Magnesium is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is especially important for muscle and nerve function, helping to convert food into the cellular energy needed to transmit nerve impulses. Both calcium and magnesium need to be equally balanced, to control muscle contraction and relaxation.
Too much calcium and not enough magnesium can cause muscle spasms or cramps.
Magnesium helps your body absorb other minerals and vitamins, especially calcium, sodium, potassium and vitamin D. It is essential for bone growth and bone density, and magnesium deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis. Around 57% of bodily magnesium is found in the bones. Soft tissue magnesium is necessary for the activation of amino acids and is an essential building block of our cell walls.
The heart muscle requires magnesium to function. It helps to dilate blood vessels, and balances blood sugar levels by effectively processing carbohydrates and glucose. In fact, magnesium deficiency has been linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.
Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is very common. Conservative estimates say a third of us are deficient, other experts estimate the numbers to be much higher.
Some symptoms of magnesium deficiency:
- Insomnia or disturbed sleep
- Muscle pain, spasms or cramps
- Joint pain and osteoporosis
- Elevated stress levels
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Type 2 diabetes
- Respiratory problems
- Memory lapses/confusion
- Premenstrual cramps
Causes of magnesium deficiency
The most common causes of magnesium deficiency are diet (too much of some foods and not enough of others), menopause, digestive system diseases that limit absorption, type 2 diabetes, alcoholism, some medications.
Deficiency is also more common in older adults.
Different forms of magnesium in supplements
If you compare a few magnesium supplement labels, you’ll find that magnesium comes in many different forms, but they’re not all created equal. Some have better bioavailability than others, and some are barely absorbed by the body at all, so it’s important to know which is which.
Certain forms are also recommended for addressing particular areas of health. But the most important consideration is whether your body can make use of it. Some magnesium supplements might appear to have high amounts of magnesium, but if it’s a poorly absorbed form, such as magnesium oxide, it won’t be effective.
➜ Magnesium amino acid chelate – bound to an amino acid. There are a several different amino acids that magnesium is commonly combined with. These are the most difficult to make, but have excellent bioavailability, because they use protein pathways for absorption. Chelated magnesium can deliver the mineral to parts of your system that other forms do not penetrate. Magnesium acid chelates have a range of reported benefits, from increased energy levels, to improved mood, cognition and heart health.
➜ Magnesium orotate – bound to orotic acid. The most effective form of magnesium for addressing deficiency. Has been shown to strengthen the heart muscle and increase energy and endurance. Research has revealed that orotates pass through cell walls, carrying the magnesium right into the mitochondria. This is especially significant for the protection of heart and nerve cells.
➜ Magnesium citrate – magnesium combined with citric acid. The most widely recommended by health professionals because of its versatility and good bioavailability.
➜ Magnesium oxide and hydroxide – the least bioavailable forms. Often used in cheap supplements, but not very effective.
➜ Magnesium chloride – higher availability than oxide. Sometimes recommended for those who experience an unwanted laxative effect from other forms.
➜ Magnesium lactate – often recommended for digestive issues. Not recommended for those with kidney problems. Bioavailability similar to chloride.
➜ Magnesium sulfate – also known as Epsom salt. Used externally and added to baths to relieve muscle tension. Low bioavailability.
➜ Magnesium carbonate – sometimes recommended for indigestion. Reasonably good bioavailability. Can have a laxative effect.
Testing for magnesium deficiency
It’s possible to test for magnesium deficiency, but a simple blood serum test is not a good indicator. Magnesium is mostly stored in the bones and soft tissues, so blood serum levels can show as normal even if you are deficient. There are several ways to test for magnesium – ask your doctor which is best for you, and whether you should take a magnesium supplement.
The recommended daily magnesium intake is approximately 400mg for men, 310mg for women and 350mg or more during pregnancy. However, some researchers claim we need more – up to 700mg per day. The typical absorption rate of dietary magnesium is about 30-40% but can be much lower.
If you decide you would benefit from a magnesium supplement, About Health has developed a special magnesium relaxation formula: Element 12. This carefully formulated supplement contains magnesium citrate, magnesium orotate and magnesium amino acid chelate. These offer excellent bioavailability and are gentle on the stomach. Element 12 also contains a range of B vitamins, zinc and L-theanine, which are all important for managing stress levels; and selenium, an important trace mineral that is lacking in New Zealand’s soil.