Magnesium is a mineral used by the body for 1000s of processes including proper growth and maintenance of bone, nerves and muscles, neutralizing stomach acid and moving stools through the intestine, an electrolyte which carries electrical impulses throughout the body allowing muscular contraction to take place and is responsible for all brain activity and every single heart beat.
Despite being essential to health, most people do not get enough magnesium in their diet and is the second most common deficiency with Vitamin D in first place. Modern lifestyles, junk food and industrial practices are largely responsible for what is becoming an epidemic of sub optimal magnesium in western diets. Even a diet high in fresh fruit and veg does not provide the same level of magnesium as it once did due to increasing mineral depletion in soil. The use of herbicides and pesticides kill of the worms and bacteria which make possible the absorption of minerals by plants and crops. Acid rain from air pollution and the use of fertilisers also have a negative effect, reducing levels of magnesium present in the soil. Even after the crop is harvested, further processing causes a loss of magnesium, grains are milled for white flour, while vegetables are boiled. Many water companies purposely add fluoride into the water supply which binds to magnesium making it unavailable for bone and cartilage. Stress is increasing common in the modern world and has multiple negative effects on our health and bodies. Increased stress decreases absorption of magnesium in the stomach by reducing levels of stomach acid. Stress is also a ‘user’ of magnesium and if you suffer with stress/anxiety/depressions you will also likely suffer with low levels of magnesium. Tea, coffee, caffeine, sugar and some drugs such as antacids, antibiotics and diuretics also use up or deplete magnesium.
Blood tests are routinely used by doctors to check for serum magnesium levels, unfortunately these do not test for magnesium levels inside the cell which is where the majority of magnesium is store, only 1% of all magnesium in the body is present in the blood, so even if a test comes back ‘normal’, you may still be deficient. This makes the use of such tests inaccurate for diagnosing a deficiency. If you wish to have a very accurate test to determine your magnesium level than the sublingual epithelial cell magnesium test uses cells from under the tongue to gain a accurate reading. However, this will still only give you a snapshot as your magnesium levels can change from day to day. A better alternative is to check for the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, which has been supported by research as a more accurate way of checking if you could benefit from increasing your magnesium intake. The most common signs of a deficiency are: Constipation, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue. Pain symptoms are another common sign of a magnesium deficiency which can include – muscle cramps, back pain, migraines, muscular pain, tendonitis and fibromyalgia.
Introducing extra magnesium into the diet can help to reduce incidences of the above symptoms and may help to eliminate them altogether. Although the benefits of magnesium supplements are numerous the EU have compiled a list of permitted health claims.
Magnesium contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue
Magnesium contributes to electrolyte balance
Magnesium contributes to normal energy yielding metabolism
Magnesium contributes to normal functioning of the nervous system
Magnesium contributes to normal muscle function
Magnesium contributes to normal protein synthesis
Magnesium contributes to normal psychological function
Magnesium contributes to the maintenance of normal teeth and bones
Magnesium has a role in the process of cell division
How much magnesium should you take? The Nutritional Daily Value or NRV as recommended by the EU is 400mg per day for magnesium, however this is the minimum amount needed to prevent signs of deficiency in 97.5% of the population. To achieve optimal functioning of your cells you may need much more than this. If you are only taking 200mg or even 400mg of magnesium a day and not noticing any benefits then it may be beneficial to increase this up to 600mg or even 800mg per day. Also, the benefits of magnesium may not be felt instantly, though some people to respond within a day or two, others may not feel significantly better until supplementing for 2 months, especially if you are seriously depleted of magnesium. Be patient and allow time for levels of magnesium to build up in the body. You may initially need a higher dosage of magnesium which can be lowered once signs of deficiency have decreased.
When discussing dosage for magnesium, or any other mineral, it is important to distinguish between the elemental percentage and the weight of the ingredient used. For example, magnesium bisglycinate contains 10% elemental magnesium. It is the elemental content which counts towards your daily intake. If you were to take four magnesium bisglycinate capsules each which 500mg, this would total 2000mg of magnesium bisglycinate. However only 10% or 200mg would provide the magnesium, the reminder is an amino acid which is bonded to the magnesium to make it bioavailable. You should always check the label to confirm how much each serving provides.
Additionally, the quality of the magnesium supplement will determine the level of magnesium absorbed. Chelated forms are the most bioavailable and best absorbed form as they are in an organic state. The actual absorption rate will defer from person to person and will depend on other variables such as age, gut health, vitamin d3 levels, medication etc. However, for comparison purposes we have given marks out of 5 for some of the most common forms of magnesium below including elemental percentage and characteristics
Elemental magnesium Content: 60%
This is a non-chelated form of magnesium and most common form used in magnesium supplements. It has stool softening properties
Elemental Magnesium Content: 16%
Has some laxative properties but is well absorbed and cost effective. Used to help with cleansing the colon in high doses and works well with other minerals and forms of magnesium as a citrate buffer to counteract stomach upsets associated with taking mineral supplements.
Elemental Magnesium Content: 6.5%
This is a complex of elemental magnesium and orotic acid. Orotic acid has additional benefits to help improve athletic performance and endurance as well as for heart health. Magnesium Orotate may have a higher affinity for cells within the cardiovascular system.
Elemental Magnesium Content: 10%
This is a chelated form of magnesium with high levels of absorption and bioavailability. This is the most recommended form if you want to raise your magnesium levels without any side effects or are trying to recover from a deficiency.
Elemental Magnesium Content: 7.7%
This is a newer type of magnesium which has very high levels of absorption, being able to cross the blood/brain barrier and penetrate the mitochondrial membrane. Can help to relieve ‘brain fog’ and anxiety.