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces muscle spasms including leg cramps and restless legs, and helps alleviate asthma symptoms, kidney stones, osteoporosis and migraine headaches.

Magnesium deficiency is also a common cause of constipation. Increasing fibre, probiotics, drinking plenty of pure water and magnesium can almost always cure chronic constipation and normalize bowel function.Magnesium-rich foods

If magnesium levels are very low, it may not be possible to raise them to the normal range initially through oral supplementation. IV injections, foot baths or bathing in water with 1-2 cups of magnesium chloride crystals or flakes, or transdermal application of magnesium oil (rubbing it into or spraying on the skin), can more rapidly increase cellular magnesium levels, and can be effective for quickly reducing muscle spasms and cramps. Bathing in magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salts), as it is excreted more quickly, is not as effective as magnesium chloride or Dead Sea Salts.

As magnesium is the centre of the chlorophyll molecule, all green vegetables contain this magnificent mineral. As Dr. Ames says, "eat your spinach." Excellent sources include Swiss chard, nuts including almonds, yogurt, seeds (especially pumpkin), whole grains, sardines, salmon, cocoa and animal foods.

A healthy diet, supplemented with vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids (when necessary), regular exercise and sufficient rest and sleep are critical factors in achieving optimum health and wellness. If you have any of the symptoms described above, I recommend supplementing with 300-400 mg of elemental magnesium, in divided doses. Higher levels are sometimes required, as individual requirements can vary. If you find the magnesium has a laxative effect, reduce the dosage. The health benefits can be remarkable.

Part II

In last month's article, I discussed the wide range of health benefits associated with magnesium supplementation. Choosing the most effective supplement can be a challenge, so below I've outlined the most popular types and their different properties. Many formulas combine magnesium with calcium, as magnesium's laxative properties can offset calcium's constipating effects. However, when taken together these minerals can compete for absorption, so I recommend taking magnesium on its own. If you are looking for a Cal-Mag formula, I prefer a supplement containing a 2:1 ratio of magnesium to calcium.

Naturally occurring liquid ionic magnesium is often recommended for older people who may be low in the gastric acid needed to assimilate other forms of magnesium. It's easy to add a few drops to food and drink throughout the day. I recommend 40 drops daily (supplying a total of 260 mg).

Magnesium Chelates

Magnesium is usually combined with another element to form a chelate. The combination used results in different levels of absorption, and the added molecule can have complementary health benefits. The most popular forms of magnesium listed here include the elemental amount and bioavailability (if known). The actual percentage of magnesium varies depending on the material it's combined with. The bioavailability is even more important as this indicates how well the product raises magnesium levels in the body.

Transdermal Application and Bathing

Magnesium chloride is available as flakes, crystals, and a liquid called magnesium oil: a supersaturated solution of magnesium chloride and water. Magnesium chloride products for transdermal application can be rubbed on the skin or used in baths. Magnesium sulfate is the form of magnesium found in Epsom salts. Not normally ingested, it is most often absorbed through the skin by bathing (10% elemental, bioavailability is not known). Available as bath crystals, Dead Sea salts are superior to Epsom salts as they contain magnesium chloride (about 34%) and other minerals including calcium and potassium which many find helpful for dry, itchy skin.

Dietary Supplements

Sourced from the Great Salt Lake, ConcenTrace and Magnesion are liquid supplements that contain 72 ionic trace minerals, with 99% of the sodium removed. Also high in chloride, these supplements help the body produce hydrochloric acid in the stomach to aid digestion.

Magnesium oxide is the least expensive form of magnesium. It isn't as well-absorbed as other forms and can have strong laxative effects. Despite these issues, this form has been successfully used in clinical trials for the treatment of migraines, hypertension, PMS, and restless legs. Magnesium oxide is 60% elemental, but with only 4% bioavailability. Compared to the other options, I don't generally recommend magnesium oxide other than for use as a laxative.

Magnesium citrate combines magnesium with citric acid. It's highly bioavailable, particularly for people with low stomach acid, but like magnesium oxide, it can have a strong laxative effect if too much is consumed at one time. It's best to take smaller amounts throughout the day. Well known for its stress-relieving effects, Natural Calm is a pleasant-tasting magnesium citrate powder that becomes ionic when dissolved in hot water. Magnesium citrate is 16% elemental magnesium with a bioavailability of 90%.

Magnesium glycinate combines magnesium with the amino acid glycine. Glycine also has a relaxing effect which is synergistic with magnesium. As minerals are normally bound to amino acids in food, this form is absorbed well and doesn't have the laxative effects associated with some other products. Sometimes called bis-glycinate, magnesium glycinate is 14% elemental magnesium with 90% bioavailability. Many magnesium bis-glycinate products are buffered with magnesium oxide to boost elemental magnesium levels and reduce manufacturing costs, so it's important to read labels carefully. If the capsule or tablet contains more than 120 mg of magnesium, it's likely buffered with magnesium oxide.

Magnesium malate combines magnesium with malic acid, and is often recommended for the treatment of fibromyalgia, as malic acid is involved in energy production. Many have found this form can help ease muscle tenderness and pain, but it's also great for general supplementation. Magnesium malate is only 6.5% elemental magnesium but the malic acid enhances its benefit for energy production and muscle pain relief.

Very well absorbed, magnesium aspartate is a chelate of magnesium and aspartic acid. It's also recommended for treating fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Studies have found that three weeks of supplementation with a combination of magnesium and potassium aspartate can restore energy levels. Magnesium aspartate is 15% elemental with 70% bioavailability; however, as with magnesium malate, aspartate synergistically helps to boost energy.

An interesting, highly-absorbable product, magnesium asporotate is a combination of magnesium aspartate, magnesium citrate, and magnesium orotate. It's also found in a patented formula called ZMA which pairs zinc monomethionine aspartate with magnesium asporatate. ZMA is promoted for improved exercise performance and more restorative sleep. As zinc is also an important mineral (especially for immune function), this combination is excellent for overall health improvement.

Magnesium orotate is a well-absorbed chelate of magnesium and orotic acid that is recommended for improving cardiovascular health. Studies have found it can boost exercise performance and improve symptoms of angina.

A chelate of magnesium and the amino acid taurine, magnesium taurate can help improve insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular health. Magnesium taurate is only 9% elemental magnesium, but taurine's synergistic properties improve its health benefits.

Magnesium threonate combines magnesium with the vitamin C metabolite L-threonate. Developed by researchers at MIT, this is one of the most exciting new forms of magnesium, with clinically proven cognitive benefits. This is the only form of magnesium that has been shown to cross the blood brain barrier.

I hope this information makes it easier to select the most efficacious method of increasing magnesium levels. With over 300 enzymatic and biochemical reactions in the body dependent on it, magnesium is critical for achieving optimum health.

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