How and why to supplement with magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is widespread according to many sources, including a research article published in the British Medical Journal. (1)

What’s the big deal?

Magnesium is the second most abundant mineral within our cells and essential for the proper functioning of over 300 enzymes – wow! These important functions include the very replication of our DNA!  90% of the magnesium in our bodies is stored in the bone and muscle. This makes deficiency difficult to determine through serum tests because the magnesium is only pulled into our blood as necessary.

Magnesium deficiency is now believed to be an underlying cause of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Researchers also believe the majority of people do not meet the daily intake requirement of magnesium. Consequences of deficiency include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) – due to magnesium’s effect on maintaining fluid levels and nitric oxide.
  • Atherosclerosis and calcification of the of the blood vessels, heart, liver and skeletal muscles.
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) – due to dysregulation of the sodium and potassium balance within and between our cells.
  • Coronary artery disease (increased death from heart disease has been observed in areas with low-magnesium drinking water).

Signs of magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency can range from mild to severe. In addition to those listed above, other signs include

  • Muscle cramps, spasm or weakness
  • Fatigue (magnesium is involved in the production of our cellular energy)
  • Neurological symptoms including confusion, irritability or aggression
  • Sleep problems
  • Migraines, and much more

Who needs to supplement?

In my clinical experience I have noticed that exercise increases our requirement for magnesium. So does chronic stress, including normal stressors of modern life (even if you have good coping mechanisms to deal with stress).

Ideally, we want to get as much of our nutrition as possible from food. Unfortunately, our food no longer contains the quantities of minerals it used to. And while organic food has been demonstrated time and again to contain more nutrients, it is still less nutritious than food from 100 years ago.

Furthermore, although grains are a good source of magnesium, they must be whole as well as properly prepared for two important reasons:

1. Refined grains like white flour have had most of their minerals removed with the germ and bran.

2. Unsoaked or unfermented whole grains cannot provide many bioavailable minerals because phytates in the germ and bran have not been deactivated. (2)

Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains all contain magnesium.

Most of the best food sources of magnesium are plant foods. (3) (4) (NB do not consume edamame!) Remember that plant foods need to be balanced with adequate quantities of animal fats and proteins from animal sources (first-class protein). Steer clear of the growing fad “plant- based diet” – this approach provides plenty of magnesium in theory but is a sure way to end up with deficiencies of other essential nutrients!

So, with the combination of added stress in our lives using up magnesium and then reduced quantity available to us in our food, this makes supplementation a sensible choice for many people.

So how do I supplement magnesium?

Oral supplementation may be overrated. Magnesium is not well absorbed through our digestive tract when taken in supplement form. This is especially the case for magnesium oxide which is so poorly absorbed it serves as an effective laxative!

Transdermal (through the skin) supplementation is my choice. Magnesium is a small element and easily absorbed through the skin. Hence the long tradition of Epsom salt baths, which is simply magnesium sulphate! It’s easy to supplement with magnesium by using Epsom salts. Simply enjoy a regular warm bath with half to one cup of Epsom salts added. Alternatively, make your own magnesium ‘oil’ for pennies (it has an oily feel but is not really an oil).

Easy magnesium oil recipe:

I use a 100 ml dropper bottle, or you can use a glass jar. Fill one third of the way with Epsom Salts, add a generous pinch of sea salt (for extra minerals) and fill with water (preferably filtered). Shake occasionally until dissolved (it takes many hours). After a shower, apply 1-2 droppers full (or 1-2 tsp) alternating on different parts of your body each day, or on exercise days.

Magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) versus magnesium chloride

Epsom salts are simply magnesium sulphate (MgSO4). There are a number of commercial magnesium ‘oils’ on the market, usually made with magnesium chloride (MgCl2). Although Epsom salts are slightly less well-absorbed than magnesium chloride, you get the double benefit of magnesium PLUS sulphate, a very beneficial molecule for which there is also evidence of widespread deficiency. (5)

It stings!

Some people experience prickles or a stinging sensation when applying magnesium oil. This is believed, ironically, to be a sign of magnesium deficiency. If you experience this, dilute further then build up as you tolerate it.

I’m supplementing with magnesium but still get leg cramps!

In this case, the tissue salt Mag Phos 6X can make all the difference. This low potency homeopathic remedy somehow helps your body utilise the magnesium so that it goes to the right places and performs the right functions. Please do not use homeopathic remedies higher than 6X potency without consulting a qualified homeopath.

So there you have the low-down on magnesium!