A whole book can be written on magnesium as it is so important to human health. However, it is probably one of the most overlooked nutrients and in America alone, it is estimated that 60% of the population are deficient in this mineral.(1) Just to get an insight into the importance of this mineral, lets take a look at some of its biological functions:
● Activating muscles and nerves
● It serves as a building block for DNA and RNA synthesis
● Helps to regulate blood sugar levels
● Helps to keep the heart rhythm steady
● Helps to keep bones strong.
● Creating energy in the body by activating adensosine triphosphate (ATP)
● It’s a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin.
So without magnesium, energy cannot be produced or used in the cells, muscles cannot contract and relax, and essential hormones cannot be synthesized. Therefore, it is easy to see why a deficiency in magnesium can lead to common diseases and conditions. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with numerous conditions that have a chronic inflammatory component.
There is an increasing amount of evidence to support the health benefits of magnesium. Lets take a look at some of these specific to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Research on serum magnesium levels and C-Reactive Protein (CRP) were evaluated in 68 patients with chronic heart failure leading to hospital admission. CRP is a key inflammatory marker. These patients were given 300mg of magnesium citrate every day for 5 weeks. The results showed an inverse correlation between serum magnesium levels and CRP. The researchers concluded that oral supplementation with magnesium to heart failure patients significantly reduces blood levels of CRP.(2)
There is an interesting study that was published in Diabetes Care. The aim of this study was to examine whether and to what extent magnesium intake is related to systemic inflammation and metabolic syndrome. There were 11,686 women, 45 years of age or over, participating in the Women’s Health Study who were initially free of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The results of this study showed that magnesium intake was inversely associated with plasma CRP concentrations. This suggests that magnesium intake is inversely associated with systemic inflammation and the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in middle-aged and older women.(3)
Magnesium has been found to be a natural calcium channel blocker, which is important because excess calcium is a very potent pro-inflammatory substance. Calcium needs to be balanced with magnesium in a 1:1 ratio but also factoring in the amount of calcium we are getting from our diets already.
All of this tells us that magnesium is an incredibly important mineral and that we may not be getting enough in our diets. Foods rich in magnesium are dark leafy greens such as raw spinach and kale. 1 cup of spinach provides approximately 157mg of magnesium. Nuts and seeds such as almonds, pistachio, brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds are also a good source. Pumpkin seeds provide 369mg of magnesium in half a cup. Fish is also a good source of magnesium, particularly mackerel as well as wild salmon and tuna. Avocados and bananas contain good amounts of magnesium.
Dosage and Buying Tips
The RDA or recommended dietary allowance for magnesium intake is 400-420 mg/day for men and 310-320 mg/day for women. However, we need to bear in mind that the RDA was developed as a minimum amount to prevent deficiency and is not an optimal level for your individual needs. For those of you that are involved in sports, whether that is athletics, weight training, marathons, swimming and so on, you may want to consider a performance daily intake which is up to 800mg daily.
Magnesium has a relatively low bio-availability and the body typically only absorbs 20-50% of the magnesium ingested. Magnesium oxide has the lowest bio-availability with absorption rates as low as 4%. If one was to take the commonly recommended dosage of 300-400 mg magnesium per day of magnesium oxide, it could equate to a usable dosage of only 12-16 mg. Thats not going to be of much help so it is best to avoid magnesium oxide supplements which are the most common supplements available.
The best type of magnesium supplement is magnesium chloride as this is the most bio-available. Magnesium citrate is another form of magnesium that has good bio-availability and many typical supplements on the market contain 200 - 400mg per tablet.
Magnesium oil and magnesium bath salts are alternatives which provide a concentrated transdermal supplementation. This delivers magnesium through the skin, bypassing the gastro-intestinal tract and providing rapid absorption. Magnesium chloride is also available as flakes which can be dissolved in water so you can top up your magnesium levels whilst relaxing in the bath.
Magnesium citrate is also used as an osmotic laxative, which means it relaxes your bowels and pulls water into your intestines when used in larger doses. Therefore, it may be wise to monitor how you feel when taking this type of magnesium orally.
If you have kidney disease, myasthenia gravis, atrial fibrillation or a slow heart rate, then magnesium supplementation could potentially make your condition worse. It is wise to consult with your doctor if you have an existing condition before taking any supplement.
Sports & fitness nutritionist, researcher and author on a mission to improve the human condition. Focusing on evidence-based and outcome-based nutrition, training, mindset & environment