Magnesium: What You Need To Know
The Amazing Mineral
We all know that the body is an amazing thing…primarily because it allows us to experience this wonderful thing, we call life.
We also know that these same bodies need the right amounts of certain nutrients to function optimally. It turns out that one of the most important nutrients of all is magnesium and without it, it’s simply impossible to feel our best.
Magnesium is required for the body to make proteins and use energy
The simple fact is our bodies are designed to move and that movement requires energy. Without it, we’re tired, get sick easily and are unable to truly enjoy our lives.
Magnesium is needed for the following two functions and its availability in the body impacts every downstream function in the body;
• It’s needed to make proteins…and everything that exists in the body is either a protein or is made by proteins.
• It’s needed to utilize energy, and everything that happens in the body requires energy (ATP).
Magnesium and Proteins
Proteins are key components of all life. When you eat protein, it breaks down and builds back up into thousands of unique proteins that fulfill critical functions in the body.
While thousands of the things that make your body work are proteins, some are not. For example, cholesterol is not a protein. Neither is anything made from cholesterol, such as estrogen and testosterone (sex hormones), cortisol (a glucocorticoid/stress response hormone), or aldosterone (a mineralocorticoid hormone that regulates your blood pressure via influences on sodium and potassium).
Enzymes are another great example…they are proteins that break things down, build things up, or convert one thing to another. Just making cholesterol requires almost 40 enzymes!
Converting cholesterol to anything else, such as a hormone, requires even more enzymes. So…thousands of things in the body are proteins and just about everything is made using these proteins.
The information needed to make each protein is stored within your DNA which are divided into genes and each gene has the information to make one protein, or a small set of proteins.
The process of making a protein from the information within a gene is called gene EXPRESSION. There are a handful of enzymes involved in expressing genes and they require magnesium. That makes magnesium necessary to produce every single protein. And since proteins make just about everything else, it makes sense that magnesium plays a central role in overall health and wellness.
Magnesium (Mg) and Energy (ATP)
All living organisms require energy for existence. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the energy currency of the body. In the making of ATP, 6 of the 8 biochemical steps require magnesium. An average adult male body contains approximately 25 grams of magnesium (50-65% within the bones). Breaking that down;
• Bone Mg = about 13,200 mg
• Muscles Mg = 6500 mg
• Other tissue Mg = 5000 mg
For the body to maintain biological balance (homeostasis), energy is required and expended. ATP must be bound to magnesium to be biologically active.
The take home here is that without magnesium we don’t produce ATP! Without ATP, the organism will not survive.
To take an example, calcium and magnesium are like an on/off switch for muscle contraction and relaxation. To allow your muscles to rest, calcium must be stored in specialized compartments so that it isn't always triggering muscular contraction. If calcium were randomly distributed, your muscles would be contracting randomly, or would just stay contracted all the time. Magnesium acts in the basic sense to relax muscle as required. More on calcium below.
In fact, the tremors of Parkinson's result from a decline in the energy spent controlling muscular contraction. And when we die, within a few hours, all of our muscles stiffen and this is known as rigor mortis. This happens because we no longer produce the energy needed to keep muscles relaxed.
The highest-energy state our bodies experience is during well-controlled, intense physical activity. Even though at rest we spend less energy, rest is not the lowest-energy state. Beneath this is loss of muscle relaxation, causing muscular tension, cramps, and poorly controlled, random activity, such as tremors and spasms. This is what happens when we fail to produce and utilize enough energy.
The basic currency of energy within your cells is ATP. There are six B vitamins that are most fundamentally involved in energy metabolism — B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B7 — all play their roles by helping us make ATP.
Iron and copper both help us make ATP, too. How does magnesium play a role here? Well, magnesium is required to stabilize the ATP molecule. Literally everything that ATP ever does ultimately requires magnesium.
The following are common signs of magnesium deficiency:
• Muscle spasms/twitches
• LOW ATP production for elevated Cholesterol or Blood Sugar Dysregulation common
• High Blood Pressure (Cardiovascular disease)
• Soft tissue calcification
• Osteopenia or Osteoporosis
Magnesium, Calcium, and Other Electrolytes
Magnesium and calcium are involved in the body in the following ways:
• The parathyroid glands make a hormone known as parathyroid hormone (PTH). When your blood runs low in calcium, PTH activates inactive vitamin D to an active hormone that helps increase the calcium in your blood.
• Since magnesium is needed to make every protein, it is needed to make PTH and to make the two enzymes needed for the two-step activation of vitamin D.
• Once activated, vitamin D causes you to express specific genes that raise the amount of calcium in your blood. Since gene expression requires making proteins, it requires magnesium.
• Since calcium is the on-switch for muscle contraction, we need to keep it sequestered in special compartments to prevent it from causing constant or irregular contraction. This requires ATP, and everything that requires ATP requires magnesium.
So, in someone with a severe magnesium deficiency, their blood levels of PTH, activated vitamin D, and calcium are all low. Doctors can inject them with PTH, or with activated vitamin D, but these treatments don't do anything because PTH can't activate vitamin D without magnesium and activated vitamin D can't bring your blood calcium back to normal without magnesium.
On top of this, calcium is not being stored properly, so muscles twitch, spasm, or cramp, and the heart may skip beats, flutter, or beat irregularly.
Since the calcium levels in your blood are low, and since calcium controls neurotransmitter release, you can also develop neurological dysfunction. When this gets pronounced, it can lead to confusion, seizures, coma, and death. Although the calcium level in your blood is running low, many tissues have more calcium than they should, and the calcium inside them is not properly sequestered. This leads to more calcium available to bind to phosphate or oxalate and cause soft tissue calcification.
As a result, magnesium deficiency can contribute to heart disease and kidney stones. If calcium is winding up in kidney stones and blood vessels where it does not belong, there is less available for the bones and teeth. That can contribute to osteoporosis, and perhaps to tooth decay.
Magnesium partners with ATP not just to control the distribution of calcium, but also to control the distribution of sodium, potassium, chloride and phosphate. The nervous system uses sodium, potassium, and chloride to control most of the activity that your neurons engage in. The loss of control over these minerals during magnesium deficiency contributes to neurological dysfunction.
Magnesium deficiency can also hurt the kidney's ability to get rid of excess sodium and phosphate. The excess sodium that results can raise blood pressure and contribute to swelling, known as edema. The excess phosphate that results can partner up with the calcium and worsen the risk of soft tissue calcification.
Magnesium and Fatigue
Many people regularly complain about feeling fatigued…unable to have enough energy to accomplish routine activities of daily living. Being unable to make or use ATP underlies most of these effects, and it will also make you feel weak and fatigued.
Magnesium and Glutamate Sensitivity, Asthma, and Pain
Magnesium acts as the off switch for some of the receptors that get activated by glutamate. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that switches neurons on. So, magnesium is an important off switch for hundreds of millions of neurons. This means magnesium might be important for preventing:
• Glutamate sensitivity, a condition where people have negative reactions to MSG, a food additive, or to fermented foods or slowly cooked protein-rich foods.
• Asthma, since glutamate can constrict the airways.
• Pain, since pain is partly governed by glutamate.
Magnesium and Hearing Loss, PMS, Pregnancy, Migraines, Diabetes
If the above effects of magnesium deficiency aren’t enough, the following illustrates the incredibly diverse areas where it causes health issues and how maintaining proper magnesium levels helps keep our bodies healthy:
• Magnesium supplements protect against noise-induced hearing loss.
• It helps with depression and PMS.
• Injections of magnesium sulfate help prevent the progression of preeclampsia to eclampsia. Preeclampsia is a complication of pregnancy involving high blood pressure and swelling. Eclampsia involves seizures and can be fatal.
• Magnesium injections are used to prevent neurological damage in infants born prematurely or admitted to intensive care shortly after birth.
• Magnesium supplementation seems to help with migraines, and severe migraines can be halted with magnesium injections. Keep in mind that headaches have many other etiologies that must be investigated by a skilled practitioner.
• In diabetics with magnesium deficiency, correcting the deficiency lessens the severity of the diabetes.
How Much Magnesium Do We Need? What is the RDA?
• Up through the age of 30, the RDA for adult men is 400 milligrams per day (mg/d) and for adult women it is 310 mg/d. These are based on the amounts needed to keep total body stores from dropping over time. For adults 31 and older, these slightly increase to 420 mg/d for men and 320 mg/d for women, based on the same criteria.
• The RDA for pregnant women adds 40 mg/d to the existing RDA for the woman's age group. This was set based on how much lean mass a woman gains during a healthy pregnancy, and how much magnesium we would expect that new lean mass to contain. Lean mass, by the way, is mostly muscle, bone, and internal organs. Everything except your fat tissue gets counted as lean mass.
• The RDA for nursing moms is kept the same as the RDA for non-pregnant women. Although a nursing mom does need to put magnesium into her milk, she will take some from her bone, along with calcium and phosphorus, and she will pee out less. Consuming extra magnesium doesn't seem to change that, perhaps because she would still need to take calcium and phosphorus from the bone even if she got more magnesium in her diet.
• For children and adolescents, the RDA is made to support the accumulation of an apparently adequate amount of magnesium during growth. This was based on data from kids aged 9 through 18 and was adjusted downward by bodyweight for younger kids. It increases from 80 mg/d in children aged 1-3, to 130 mg/d in children aged 4-8, to 240 mg/d in children aged 9-13.
• Finally, for kids aged 14-18, it increases to 410 mg/d for boys and 360 mg/d for girls. For infants, there was not enough evidence to set an RDA, but an AI was set based on average magnesium intakes and the fact that these appear to give infants sufficient accumulation of magnesium to support their growth.
• The AI for infants under six months old is 30 mg/d and for infants from six months to one year old is 75 mg/d.
• Since the RDA is based on making sure we maintain stable concentrations of magnesium in our body over time, and not on optimizing any health concerns, perhaps we would find we need even more magnesium when we start looking at health effects. However, there are almost no studies that examine whether doses higher than the RDA improve health better than doses equal to the RDA.
• After a potentially fatal event of brain bleeding, known as an aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage, magnesium levels drop. Doctors can maintain them in the normal range by giving intravenous magnesium in the amount of 1536 mg/d, which is better than giving 720 mg/d.
• Patients with chronic kidney disease develop soft tissue calcification. Magnesium supplements help with this, and one study found that in a mix of men and women, 720 mg/d was better than 360. Although 360 is below the RDA for men, when added to the amount they were already consuming in the diet, it gave them more than the RDA.
Although there are no head-to-head comparisons of different doses, studies tend to be more successful when treating migraines with 600 mg/d instead of lower doses, and when lowering blood pressure with 700 mg/d instead of lower doses.
Overall, the data supports using the RDA for a target of our basic needs and using supplements to go a little higher for specific health problems that seem related to magnesium deficiency.
Foods Rich in Magnesium
Magnesium rich foods include rice bran, dark leafy greens like spinach, lima beans, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, beans, tuna, whole grains, nuts, dark chocolate (cacao), yogurt, avocados, bananas, squash, many spices and more. Most meats per 100 grams come in between 36mg – 26mg of magnesium (please check this sentence…it doesn’t make sense to say 36 mg to 26 mg), while spinach comes in at 87 mg of magnesium per 100 grams.
Another way to increase your intake of Mg is by drinking Magnesium Water (Mg Bicarbonate). Make your own here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-op01XEQp6Q
While it is important to maintain a proper intake of magnesium through foods, it’s critical to understand the various ways that magnesium absorption is reduced or blocked in the body. The following are common factors in magnesium deficiency;
• High fiber diets can block absorption
• Diabetes complications
• Some drugs like antifungals, antibiotics, chemo, statins, birth control pills, etc.
• Alcohol consumption (urinary loss)
• Vomiting chronically
• Excessive and chronic sweating
• Grains can bind magnesium
• Legumes (phytates) – Soaking and sprouting are fine
Magnesium Supplementation: My preference is for obtaining your magnesium from whole food sources but if one desires to supplement for any reason, I would consider;
• Occasional IV infusion of magnesium. This bypasses the most common blocking factors.
• Mixed Mg supplements continue multiple forms (other than oxide). 200-400mg per day via supplementation is a reasonable starting place.
• Threonate for cognitive needs: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24077207/
• Mg Bicarbonate Water (see video above)
• Aspartate (Bioavailable at 10%) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11563416_Bioavallability_of_US_commercial_magnesium_preparations
• Mg Citrate for constipation: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.1990.10720349
• Mg Gluconate: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16548135/
• Mg Taurate: Mg Salts + Taurine
• Mg Glycinate: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7815675/
• Mg Malate: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29679349/
• Transdermal Mg (Absorption issues?):
I do like adding B6 with the magnesium, as there are several symbiotic impacts as cofactors!
Testing Magnesium Status: Quest/LabCorb both offer these:
• Serum Mg
• RBC Mg
• 24 Hour Urine
Several things can cause you to be deficient in magnesium:
• Low intake of magnesium-based foods
• Depleted soils
• Blocking factors like drugs, alkaline pH, phytates
• Mineral Balance regulator dysfunction
It’s important to note that magnesium toxicity is very rare, and magnesium is readily eliminated in fluids (diarrhea is likely). However, check kidney function if hypermagnesemia exists. If you or a patient are experiencing symptoms that you suspect may be related to a magnesium deficiency, a routine lab test for Mg levels may be indicated.
Thank you to Dr. Chris Masterjohn for his powerful influence.
Anthony Llabres BSc, MSc, FDN-P
About Anthony Llabres…
Anthony is a Certified Practitioner that works with clients from around the globe who want to make their health and wellness a primary focus.
You can read about Anthony @ www.fdnofflorida.com.