For a long time I would wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. Being somewhat of a healthy guy, this would continuously frustrate me. I am going to sleep at the same time every night, why can’t I just sleep for at least 7hrs? *IPhone Jingle*, great there is the alarm, time to get up…
So I started hacking, and found some research on magnesium. This was my entrance into studying sleep hacks and my introduction to a major mineral of the human body.
I quickly learned that in sleep hacking, magnesium is considered a natural miracle for people who have insomnia. So, I gave it a go, *Boom! I slept like a rock the first night after taking some magnesium citrate* that I found on amazon.
The next day, I looked into magnesium some more, and found a statistic that said 50-80% of people in the United States are deficient in magnesium! I was surprised, that is millions of people, and doesn’t even consider the rest of the world!
So, what did I do next?
I kept researching of course! 😉
I learned, that deficiencies in magnesium are tied in with a lot of symptoms that I hear people complain about: Headaches, Migraines, Depression, Anxiety, Insomnia, Sleep Disturbances, Brain Fog, Impaired Memory, Constipation, Muscle Cramps, Back Pain, the list goes on and on. Higher Magnesium intake has been correlated to help prevent some the world’s top killer diseases, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
That would make the statistic above a very serious health issue, but my natural reaction to this is skepticism. Something that can help with so many symptoms and fight against the top world killers? You got to be kidding me. People have lived on this planet for millions of years, why all of a sudden is magnesium a holy mineral?
My skepticism was quickly overrun by research, data, statistics, and facts. Thus the skeptics guide to magnesium was born. Here is what I found.
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Magnesium plays a vital role in many different areas of our bodies functions.
At the cellular level, magnesium contributes to 600 enzymatic reactions within the body, making it very important for protein and DNA synthesis/repair. Without these vital enzymatic reactions, our cells cannot do their day-to-day functions, setting us up for a whole host of issues.
This is a diagram of magnesium interactions at the cellular level
If your magnesium levels are low, your cells will have a harder time repairing DNA, which is essential for normal cell function. Theoretically, this can leave you with higher chances of DNA mutation, which doesn’t sound to bad until I realized cancer is a disease that comes from DNA mutation. Some research has also observed a correlation between magnesium and cancer.
In a study of colon cancer, researchers monitored 35,000 cancer free women over 17 years. Of the women, 1,112 eventually developed colon cancer. They found a correlation difference between the women who developed cancer and those who didn’t was the low levels of magnesium in the cancer patients.
After this research, I already found myself looking for almonds (high in magnesium) at Trader Joes (even though I despise them). The research trail doesn’t end here, it is just the start to what magnesium does and what diseases and discomforts it can potentially prevent.
Lets Jump in!
Within the cardiovascular system, magnesium regulates heart contractions, decreases inflammation, and dilates the blood vessels. This means that magnesium keeps your heart beating the right way, lowers your blood pressure, keeps your heart from becoming inflamed, and maintains your heart health. It would be catastrophic if magnesium broke up with cardiovascular system.
A study in 2006 was conducted in which 4,637 Americans between 18-30yrs old were tracked for the development of metabolic syndrome. Out of the cases, 608 individuals developed metabolic syndrome. The difference between the healthy individuals and the ones with metabolic syndrome was associated to the lack of magnesium intake.
Lets back up, metabolic syndrome is a precursor to a couple major diseases like Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which includes Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attacks), diabetes, and stroke. It is a sign that you are at risk of having health problems in the future. This is a big deal! On this list is CAD, also known as Ischaemic Heart Disease, which is the number one cause of death world wide. So, magnesium being correlated to metabolic syndrome could mean magnesium could prevent us from getting CAD.
Hypertension seems to have a connection with magnesium as well. In a meta-analysis of 135 subjects, there was a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure with the introduction of oral magnesium. Magnesium thus could be a precursor to stopping high blood pressure.
These are only some of the clues that magnesium plays a vital role in our cardiovascular system. I found some other diagnoses that magnesium has been shown to play a role in are Arrhythmia, Preeclampsia, and Vascular Calcification. In the end, if you want a healthy heart, make sure to get all the magnesium you need, or at least reach your recommended daily allowance.
Ahh yes, the thinking machine. Magnesium plays as vital of a role in the brain as it does in the heart.
In the brain, magnesium keeps neurons and neuron pathways from becoming hyperexcitable, decreases inflammation, and increases the release of Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide promotes the dilation of blood vessels, regulation of gene expression, and regulation of neurotransmitter release.
“Ok, what? Jake, all I heard was blah, blah, and less inflammation.” Essentially, magnesium keeps your brain from frying, helps regulate normal blood pressure in your brain, helps regulates your genetics, and regulates your neuron activity. This could essentially allow you to remember better and keep your brain more sharp.
Magnesium, thus, has a profound effect on our brain! So, lets get in to some studies.
In a double blind study on migraines and supplemental magnesium, 81 patients were given 600mg of oral magnesium for 12 weeks. The result was a 41.6% reduction of migraine attacks. [FYI, this may be an easy way to get rid of your headaches.]
Also, a study on stroke patients found that out of 98 patients, many had low magnesium level, with 25% of them having extremely low levels of magnesium, lower than 65% of normal serum levels. This gives us some insight that magnesium may even play a role in stroke prevalence, the second leading cause of death in the world. If you put this in contrast with metabolic syndrome study, that is two studies pointing to hypomagnesaemia (low levels of magnesium) in correlation with stroke prevalence.
We’re not done yet!
Magnesium may even help after a traumatic impact. It has been found that Traumatic Brain Injury is higher in people who are magnesium deficient or have hypomagnesaemia. Magnesium seems to give your brain the regulation it needs to heal quickly, relax, and lower the inflammation of a dreaded concussion, though researchers are still looking into these correlations. Which is important to me, because I tend to like extreme sports…*cough* parkour.
These examples about how important magnesium is in the brain aren’t even touching the surface of the positive effects it can have on the brain. There are studies of magnesium correlating with other brain conditions like Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Neurosis, addiction, Stress, and Alzheimer’s. If you want to learn more about these areas, check out this awesome text book called “Magnesium in the Central Nervous System,” and don’t worry, it wont cost you a penny because it’s free!
Ok, take a big deep breath in… and now, let it out. You just experienced magnesium at work.
Magnesium increases dilation, regulates acetylcholine and histamines, and decreases inflammation of the lungs. I think I just heard the, “what are you talking about” alarm go off again. Magnesium just helps regulate normal lung function and helps keep them from becoming inflamed. This makes it a vital part of your lung function.
And, of course, many studies have shown that magnesium deficiency could be the cause of many symptoms within Lung diseases.
For instance, in a study on asthma, 49 subjects with Asthma were compared to 25 subjects without asthma. Researchers found a lower amount of magnesium in people who had asthma than the ones without it. In another study on cystic fibrosis, 106 cystic fibrosis patients’ magnesium levels were tested. Out of the people tested, 57% showed low serum magnesium levels.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is the third leading cause of death in the world, shows signs of magnesium being an important counterpart. 100 patients with COPD (50 with exacerbations, and 50 who were stable) had their magnesium serum levels tested. The 50 struggling from exacerbations had much lower magnesium levels than the stable ones. The researches also concluded that magnesium could be a great way to lessen the progression of the disease
These studies don’t show that magnesium is the cause of these lung diseases, but it does show a correlation that magnesium consumption may play an important role in all of them.
Pancreas, Bone, and Muscle
I’m sure all this information is bogging you down, so lets finish up with these last three.
First, the pancreas, that weird shaped organ we hear about from time to time. Studies on magnesium in correlation to the pancreas’ actions are on-going, but some good signs have come up in diabetes research. We already covered magnesium’s correlation with metabolic syndrome, which is also a precursor to developing diabetes, along with stroke and heart disease. Specific studies on Diabetes have also been done:
In a huge study of 39,000 women in the US, 918 were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over time. The women who had type 2 diabetes, were tested and were found to have significantly lower levels of magnesium compared to the rest of the population. Because type 2 diabetes comes from insulin resistance, it’s possible that hypomagnesaemia could magnify the effects.
Second is the bone. Calcium isn’t the only major contributor to bone health. Magnesium regulates bone growth and density, making people with deficiencies in magnesium more prone to fractures or breaks. Studies are still being conducted, but magnesium could indeed be a good way to prevent Osteoporosis. So, don’t let it sway to far from your radar.
A diagram of magnesiums effects on bone
And lastly, the muscles. Muscles depend on magnesium to stop contractions. When magnesium deficient, cramps in the muscle increase. Unless you like Charlie Horses, I would opt for some more magnesium. Studies are still ongoing here as well, but many people will definitely tell you that magnesium will help you relax and keep you from cramping in the middle of the night and through out the day.
Many other areas of magnesium’s effects are being researched currently, but the effects will probably follow the pattern of the current research. Magnesium is an excellent anti-inflammatory, dilator, and regulator of human processes. I am no doctor, but most would agree that magnesium is an important mineral that we need for many processes in our body.
Hopefully, I researched you out. Now that we know magnesium is important, lets get more into the fun stuff about why we don’t have enough and where we can get it.
*Note: This is a great review for understanding magnesium physiology through out the body.
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I’m Getting Enough… Right?
You’re not going to like my answer.
Unfortunately, probably not. The average Recommended Daily Allowance(RDA) of magnesium is 400-420mg for males and 310-320mg for females. Keep in mind, this is the minimum. For optimal health, magnesium levels of between 500-750mg should be consumed daily.
So, lets compare the RDA and optimal magnesium levels to some of the worlds average intakes just to see how we are doing. In Canada, the average magnesium consumption is between 209-279mg, France is 284-377mg, South Africa is 228-270mg, Spain is 366mg, Israel is 228-270mg, and the United States is 212mg. Most of these don’t even reach the RDA’s minimum for magnesium and none of these countries are at the optimal level for magnesium consumption. Doesn’t look like the world is getting enough.
Why aren’t we getting enough?
A small mind map showing the different reasons for why we don't get enough magnesium
- An Unbalanced Lifestyle
With the introduction of many new processed foods and beverages, we have come to build habits that are fast and convenient, effectively ridding magnesium from our diet. Food and drink examples that lack magnesium:
- Soda (or Pop if your from Michigan): Virtually None
- Milk: a small amount
- Sugar: Virtually None
- White Flour: Virtually None
- Pasta: a small amount
- Meat: a small amount
- Cheese: a small amount
With a diet that is not balanced with fruits and vegetables, magnesium is almost non-existent.
An unbalanced diet isn’t the only thing that contributes to a lack in magnesium. Being stressed out can also make you loose it. This is a downward spiral as well, because the lack of magnesium can make you more anxious and depressed, and the more anxious and depressed you get, the more stressed you get. The more stressed you get, the more likely you are to reach for sugar and processed foods.
In fact, a study on mice showed that increased anxiety could be correlated with a lack of magnesium. This means that the introduction of more magnesium to your diet could make you happier and less stressed.
One last note, magnesium and calcium have an inverse relationship. This means the more calcium in your diet, the lower your magnesium levels will be and visa versa. Considering most diets have more dairies in them, magnesium is more likely to be lowered by calcium. You want to aim for a 1:1 ratio of magnesium and calcium.
- Pharmaceuticals, Alcohol, and Caffeine
Many of us have prescriptions for all sorts of things, but did you know some prescription lower your levels of magnesium? Major drugs that can deplete you of magnesium are: acid blockers, antibiotics, antacids, blood pressure medications, corticosteroids, oral contraceptives, and antiviral agents. Check out this list to see if your prescription is turning you toward hypomagnesemia.
Next is our two favorite beverages: caffeine and alcohol. Both can deplete you of magnesium. Caffeine is a natural mild diuretic, in other words, it makes you need to pee. This effect also causes magnesium to not be reabsorbed back into the kidneys. Now, I know most of you are probably thinking. “To bad! I love my coffee!” But don’t fret, coffee does have a small amount of magnesium in it, so you will probably make up for what you lost by drinking coffee.
Alcohol on the other hand, is a different story. It has little to no nutrition and is a strong diuretic. This causes you to loose a lot of water-soluble vitamins and minerals including magnesium. That dreaded hangover the next day is partially caused by this loss.
- Soil Depletion
This is much more out of our control on a personal level, but it is a world issue that is important to know about.
The way we have been doing agriculture is affecting our magnesium content. The world is facing a huge problem: our soil mineral content is depleting. This is happening for many reasons: Monocultures, Deforestation, Pesticides, lack of fungai in the soil, etc, etc.
Soil degradation through out the world
This video explains a little more about soil degradation and it impacts
On top of this, our water supply is starting to lack magnesium from this agricultural deterioration and certain chemicals that rid the water of magnesium.
So, lets bring this back to magnesium. If our soil does not contain enough minerals for our plants to absorb, then they do not absorb enough minerals for us to consume. It was estimated in 1993 that approximately 75 billion tons of fertile soil is lost each year. This was a decade ago, so it is possible that this number is lower now, but considering we haven’t really changed the way we do agriculture, and the increasing demand of more and more people on our planet, it probably has gone up.
- Some Other Considerations
Some last conditions that can lead to hypomagnesaemia:
- Diabetes, both type 1 and 2, have an increased rate of magnesium excretion because of kidney dysfunction. So, people with diabetes need more magnesium to reach optimal magnesium levels.
- Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowl Syndrome increase the secretion of magnesium every time you go to the bathroom, causing you to loose more than average.
- Exercise can also increase magnesium loss based on how much you are sweating. Exercise doesn’t cause a huge loss, but it is still good to know about.
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Getting Your Magnesium
That was a lot to take in, while I didn’t mean to freak anybody out, I was pretty unnerved after doing the research. So, just in case you are uneasy like I was, lets look into what we can do to restore our magnesium levels.
Getting magnesium can be as easy as switching up your diet. Many foods are high in magnesium. Check out this list:
Table full of foods with high magnesium
These are only a few of the possible sources that have high magnesium. Actually, my favorite isn’t even on this list. Pure cocoa is a great source of magnesium, a 1/4th cup is equivalent to around 107mg of magnesium. So, for all you dark chocolate lovers like me, this is good news!
If you want a complete list of magnesium content in foods, check out the USDA’s National Nutrition Database. It is jam-packed with magnesium amounts for tons of different foods.
Next, if you want to get the most magnesium out of fresh produce, make sure to go non-pesticide as much as possible. Now, I know there is debate in certain circumstances of whether non-pesticide is any better than pesticide produce, but that is for another debate and future discussion. In this case, to get high magnesium levels in your food, less pesticide is the way to go. The reason is that pesticides will effectively rid the soil of not only pests, but minerals as well. So, if you are going for higher amounts of magnesium in your food, you need foods not drowned in pesticides. If you can’t pay for the cost, try to aim for foods with higher amounts of magnesium to reach at least the RDA.
Some other great ways to get good produce is to start your own garden on your own property, at city garden plots, or grow hydroponically. Garden plots are not only a great way to get outside, but to grow nutritious produce. Many cities have community groups that allow you to rent a small plot to grow your own garden! If you live in an apartment and can’t find a spot for garden plots, I would opt for a hydroponics setup. There are tons of cheap DIY setups on Instructables. This will allow you to optimally grow plants for higher magnesium content (and I heard the produce tastes better too).
I tend to get adequate magnesium in my diet through supplements because its cheap, efficient, and I know I am getting enough each day. There are some complications and differences between getting magnesium from food sources and getting it from supplementation, so lets talk about these issues:
First, supplement sources of magnesium are only beneficial up to a point. If you consume supplemental magnesium, your body can only handle up to around 350mg. After this, you get adverse effects like diarrhea, cramps, and nausea. Don’t let this scare you away from supplements though, they are a great way to get your magnesium to optimal levels when paired with food sources high in magnesium. This simply means that you shouldn’t take however much magnesium you want but stick to a strict amount.
Second, there are a bunch of different types of magnesium supplements out there and many people vouching for each and every one. It is hard to research the bioavailability (the actual percentage absorbed) of magnesium, because it interacts with so many different parts of the body. This has caused lots of debates on which magnesium supplement has the highest bioavailability or gives you the most bang for your buck. You can get into more on the debate here.
Because of this debate, I can only recommend what I have personally used or I think is a good supplemental sources of magnesium. Personally, I tend to prefer magnesium citrate and transdermal magnesium chloride.
Magnesium citrate has a decently high bioavailability of around 90%, but only contains around 16% elemental magnesium. So, you get about 14% magnesium per serving. This may not seem like a lot, but overall, it ends up being higher than other supplements and is relatively cheap for what you get. If you compare this to magnesium oxide (in most multivitamins) with a 4% bioavailability and 60% elemental magnesium, magnesium oxide gives you about 2.4% per serving. Compare that to the 14% magnesium citrate, and you can see real quickly that magnesium citrate will give you much more magnesium for the amount you use. A recent study also shows that magnesium citrate has a much better absorption than magnesium oxide. Anyway, this is my preference. You can still use magnesium oxide, but it will take a larger dosage to bring your magnesium levels to optimal amounts.
Magnesium citrate is great too because it helps you fall asleep. I take a serving of Natural Calm* magnesium citrate right before I brush my teeth and go to sleep so I get both health and sleep benefits. It took me some time to figure out how much actually works for me. Being somewhat smaller in mass I have noticed that too much give me the runs in the morning, so play around and experiment with dosage if you decide to pick up some for yourself. I toss it back with a glass of water, Krista likes it in water, it’s your preference.
Magnesium chloride is my second favorite, it’s nice because it absorbs topically on the skin and has a decent bioavailability (still being debated). You heard me right, you can get your magnesium through your skin! I tend to get Life Flo* or Ancient Minerals Magnesium oil* and use it after a rough day of exercise because it helps to relax the muscles as it absorbs in. Krista and I also use it when we have cramps or restless legs before sleep.
One thing to watch out for with this stuff is that sometimes the magnesium chloride can burn a little. If this causes too much discomfort, I would try a less potent magnesium oil like Ancient Minerals Ultra*. You just have to work things out to find what works best for you.
Don’t Forget the Ocean
There is nothing like relaxing with friends and hanging out in the waves.
If you live near the coast and want to get magnesium for free. Head to the ocean, it is jam packed full of magnesium to help you chill out. All the surfers have figured it out, get out there and hang loose!
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There are many other ways to get supplemental magnesium as well: Magnesium malate, Magnesium taurate, magnesium glycinate, Epsom salts* and many more. I would urge you to take some time to research and see what works for you.
For me, after researching and trying a couple different ways, I take supplemental magnesium (citrate and chloride) up to the RDA and then balance out the rest with natural sources of magnesium to get a more complete diet.
After all this research, I think I can positively say that magnesium is very important and a pressing issue in our time. It helps with all types of health issues, makes you less stressed, and may be the holy grail of just chill’n out, something we don’t do enough of in our fast passed lives. Now that you have all this information, hopefully you can use it to benefit your life!
Tell me how you are getting your magnesium in your diet and what you think about this post in the comments below! Have an awesome day!
Check it out!
- Dirt! The Movie – A documentary about how our soil is depleting.
- Natural Calm* – The magnesium citrate that I recommend.
- Life Flo Pure Magnesium Oil* – A transdermal magnesium oil I use, it is 66mg per 4 sprays.
- Ancient Minerals Magnesium Oil* - The other brand I use.
- Ancient Minerals Ultra Magnesium Oil with OPT MSM* – a transdermal magnesium oil that is not as potent as the one above, but has a lesser likely hood of causing burning.
- Organic farming, food quality and, human health by Soil Association - A comprehensive review of organic practices vs. non-organic practices, food quality, and human health.
- Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease – A review on magnesium physiology.
- Healthworks Raw Certified organic Cocoa Powder* – mmmmm, because man, I love cocoa in my protein shakes.
- DIY Magnesium Lotion by Modest Mom
- Magnesium in the Central Nervous System – A free textbook!
* At the end of links are affiliate linked sources