Magnesium: The Unsung Health Hero
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Whenever we start to plan a trip or an extended stay somewhere, I immediately think about my food, my supplements, my go-to stuff in case x, y or z happens. Now, I would imagine most people think about appropriate clothing, or entertainment to bring. For me, I can’t fit into my clothes or enjoy my entertainment if my body is feeling off.
So I have a small kit of items that help with a variety of different symptoms and situations. One of which is magnesium. You may be thinking, “Isn’t that a mineral?” Why would this little mineral be on my top list? Well, let me give some background info first.
Why is Magnesium Important?
Magnesium is an essential mineral to the optimal functioning of our bodies. It works with calcium, and the average American diet is usually greatly deficient in it. Calcium is everywhere in the foods the typical consumer eats everyday – cheese (pizza), milk and fortified packaged foods (think cereal, snack bars, etc.). The thing about these popular calcium-rich foods is that they are not also rich in magnesium. Plant-based foods, such as leafy greens, nuts and seeds, also have calcium, but they also have a balance of magnesium, so these two minerals complement each other without one overpowering.
Magnesium is necessary for numerous enzymes in the body and is required for energy production². It works in protein synthesis, the manufacturing of hormones and also with some B vitamins. Along with calcium, magnesium helps to support bone density, as well as nerve and muscle impulses.² Calcium is stimulating, while magnesium is relaxing; therefore it makes sense that our society of over consumption of calcium may experience symptoms of magnesium deficiency (body being over-stimulated, stress related issues such as muscle cramps, migraines, overall tense body). Reduced levels of magnesium in blood and tissue have been linked to high blood pressure, kidney stones, heart disease and heart attacks.¹
Some people are at higher risk for a magnesium deficiency than others. Factors that can increase the risk of deficiency are consumption of birth control, diuretics, caffeine, sugar and pre-packaged food. Additionally, low levels have been found in postmenopausal women and those who drink alcohol. Solely supplementing calcium without consideration for supplementing magnesium, may also lead to a deficiency. The best way to determine levels is to talk to your doctor and look for measurable ways to assess levels in the body.
What Else Can Magnesium Help?
1.) Natural Constipation Relief
Because of its ability to help pull water into intestines, various forms of magnesium are found in stool softeners or laxatives. It also helps relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. Taking a natural form of magnesium, without harsh additives, dyes, or colors, can be one way to occasionally help relieve constipation, working in tandem with the body.
2.) Gentle Aid to Relaxation and Insomnia
Additionally, magnesium is a natural relaxant as opposed to its counterpart, calcium, known as a stimulant. Magnesium helps calm the nerves, relaxing the body and can assist with mild insomnia and other stress-related symptoms that take a toll on the nervous system.
3.) Assist with Premenstrual Symptoms (PMS)
Because of its role in hormone production, magnesium is a vital nutrient when it comes to hormone-related symptoms. Interestingly, it is often found at its lowest levels during menstruation.¹ Magnesium can help reduce cramping, headaches and over all tension related to the menstrual cycle.
4.) Supports Cardiovascular Health
The heart is a muscle, and from what we’ve gone over so far, I have mentioned how calcium and magnesium are integral in muscular health. Calcium helps contract the muscle, while magnesium relaxes it. There have been studies that have linked a deficiency of magnesium to causing the heart to go into spasm, depriving it from oxygen, and resulting in a heart attack.² This is important, because heart attacks are often linked solely to clogged arteries, without awareness to the role magnesium plays. So, this mineral is essential to keep the heart healthy, as it is such an important muscle in our body.
5.) Supports Bone Health
As mentioned above, magnesium (along with calcium and vitamin D) supports bone and teeth density. Around 60% of our magnesium stores are found in our bones and teeth.¹ Magnesium helps maintain calcium levels in the blood and availability for uptake. It stimulates the hormone responsible for removing calcium out of the blood for uptake to the bones.
Sources of Magnesium
Magnesium is found in a variety of foods. It is a main component of chlorophyll, so it is naturally found in leafy green vegetables. Additionally, most nuts, seeds, legumes contain this mineral. The refining process of grains, nuts and seeds, causes magnesium to be lost, so it is an important consideration to look for whole foods when seeking out sources.
We often here about the importance of calcium, but not often it’s counterpart in health – magnesium. Our body operates optimally in balance, and works to maintain a system of homeostasis within the body. Symptoms, such as headaches, cramps, stress and constipation are usually signs of an underlying condition. While numerous factors can be at play, it never hurts to look at our nutrition (or there lack of) intake, and see if the fuel we are feeding our bodies needs to be adjusted.
So, to circle back to my original statement, magnesium is definitely top on my list of must-have supplements. Whether my body is a little tense, I am having trouble getting to sleep, my digestion is slowing things down or I've got headaches or muscle cramps, magnesium is my first go-to. Of course, there are other causes to investigate if the condition worsens or is serious, but generally speaking, magnesium can safely and naturally bring relief.
*I’m not usually a big fan of product endorsement, naming specific products to go out and buy. However, in our house we use Natural Calm, a magnesium in powder form. This allows me to mix in various amounts to different beverages.
**DISCLAIMER: As indicated throughout The Nourished Seedling, the information presented here is solely for informational purposes, not intended to diagnose or cure any disease. As with any change in diet or supplement program, it is advised to always consult your healthcare professional when making these decisions.
¹Haas, Elson M., Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1992.
²Holford, Patrick. The Optimum Nutrition Bible. Berkeley, CA: The Crossing Press, 2004.