Magnesium in a nutshell:
Magnesium is hugely important in the body and most of us do not get enough. Besides being cofactor in hundreds of enzyme reactions, magnesium helps the flow of other ions in and out of cells. It’s also vital in the the storage of energy in our bodies, as well as in DNA and RNA. In fact, it’s really hard to give a brief overview. Deficiency may contribute to insomnia, asthma, attention deficit syndrome, anxiety, fatigue and a host of other conditions. You can get more details in our comprehensive article on this amazing mineral.
Best source of magnesium for Juicers
Magnesium can be found in a wide range of vegetables, so it should be easy enough to mix up a nice batch of magnesium rich juice. Choose from the following: beet greens, spinach, parsley, dandelion leaves, garlic, blackberries, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery.
Magnesium is the mineral everyone needs and most people don't get in adequate amounts in their diets. Correcting dietary deficiencies in magnesium is easy and inexpensive and can make an enormous difference in your health.
Alternative names: Magnesium.
Common forms of magnesium in supplements include magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts, named after the village of Epsom in England where they were found in a farmer's well) and also magnesium chloride, magnesium citrate, magnesium gluconate, magnesium orotate, and magnesium oxide.
Magnesium hydroxide is mixed with water to make Milk of Magnesia, a laxative and remedy for acid stomach. Magnesium bromide is used as a sedative, although the sedative action is due to the bromide, not the magnesium. Magnesium borate, magnesium salicylate, and Epsom salts are used as antiseptics. Gymnasts use magnesium carbonate powder to enhance their grips on balance beams.
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium, appropriately enough, was first noted in the literature of medicine and science on the Greek island of Magnesia, about 500 years before the Common Era. This island produced a "male" magnetic rock than came be to known as lodestone and then as iron, and a "female" rock that did not attract other rocks but that could be used to make colored glass. The "female" rock is now known as magnesium dioxide.
Magnesium sulfate is known as Epsom salts in the English-speaking world. Its name comes from the village of Epsom in England, where a farmer dug a well that produced a sour water that his cows would not drink, but which turned out to have the power to cure rashes and skin infections. Epsom salts have been used as a "cooling agent" for over 2,000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
All of the health applications of magnesium involve magnesium compounds. Elemental magnesium is a highly reactive mineral that does not exist in its pure form in nature. Even when magnesium is smelted from rocks or ore, it quickly reacts with the oxygen in the air to form a crust of magnesium oxide. Its ability to react with tens of thousands of chemical compounds makes it an essential element in every cell in every living organism on the planet. About 11% of the salt in seawater is made of various kinds of magnesium compounds, and magnesium is the ninth most abundant element in the human body.
What Does Magnesium Do in the Human Body?
One of the most important functions of magnesium is hardly ever mentioned. Magnesium gives structure to water and water gives structure to crystals of magnesium compounds. Compared to other common minerals like sodium and potassium, magnesium forms a small, compact ion when it gives up two of its electrons to form chemical compounds. The geometry of the magnesium ion makes it a "magnet" for six molecules of water, which orient themselves around magnesium.
When magnesium forms crystals (which primarily occurs in the bones in the human body), its ability to coordinate water with its structure makes the resulting crystal harder without need for as much mineral content. And when positively charged ions of magnesium find their way into cells, their ability to form a crystal-like structure with water keeps other positively charged ions, such as sodium and potassium, at safe distances from each other and from negatively charged structures in the cell.
This phenomenon is especially useful in the human body when there is excess consumption of sugar. The way cells absorb glucose with the help of insulin activates a molecular channel that is just wide enough to pull one molecule of glucose (at a time) into the cell. Every time a cell uses this channel to absorb just one molecule of glucose sugar, it has to expel two positively charged ions of potassium and take in three positively charged ions of sodium.
If there isn't enough magnesium in the cell, the excess sodium literally can swell the cell, sucking water inside. Magnesium and water in a neat array, however, can keep sodium away from these molecular channels and preserve the shape and organization of the cell. This keeps the mitochondria from being distorted into unproductive shapes and also protects the helical structure of DNA. Since every cell needs a slightly negative electrical charge to absorb nutrients and oxygen, magnesium helps keep the cell from "running down" by helping to regulate the flow of sodium and potassium in and out of the cell.
Magnesium's Role in Enzymes
Magnesium's ability to regulate the flow of sodium and potassium in and out of cells is closely related to another of its essential functions, acting as a co-factor for over 300 enzymes in the human body. The flow of magnesium from one compartment of the cell to another causes just enough change in the distribution of electrical charge that enzymes are activated or deactivated. The flow of magnesium onward to the next compartment stops the reaction magnesium catalyzes or starts the reaction that magnesium stops.
The presence of magnesium makes it possible for the body to make many compounds that otherwise would require a much more acidic environment than is healthy for the cell. Magnesium can "hand off" water to a chemical reaction or it can help amino acids form chains of proteins. Every enzyme involved in the storage of energy as ATP (adenosine triphosphate) requires magnesium, and magnesium is critical for stabilizing DNA and RNA.
Magnesium Is Essential for the Body to Use Phosphorus
Phosphorus is another essential element that we tend to ignore. It's a critical component of the molecules (ADP and ATP, adenosine diphosphate and adenosine triphosphate, respectively) and it's in the protective outer cell membrane of every cell. Without magnesium to keep phosphates at the right spacing in the cell, these phosphorus compounds tend to "clump." Magnesium is essential to maintain the structure of the cell inside and out.
Magnesium and Nervous System
Magnesium is also critical to the function of the nervous system. Nerves are activated when calcium flows in. Magnesium blocks the flow of calcium and keeps nerves in a more relaxed state. This effect is noticeable both in terms of emotional state and in terms of blood pressure, a deficiency of magnesium often tied to high blood pressure.
What Happens When We Don't Get Enough Magnesium?
Nearly 70% of the population of the United States is magnesium deficient. It's no wonder that nearly 200 million Americans suffer high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. And deficiencies of magnesium have also been linked to increased rates of allergies, aneurysms, asthma, attention deficit syndrome, both calcification of muscle tissue and osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, hearing loss, migraines, menstrual cramps, muscle cramps, and temperomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome. There will be more about how to use magnesium to support recovery from these conditions a little later in this article.
What Foods Do We Need for Magnesium?
One of the most important tasks for magnesium in nature is enabling plants to use chlorophyll to make carbohydrates and release oxygen when they are exposed to sunlight. All leafy greens are rich in magnesium. Nuts, seeds, and whole grains, however, are even better for getting your magnesium because they concentrate the mineral for the growing seedling.
Here are some great sources of magnesium for your daily diet:
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of rice bran contains 781 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of dried seaweed contains 770 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of wheat bran contains 611 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw pumpkin seeds contains 535 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of roasted pumpkin seeds contains 534 mg of magnesium. Roasting does not reduce mineral content.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of ground flaxseed contains 392 mg of magnesium. Whole flaxseeds are not completely digested and do not release their nutritional content.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of peanut butter contains 355 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of blackeyed peas (cowpeas) contains 333 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of almond butter contains 303 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of edamame (whole soybeans) contains 280 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of roasted almonds contains 274 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw almonds, buckwheat, dark rye flour, lima beans, white beans,sesame-crunch candy, pine nuts, cooked mollusks, or quinoa contains 200 to 250 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of sun-dried tomatoes contains 194 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw or roasted peanuts contains 188 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of spirulina contains 184 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of Marmite yeast spread contains 180 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw Irish sea weed contains 144 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of instant mashed potatoes contains 98 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled fresh spinach or Swiss chard (silverbeet) contains 88 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled frozen spinach contains 84 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw Swiss chard (silverbeet) contains 81 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw spinach contains 80 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of cooked sweet corn contains 28 mg of magnesium.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of baked or fried white potatoes contains 27 mg of magnesium.
Coffee, tea, and most spices are also rich in magnesium. The problem with the American diet is that most people try to get their magnesium from French fries or sweet corn rather than from greens, nuts, and whole grains.
Compounding the deficiency of magnesium in the diet is the widespread use of antacids and a variety of prescription medications for heartburn and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Stomach acid is essential for releasing the magnesium from food, since it tends to be bound with fiber in the bran of seeds or in the fibers of green vegetables. A proton-pump inhibitor called pantoprazole (Protonix) is the most likely to continue controlling acid reflux or heartburn when taken with magnesium supplements.
Using Magnesium to Treat Allergies and Asthma
Supplemental magnesium slows nerve activity. This reduces irritability in air passages caused by smoke, fumes, drafts, and changes of temperature. Taking 200 to 400 mg of magnesium per day won't cure allergies or asthma, but it will help.
Using Magnesium to Treat Attention Deficit Disorder
Many visitors to Japan express surprise at two qualities of Japanese children. Most Japanese children are calm, respectful, and attentive. It's not an uncommon site to see a kindergarten teacher with up to 60 four- or five-year-olds all holding hands with a friend as they cross the street without incident. And it's not uncommon to see Japanese children at a restaurant breakfast buffet skipping the Frosted Flakes and doughnuts and loading their plates with green, red, yellow, and orange seaweed, all rich in magnesium and other minerals.
Magnesium is used in treatment of attention deficit disorder in children, but the best results are seen from a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6. When French researchers tried this combination for children who displayed hyperactivity, lack of attention, and aggressiveness in school, they prescribe the supplements by the child's body weight:
- 6 mg of magnesium per day for every kilo the child weighed, and
- 0.6 mg of vitamin B6 per day for every kilo the child weighed.
For example, if you child weighs 40 kilos (80 pounds), you should give 240 mg of magnesium and 24 mg of vitamin B6 per day. If you child weighed 20 kilos (40 pounds), you would give half as much magnesium and B6 and if you child weighed 80 kilos (160 pounds), there are probably other issues you also need to consider, but you should give twice as much, and so on. It is not necessary to split tablets and so on. Approximate doses are OK.
The results in the French study were quite promising. In the their st
- Accelerated development (talking, walking, and developing other basic skills) in 15 out of 33 children.
- Fewer repetitive or ritualistic behaviors in 18 out of 33 children.
- Improvements in social interaction in 23 out of 33 children, and
- Improvements in speech and language skills in 24 out of 33 children.
The effects of this combination of supplements takes about a month to kick in after it's started. The effects begin to "wash out" about a month after the supplements are stopped. It's not impossible for magnesium do cause diarrhea, so start with the small magnesium supplement possible and build up to the daily dosage appropriate for your child's weight.
Using Magnesium in Autism
Autism is a multifactorial disease. Some children who have autism will respond to some supplements almost as if they were a miracle cure, and some will not respond at all. If you are a parent who has a child who has autism, however, chances are you will give any possible treatment a try. At least the potential side effects of magnesium supplementation are limited to stomach upset.
Using Magnesium in Breast Cancer Prevention
There is some evidence that the ratio of calcium to magnesium in the diet is an important factor in the development of breast cancer. In the United States, most women who have passed menopause consume just an average of 115 mg of magnesium per day, far less than the 350 mg per day recommended by nutritionists. As their bodies become more and more magnesium-depleted, more and more calcium can enter cells. Calcium binds to the energy molecule ATP in place of magnesium and at a certain point calcium inside cells can keep magnesium out. The deficiency of magnesium "silences" a gene that protects against breast cancer and cancer cells are able to proliferate in the breast.
Women taking supplements to prevent osteoporosis after menopause should take both calcium (up to 1200 mg a day in several doses) and magnesium (up to 600 mg per day in several doses) along with vitamin D (1000 IU per day or more) for maximum nutritional support for both conditions. If you do not eat vegetables and you have been taking calcium without magnesium for a long time, you should take high-dose magnesium (up to 1800 mg per day—but in three or more doses, since a high dosage of magnesium can cause temporary diarrhea) and no calcium for a month while your body builds up its magnesium reserves.
Using Magnesium to Treat Cardiac Arrhythmias
In the USA, most people who have heart attacks are put on the diuretic furosemide, which is also known as Lasix. This drug causes deficiencies of B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium, which can themselves present symptoms that are easily misdiagnosed.
When tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) is a problem, magnesium replacement may help. It's a lot simpler to take 200 to 400 mg of magnesium a day along with your prescription medications than it is to get a pacemaker!
Using Magnesium to Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy
Studies have found that people of northern European descent, but not people of other heritages, who develop diabetic retinopathy tend to have low magnesium levels. Taking 200 to 600 mg of magnesium a day may be helpful, although it's not a proven remedy for this condition.
Using Magnesium to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Most adult who develop type diabetes are diagnosed with high blood pressure first. It turns out that hypertension may be one of the ways the body tries—with serious side effects—to slow the progression of insulin resistance to full-flown diabetes.
As mentioned earlier in this article, cells need magnesium to regulate the electrical charge around the molecule-sized tubes that admit glucose for use as fuel. When magnesium levels are low, blood pressure increases, keeping magnesium in the cell where it is needed. Taking supplemental magnesium may both lower blood pressure, slightly, but more importantly, it may prevent type 2 diabetes if started soon enough.
Using Magnesium to Treat Type 2 Diabetes
Taking supplemental magnesium (up to 600 mg per day) may stimulate insulin secretion and slightly lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes. There is little or no effect on blood sugar levels in type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes because the islet cells of the pancreas are not capable of secreting insulin even when they are stimulated.
Using Magnesium to Treat Diabetic Foot Ulcers
Doctors at the Social Security Hospital in Durango, Mexico, note that about 95% of their diabetic patients who have foot ulcers are magnesium-deficient. Epidemiological studies have found that diabetics who do not get enough magnesium from their diet or supplements are three times more likely to develop ulcers. Since magnesium is also beneficial for arrhythmias and congestive heart failure, conditions which are also common in diabetics who have foot ulcers, it is usually helpful to take 200 to 400 mg of magnesium two or three times a day, up to 1200 mg per day.
Using Magnesium to Treat Glaucoma
Magnesium is not a substitute for prescribed medication, but a study at the University Hospital in Zurich found that giving glaucoma patients 121.5 mg of magnesium per day for 4 weeks improved peripheral vision and peripheral circulation. Magnesium supplements are probably especially helpful for people who have both glaucoma and migraine or Raynaud's syndrome.
Using Magnesium to Prevent Kidney Stones
Probably the most useful nutritional supplement for preventing kidney stones is a compound for potassium-magnesium citrate. It is especially useful for treating stones triggered by the use of diuretics. Eleven studies of the supplement have found that it can reduce the risk of recurrence of kidney stones by as much as 80%.
Don't take this supplement on your own, however, if you take any medication for high blood pressure or if you take antibiotics on a frequent basis. Magnesium reduces the effectiveness of quinolone antibiotics, especially Cipro. Potassium can interfere with the effectiveness of aspirin, lithium, and oral diabetes medications, and it can raise concentrations of legal or illegal methamphetamines to toxic levels. It's almost always a bad idea to take a potassium supplement if you take a blood pressure medication in the ACE-inhibitor class, for example, lisinopril or ramipril. If you take any medications at all, ask your doctor before taking potassium-magnesium citrate.
Using Magnesium to Prevent Migraines
Men and women who get migraines are usually deficient in magnesium. When premenstrual migraine is a problem, there are usually high levels of calcium and low levels of magnesium. Taking 600 mg of magnesium per day (in three doses of 200 mg, to prevent stomach upset) may reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
Using Magnesium to Prevent PMS
A study at the University of Reading in the UK found that women taking 200 mg of magnesium plus 50 mg of vitamin B6 every day for a month had less anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and nervous tension around their menstrual periods.
Using Magnesium During Pregnancy
A study at the University of Copenhagen found that pregnant women who were given intravenous magnesium supplements had babies of higher birth weights and had lower blood pressure during pregnancy. Taking up to 600 mg of magnesium during pregnancy may confer similar benefits, but be sure to take no more than 200 mg a time to prevent diarrhea.
Magnesium is also a medically prescribed treatment for a potentially dangerous condition of late pregnancy known as preeclampsia. This condition requires medical care for the safety of mother and unborn baby.
Using Magnesium for Restless Legs Syndrome
The most common nutritional factor in restless legs syndrome is a deficiency of iron. Because taking iron when you don't need it can cause life-threatening complications if you are in the 1 to 2% of the population who has a hereditary iron-overload disease called hemochromatosis, don't take iron supplements unless you have had a blood test that confirms that you need them.
It can also help, however, to make sure that you don't develop deficiencies of magnesium, vitamin C, or zinc. The amounts of these nutrients you need for treating restless legs syndrome are relatively low:
- 400 mg of magnesium per day,
- 100 mg of vitamin C per day, and
- 30 mg of zinc per day.
More is not necessarily better. You may see some results in about a week after you start these supplements.
Using Magnesium for Prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Some studies have found that African-American and Native American women who become magnesium-deficient during pregnancy are more likely to have babies who die of sudden infant death syndrome. There is no guarantee that taking 200 to 400 mg of magnesium per day during pregnancy will prevent this horrific condition, but there is no downside to trying it.
Using Magnesium for Tourette's Syndrome
Some practitioners report good results using the same amounts of magnesium and vitamin B6 as in treating attention deficit disorder (see above) for children who have Tourette's syndrome.
Is There a Downside to Taking Supplemental Magnesium?
Magnesium is what makes Milk of Magnesia laxative. Most magnesium supplements can cause diarrhea if they are taken in large amounts. It's a good idea to take just 200 mg of magnesium at a time until you are sure that you will not experience stomach upset. This side effect usually wears off after 2 or 3 days as the intestine begins to regulate water balance by more frequent evacuation.
Your body can't absorb iron and magnesium at the same time. Iron and magnesium supplements should be taken separately.
Magnesium interferes with the action of tetracycline and quinolone antibiotics. There are dozens of antibiotics in the quinolone class, many of which have names that end in -floxacin. One of the most commonly used antibiotics in this class is ciprofloxacin, which is also known as Cipro. Magnesium supplements are OK when you are using topical antibiotics to treat skin infections.
People who have a neurological condition called myasthenia gravis can have a very negative reaction to magnesium supplements. Taking excessive amounts of magnesium can cause muscle weakness and a "myasthenic crisis" as symptoms worsen.