Magnesium: Are You Deficient in This Essential, Pain Fighting Mineral?

  Dr. Paul Hrkal, Naturopathic Doctor

Dr. Paul Hrkal, Naturopathic Doctor

Magnesium is a supplement that is very well known for its benefits through out the natural health community. It is involved in over 300 biochemical processes in the body. One of its most important functions is that it plays a key role in producing energy. This makes it vitality important for all cellular functions and processes. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm regular, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Its wide range of health benefits and biological activity make it effective in addressing a number of common diseases and conditions including fibromyalgia, chronic pain, diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and headaches. Numerous studies have demonstrated that magnesium supplementation and correction of deficiency has improved the aforementioned conditions.1 Specifically in chronic pain magnesium can be helpful for offsetting the effects of calcium, which relaxes muscles and nerves. Magnesium acts like a plug in nerve receptors that are over-stimulated. 

The problem with this essential mineral is that most people do not have sufficient levels for optimal health. A gradual depletion of nutrients from our soils has left many vegetables with lower levels of magnesium. Another factor that contributes to magnesium deficiency is that is often is depleted by various common conditions (i.e. IBS, crohns disease) and medications (i.e. proton pump inhibitors, diuretics). Its difficult to accurately assess your magnesium levels by lab testing since they don’t reflect actually tissue stores. Most integrative doctors just assume their patients are not getting enough and are deficient. 

How can you get more magnesium? 

Unfortunately most foods have a relatively low level of magnesium those at the top of the list are nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds) and dark green leafy veggies (kale swiss chard and spinach). As a supplement, magnesium is most commonly found in small amounts in multivitamins and in certain over the counter laxatives. Minerals such as magnesium or calcium are combined with another molecule to stabilize the compound. Each combination, referred to as a chelate, (such as magnesium citrate) has different absorption, bioavailability and therapeutic value. These additional molecules can really impact the medicinal value of the magnesium and some even have beneficial effects in their own right. The most common forms and their benefits are listed below. 

Magnesium oxide is often used in milk of magnesia products since this form has a strong laxative effect. Even though this combination contains a large proportion of magnesium compare to the oxide molecule it has poor bioavailability and readily causes loose stools therefore it is considered the least optimal form to use as a supplement. 

Magnesium sulfate is most commonly found in Epsom bath salts. 

Magnesium citrate is a commonly used form that has a good bioavailability compared to oxide. It is also very rapidly absorbed in the digestive tract but it does have a stool loosening effect2. This form is found in many supplements and remains a solid option for delivering magnesium into the body.

Magnesium glycinate: Glycine is well known calming amino acid. This combination has good bioavailability and it does not have a laxative effect since glycine is actively transported through the intestinal wall. Due to the calming and relaxing effect of both glycine and magnesium this combination has been used successfully for chronic pain and muscle hyper tonicity.3 

Magnesium Malate: The little known combination has been studied for use in fibromyalgia. Since malate is a substrate in the cellular energy cycle, it can help improve ATP production and there is some preliminary evidence that it may reduce muscle pain and tender points in fibromyalgia patients.4 

The nice thing is that there really isn’t any side effects other then loose stools when taking to much magnesium unless you have a kidney disorder or are taking certain blood pressure medications. Your body just eliminates the magnesium it doesn’t use. Due to its broad ranging beneficial effects, magnesium has really emerged as a quintessential health supplement with an excellent safety profile. Various forms of magnesium can be employed for specific health concerns especially chronic pain. Ask your health care practitioner which form is best for you. 

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References

  1. Fawcett, W. J., Haxby, E. J. & Male, D. A. Magnesium: physiology and pharmacology. Br. J. Anaesth. 83, 302–320 (1999).
  2. Coudray C, Rambeau M, Feillet-Coudray C, Gueux E, Tressol JC, Mazur A, Rayssiguier Y: Study of magnesium bioavailability from ten organic and inorganic Mg salts in Mg- depleted rats using a stable isotope approach. Magnes Res 2005;18:215–223.
  3. Lamontagne C, Sewell JA, Vaillancourt R, Kuhzarani C, (2012) Rapid Resolution of Chronic Back Pain with Magnesium Glycinate in a Pediatric Patient. J Pain Relief 1:101
  4. Abraham GE, Flechas JD. Management of Fibromyalgia: Rationale for the Use of Magnesium and Malic Acid. Journal of Nutritional Medicine (1992) 3, 49-59.