Magnesium – A Modern-Day Mineral Superhero

Magnesium - Just as Spiderman or Superman always appears when help is needed, the essential mineral magnesium is equally reliable in coming to the rescue to protect and support our bodies. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Elsewhere in the body, magnesium helps regulate blood sugar levels; aids in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats to produce energy; promotes normal blood pressure; and is involved in neurotransmitter production, hormone production, and the synthesis of DNA and RNA. And ATP, the molecule that provides energy for almost all metabolic processes, exists primarily as a complex with magnesium. All in a day’s work for magnesium.

Most superheroes are heart throbs, and coincidentally, magnesium is literally involved with the beating of your heart. According to Dr. Stephen Sinatra, cardiologist and author of Reverse Heart Disease Now: Stop Deadly Cardiovascular Plaque Before it’s Too Late, magnesium is essential for maintaining cardiovascular health and is useful for treating a number of cardiovascular issues, including angina, arrhythmia, and high blood pressure. “As a muscle relaxer within arterial walls, magnesium alleviates chest pain and other symptoms of angina that are due to lack of oxygen to, or energy in, the heart. Ingested regularly, magnesium can help maintain vascular tone, and thus healthy blood pressure, and may also possibly reverse arterial plaques.”

Magnesium’s main hide-out is in the bones, where approximately 60 percent of total body magnesium is found (the rest is stored in muscle tissue and other cells). A magnesium deficiency can alter not only calcium metabolism but also the hormones that regulate calcium (parathyroid hormone and calcitonin), resulting in weakened bones. Several human studies have suggested that magnesium supplementation can improve bone mineral density.

Since magnesium plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism, it may influence the release and activity of insulin, the hormone that helps control blood sugar levels. Low blood levels of magnesium are frequently seen in individuals with type-2 diabetes.

The body doesn’t naturally synthesize magnesium so it has to come from the diet and/or supplements. Green vegetables such as Swiss chard and spinach contain some of the highest magnesium concentrations, while nuts and seeds including almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, and walnuts are also excellent sources. As soil becomes increasingly magnesium deficient, and cooking and processing practices leech magnesium from foods, health experts generally suggest magnesium supplementation in tandem with a healthy diet.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 350 milligrams per day for adult males and 280 milligrams per day for adult females. However, the average intake of magnesium by healthy adults in the U.S. is typically much lower. One study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health found that 68 percent of Americans are magnesium deficient, while other experts estimate that number to be closer to 80 percent. Food choices are the main reason, but other kryptonite-like factors that either reduce absorption or increase secretion of magnesium include high calcium intake, alcohol, sugar consumption, caffeine, stress, diuretics, antibiotic use, cancer medications, liver disease, kidney disease, and oral contraceptive use.

Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, poor memory, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and apathy. As magnesium deficiency worsens, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur. Since magnesium is absorbed through the small intestine, when a specific health condition causes an excessive loss of magnesium or limits absorption, as in the case of celiac disease or Crohn's disease, supplementation is often suggested.

Magnesium can be purchased as a dietary supplement in two basic forms: chelated or non-chelated. Chelated means attached to another molecule (often an amino acid); common chelated forms include magnesium orotate, magnesium glycinate, magnesium aspartate, and magnesium malate. Magnesium can also be attached to an organic acid (like citrate) or to a fatty acid (like stearate). The non-chelated forms of magnesium include magnesium oxide, magnesium sulfate, and magnesium carbonate. Some research suggests that chelated forms of magnesium bound to amino acids are better absorbed than other forms. Those suffering from kidney failure or kidney insufficiency or whose hearts already beat at a slow rate (less than 60 beats per minute) should consult with their doctor before starting magnesium supplementation.

Common Types of Magnesium Magnesium Aspartate. A mineral chelate form of magnesium containing an ion of magnesium oxide attached to the amino acid aspartic acid. Aspartic acid is a naturally- occurring amino acid found in foods but can also be made in the body. It is easily absorbed, and therefore, when bound to magnesium, increases the absorption of magnesium as well.

Magnesium Glycinate. A chelated form that is bound to the amino acid glycine. This form of magnesium is less disruptive on the bowels than other forms, which can cause diarrhea. Magnesium glycinate is easier for the body to absorb; individuals suffering from malabsorption conditions like celiac and Crohn's disease might benefit from this very bio-available form of magnesium.

Magnesium Malate. The malate form of magnesium is derived from malic acid, which plays a key role in energy production. Magnesium malate is of specific benefit to individuals such as athletes, as well as those with musculoskeletal problems like fibromyalgia. Magnesium Citrate. Derived from the magnesium salt of citric acid, this chelated form has a lower concentration, but a high level of bioavailability. Magnesium citrate is commonly used as to induce a bowel movement, but has also been studied for its ability to help prevent kidney stones.

Magnesium Oxide. Some people use this non-chelated form as an antacid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, or acid indigestion. Magnesium oxide also may be used as a laxative for short-term, rapid emptying of the bowel. Do not take magnesium oxide as an antacid for longer than two weeks unless your doctor tells you to.