Magnesium the eighth most common element in the crust of the Earth. It is a mineral that so many underestimate or not even think about. It is a vital mineral in which most the population is deficient in, with around only 25% meeting the minimum intake (RDA).
Magnesium is necessary for the functioning of over 300 enzymes in the human body, with 90% of total body magnesium being contained in the muscles and bones. Low magnesium levels have been linked to many negative health outcomes, including weakness, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as a prolonged inflammation in tissues and associated health concerns. Most people have heard of electrolytes for hydration, but many aren't aware magnesium is one, though directly there is no evidence that magnesium improves its hydration performance, it does assist tissue replenishment of potassium which has plenty of research behind it.
Magnesium plays a role in transporting calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes. This is important to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm. In this article I will be focusing on calcium more than potassium and you'll see why in a minute. Another way Magnesium helps regulate calcium and phosphate homeostasis is by assisting in the activation of vitamin D, which helps regulate calcium and phosphate homeostasis to influence the growth and maintenance of bones. Vitamin D is a very important vitamin that is lacking in many people's diets with up to 50% of the population being deficient. It makes sense since 75% of people lack adequate magnesium.
The deficiency in magnesium is attributed to the increase in calcium consumption, which is especially high in a protein rich diet, a popular diet with people who partake in fitness, which is why the focus on calcium over potassium. Magnesium and calcium are both divalent cations (ions with a double positive charge), so the two compete for absorption into the bloodstream. A higher calcium to magnesium ratio encourages a magnesium deficiency. If there is excess calcium, it can effectively prevent magnesium entering the cell.
The irony of this 'rivalry' is that calcium needs magnesium to be utilised properly by the body. Your body needs magnesium to properly transport calcium, and without utilising calcium the way it is meant to can lead to health problems, one such being gallstones. Gallstones are formed through excess cholesterol, but can also be calcified, meaning excess calcium is turned into gallstones. This video explains the relationship nicely:
Going back to vitamin D for a minute, there is evidence that an excess calcium may inhibit the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate calcium levels, similar to how magnesium does. Here you then get a domino effect. Without enough magnesium, your body can not transport calcium or vitamin D. Without enough vitamin D your body loses another means of metabolising calcium. Too much calcium and your body can not absorb the magnesium and vitamin D it needs. This is why balance in vitamins are important and why a good multivitamin is so hard to formulate.
Magnesium is also vital in relaying signals between your brain and body, acting as the gatekeeper for the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which are found on nerve cells and support brain development, memory and learning. In healthy adults, magnesium resides inside NMDA receptors, preventing them from being triggered by weak signals causing unnecessary nerve cell stimulation. When magnesium levels get low, fewer NMDA receptors are blocked, leading to over stimulation. This unwanted stimulation can cause cell necrosis, potentially brain damage, and may cause an irregular or rapid heartbeat.
Beforehand I mentioned how magnesium is important for muscle function and elevated calcium levels requires more magnesium supplementation. When calcium enters the heart muscle cells, it stimulates contraction. This is then countered by magnesium which relaxes these muscle cells. The equilibrium of calcium and magnesium maintains a healthy heartbeat.
Magnesium helps muscles relax in general, not just specifically your heart either. If the body does not obtain enough magnesium to compete with calcium, muscles may contract too much leading to cramps or spasms, a condition worsened by the fact a majority of the population is dehydrated due to not meeting minimum water intake.
So, what do I recommend? The quality of the magnesium source matters too since many of magnesium forms can cause stomach problems. This is due to magnesium itself being a short-term osmotic laxative. Here you have a list of the most common forms and their properties, so you can make an informed decision.
If you take in a lot of whey, I advice to use a multivitamin with low calcium content or none at all. Take 500mg of magnesium and 1000IU of vitamin D daily, and to help magnesium further, 1.6mg of vitamin B6. Magnesium also has a synergy with vitamin B6, which is a requirement for proper magnesium absorption. Research has shown that up to double the amount of magnesium is absorbed when combined with vitamin B6.
Besides supplementation, you can consume foods high in magnesium. These include:
- Dark Chocolate
- Squash and Pumpkin Seeds
- Whole Grains