What is Magnesium and Why is it Important?
Magnesium is a basic building block for life. It can be found in many different forms such as magnesium carbonate, as a mineral found in plant matter, and also in the ocean as magnesium chloride. Some forms are more easily absorbed by the human digestive tract than others. Unlike trace elements like iodine and zinc, which are only required in small amounts for the human body, magnesium is considered to be a macro mineral, necessary in large quantities because it is vital to literally hundreds of biological processes. It is one of the six essential minerals in the body, and is actually the second most abundant mineral within cells. If a body could be reduced to only its basic compounds, you would find that there are roughly 25 grams of the stuff inside us.
Without magnesium, our cells are unable to produce something called ATP energy, which is the process by which fatty acids are turned into units of usable energy. Magnesium complexed with ATP is called MgATP and is responsible for balancing mineral inside and outside cells, maintaining cell function, and sustaining movement. The importance of magnesium goes even deeper, as it is vital to DNA stability. Without magnesium, DNA would not be able to repair itself after damage done by environmental mutagens; our DNA would be completely unstable leading to progressive cellular damage.
Furthermore, magnesium fuels hundreds upon hundreds of enzyme biochemical processes. For magnesium’s part, it seems to act as a cofactor with these biological processes, stopping or starting them as required. It acts as an enzyme regulator. Some examples of these enzyme processes include breaking down fat and sugars, creation and repair of DNA and RNA, production of anti-oxidants, and regulation of cholesterol.
What are the Warning Signs of Magnesium Deficiency?
Stress and magnesium have a problematic relationship. This is because having increased anxiety on a daily basis can actually impede magnesium absorption on a cellular level. However, having a magnesium deficiency also can manifest itself through increased anxiety levels. Magnesium supplements alone will likely not be the miracle cure to anxiety and stress disorders, however using it as another tool in your belt can definitely help the healing process to stress reduction. Deficiency symptoms often appear with people seeming more uptight than usual.
2. Muscle Cramps
Just as magnesium deficiency can trigger an uptightness of mood, a similar effect can appear through the tightening or cramping of muscles. Muscles crave minerals for proper function, and with any deficiency can begin to atrophy, cramp and tighten. Having low levels of magnesium may not be the only cause of these symptoms, as muscles also need minerals like potassium and calcium to function.
3. Difficulty Sleeping
In combination with other symptoms, a deficiency could trigger insomnia or difficulty sleeping. As with muscle cramping and mood regulation, magnesium is vital to relaxation. This includes allowing the brain to relax during sleep.
Considering the relaxing effect magnesium has throughout our bodies, probably this is not surprising. Magnesium relaxes the digestive tract and reduces constipation. Less magnesium in your body means contracted intestines, which make it very difficult to pass waste. It can also lead to less fluid absorption into the digestion process, making the movement of waste more strained and less smooth. Many over the counter laxatives actually contain magnesium.
If you suffer from frequent migraines or tension headaches, they may be a symptom of low levels of magnesium. In one study, it was found that people who commonly experienced migraines often had much lower levels of magnesium than those who did not. Because headaches are often directly related to muscle tension and tightness, which as we have seen can be due to deficient magnesium, it might be a good idea to increase your magnesium intake in coordination with an acetaminophen. Over time it could help decrease the severity and frequency of headaches.
6. Acid Reflux
Magnesium is often a core ingredient in antacids because acid reflux it is so strongly associated with magnesium deficiency. Why? Again, it has to do with the ability of magnesium to let the body relax. In this case, it allows the sphincter to relax, and better manage the direction and proper movement of ingested food.
7. Hormonal Imbalances
Many women increase their consumption of magnesium rich foods and supplements in order to combat severe menstrual cramping and related hormonal imbalances. Magnesium is essential to the healthy production of hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.
8. Low Energy and Weakness
At a basic cellular level, magnesium helps cells in the task of producing energy. This is the ATP energy mentioned earlier. Obviously if magnesium is low, then energy production will also be low. Weakness and lethargy are the eventual visible effect of this inability to produce ATP energy units.
How to Avoid Magnesium Deficiency?
There are easy ways to maintain healthy levels of this essential mineral. An important one is to avoid junk foods with high levels of sugar, as it can take over 250 molecules of magnesium to process one molecule of glucose. Some medications like birth control and antibiotics can deplete magnesium, so if you are taking these prescriptions always ensure to increase magnesium consumption at the same time. As mentioned above, stress and magnesium levels have a circular relationship, however stress is proven to negatively influence magnesium absorption.
If you are choosing to increase magnesium through supplements, it is recommended to never surpass 350 mg a day. There are also many foods which contain magnesium in significant levels to make it easy to include them in your daily diet. Some examples with exceptionally high levels are dried legumes (beans, peas, etc.), soy products (tofu and tempeh, etc.), and seeds (pumpkin and squash seeds contain roughly 317 mg per ¼ cup!).