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Magnesium - such a simple mineral that's often overlooked


I first heard about magnesium when speaking to Beverley at Sense of Nutrition, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know anything about such an important mineral. I began supplementing with magnesium as well as using magnesium spray and flakes in the bath at the end of 2013 and it quickly made a huge difference to my performance and recovery. I recently listened to a webinar by Dr Carolyn Dean on the many different roles of magnesium and have done further reading and research which I’d like to share with you. I strongly believe that the vast majority, if not all of us, would benefit from magnesium supplementation and I have been trying to persuade friends and family how vital this mineral is and I thought the best thing to do would be to put it all in a blog.

We’ve all heard about vitamin C, zinc and calcium and how important they are, many taking supplements. However Magnesium is often forgotten about.

What does it do?

Magnesium is needed for muscle recovery, hormone balance, cellular energy production, sports performance and nervous system support. It catalyses most chemical reactions within the body and has a critical role in activating 700-800 enzyme systems. Nearly 100% of those in the UK do not meet the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 375mg, which some say is too low anyway and we need more like 700mg per day. The average daily intake in the UK for men is 308mg and women 229mg.

Do I not get enough through my diet?

Poor soil and extensive food processing means it is very difficult to get enough magnesium in our modern diet, therefore increasing the need for supplementation in order to reach optimal levels.

One cup of spinach will give you 156mg of magnesium, a 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds will give you 190mg and 1/4 cup of cashew nuts will give you 116mg of magnesium.

A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains is the best way for you to limit your risk of having magnesium deficiency. That means having more than just one portion of spinach or a handful of nuts once a week!

What are the symptoms of magnesium deficiency?

Low energy

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Physical and mental fatigue

  • Lethargy

  • Poor memory and concentration

Poor mood

  • Depression

  • Mood swings

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

  • Tension

  • Insomnia

  • Sleeplessness

  • Stress

  • Anxiety

Physical performance

  • Low energy production

  • Poor cardio vascular fitness

  • Muscle weakness

  • Slow recovery

  • Muscle cramps

  • Tremors

...to name a few!

Who’s at risk?

Those at risk include:

  • Athletes and those doing regular exercise

  • Excessive menstruation and pregnant women – magnesium can help with PMS, menstrual migraine headaches, painful periods and hot flushes

  • Those over 55 years old

  • Poorly controlled diabetes

  • Gastrointestinal, malabsorption and kidney problems - including coeliac disease and IBS

  • Stress – stress elevates cortisol levels and there is substantial evidence to support the use of magnesium in stress related illness and mental health

  • Excessive intake of alcohol, soft drinks, salt and caffeine – the diuretic action of caffeine drains magnesium and the phosphate in soda drinks binds to magnesium and dumps it

  • Eating pastries, cakes and deserts – for example 28 molecules of magnesium are required to metabolise 1 molecule of sucrose and 55 molecules of magnesium to metabolise 1 molecule of fructose

  • Those taking medications including diuretics and antibiotics

Magnesium for athletes

Magnesium plays a key role in the biological processes influencing sports performance such as muscle function, oxygen delivery, energy production and electrolyte balance. The production of ATP, the primary currency of energy in the human body, is influenced by magnesium – six of the eight steps of the krebs cycle (series of chemical reactions to create energy) require this vital mineral. Therefore a deficiency in magnesium can impair physical performance and exercise capacity. Exercise increases the loss of magnesium through urine and sweat therefore the demands are 10-20% higher in athletes. Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients for athletes to enhance performance, prevent lactic acid build up and shorten recovery time.

What should I do or what should I take?

You can supplement with magnesium in a number of different ways with transdermal and oral being the most popular methods

  • BetterYou Magnesium oil spray

  • BetterYou Magnesium flakes or Epsom bath salts - very unlikely to cause any negative laxative side effects

  • Oral supplements – be careful to check the ingredients, magnesium can be available in a number of different forms including

  • Magnesium glycinate – well absorbed and better tolerated (though more expensive), for example Nutri Advanced Ultra Muscleze a high strength powdered magnesium and malic acid

  • Magnesium phospate - good bioavailbility

  • Magnesium oxide – most common due to the low cost, high concentration but poor bioavailibility (only 4% absorbed) therefore not usually the supplement of choice

  • Magnesium sulphate - also known as epsom salt, unsafe dietary source of magnesium much better used transdermally

  • Magnesium chloride - good absorption rate

  • Magnesium malate - combined with malic acid, highly soluble and good for those suffering from fatigue

  • Magnesium citrate - inexpensive, easily absorbed (90%), mild laxative

  • Magnesium taurate - good choice for those with cardiovascular issues, easily absorbed and no laxative issues

  • Ionic/picometer liquid forms – doesn’t need to go through the gut for absorption such as ReMag

  • An easy way to incorporate magnesium into your drinks and training is the use of Elete Electrolytes

Do I need to see my GP?

You can ask your GP to test your magnesium levels however the serum magnesium test commonly used is useless as only 1% of total body magnesium is in the bloodstream. The best test to ask for is the Ionised magnesium test which is the most accurate however the Magnesium RBC test is the next best. Companies such as Biolab can offer testing through a number of different means such as blood testing and through a hair sample.

Many GPs are still unaware of the wide range of benefits of magnesium supplementation and still only realise its importance in acute medical emergencies such as the use of intravenous magnesium for high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia). More knowledge and research is now readily available regarding the benefits of magnesium deficiences and how increased magnesium could improve the chronic symptoms related to heart disease, insulin resistance, nervous systems discorders and pain caused by muscle cramps and tension.

There is so much more information out there on the internet and some great resources so I urge you to take a look into the importance of this essential mineral and how it may be able help you. Good luck!

The contents of this blog are based on my own opinions and research in an attempt to share my knowledge. The information provided is not intended as medical advice and it is up to you to seek help from a qualified medical practitioner should you feel the need. Consult a health care professional before taking any supplements. The use of supplements can present a risk to athletes and those being tested, make sure you check all products yourself and consult an accredited sports dietician, registered nutritionist with expertise in sports nutrition, or a sports and exercise medicine doctor before taking supplements.


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