Posted by: Lowell | April 11, 2009

Magnesium

Ah, one o’ them thar vitamins and minerals.  In may ways they’re more complicated than even weight loss as a topic.  As soon as you get into micronutrients and individual components things get crazy.  There are just so many variables, no way to control studies and research effectively, and a ton of room for error.  However… all that being said, there’s a good chance you don’t get enough magnesium.  It’s not that you don’t get enough to avoid deficiency and symptoms, but that you don’t get enough for optimal health.  Most recommendations and even medical practices are based around the goal of avoiding below average health—prevent disease and illness, avoid nutritional deficiencies, etc.  But do you really just want to be average?  There’s another end to the health spectrum as well, which is above average or even exceedingly good health.  All that being said, only 32% of the public even gets the basic recommended daily intake, which is far below the amount for optimal health.

Another interesting note, which is true across many nutrients (like Vitamin C, especially!  But that’s another post…)—even if your blood serum levels are adequate (0.7-1.0 mmol/L for Magnesium), that doesn’t mean you have the right intracellular concentrations (the amount inside the cells themselves).  Cell membranes and transport are a very complicated topic, and just getting enough in your blood does not at all mean you’ll actually be able to use it where you need it.

For more on Magnesium and why it’s useful, I strongly recommend the chapter in Dr. Eades’ Protein Power LifePlan (see link in sidebar).  It’s too much information for a single post, but I believe it’s very much worth following up on.  Magnesium is essential to life.  Over 300 enzymes require magnesium to catalyze their reactions, including every single one involved in generating ATP, the currency of energy in the human body.  It’s one of the most important nutrients for all of us, and it’s one of the ones where consumption has declined the most over time.

You can get more Magnesium primarily from spices, nuts, grains (the good bran portion, not the starchy parts), cocoa, tea, and leafy greens.  But even with those it’s hard to get enough to match the amount of other nutrients we take in; the desired quantity of Magnesium isn’t so much a fixed number as it is a ratio between Magnesium and other nutrients, most importantly amongst them Calcium.

Magnesium and Calcium are both very important, but effectively serve as polar opposites in the body.  It’s very important to take in at least 50% as much Magnesium as Calcium daily, and even better to have a 1:1 ratio of Mg to Ca in your diet (via supplements and normal food combined).

Magnesium supplements come in many forms, and vary greatly in how bioavailable they are and their relative side effects.  The less bioavailable, the more the side effects (primarily laxative activity…).  Picking the right form of supplement is critical.  The common forms are:

  1. Magnesium Citrate – the most bioavailable, the fewest side effects.  I strongly recommend this one.  You get less per pill, but your body absorbs far more of it, so in the end you actually have more bioavailable Mg per pill even with less on label.
  2. Magnesium Chelates (glycinate, malate, anything ending in -ate) – also excellent.
  3. Magnesium Aspartate – average, decent, I believe
  4. Magnesium Chloride – acceptable, not quite as good
  5. Magnesium Oxide (and hydroxide, AKA milk of magnesia) – AVOID… perhaps the most common as it’s the highest amount of Mg per gram, and it’s cheaper.  So Mg Oxide pills have the most listed on the label… but have terrible bioavailability and bad side effects.  Not worth it!

There is really no risk of Mg overdose unless you have renal function issues, which you would know if you have.  Your kidneys can easily and harmlessly remove extra Mg from your body, and it doesn’t build up anywhere… and when you have enough your digestive system doesn’t absorb as much.  So there’s little risk of an overdose.  It’s better to have too much Mg in your diet than too little– more important is the Ca to Mg ratio.  If that ratio gets off, then that’s when problems can develop.

It doesn’t matter too much if you take it with or without food– if you take the right form of Magnesium, in the right ratio with Calcium, absorption should be excellent and bioavailably should be normal.

I’m currently using the following, 2 a day (1 morning, 1 night), balanced with Calcium:  http://www.lef.org/Vitamins-Supplements/Item00502/Magnesium-Citrate.html.

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