Magnesium: Why You Should Supplement (even just a teensy bit)

Perhaps a hazy memory from your high school chemistry days, a murky mention or two of magnesium in the context of a discussion on the periodic table or balancing chemical equations, is all that’s floating around in your gelatinous blob of a brain about this mineral nutrient. Atomic Symbol of Mg, Atomic Number of 12, Alkaline Earth Metal, +2 ionization charge, yadda yadda yadda when the hell is lunch break already? Well, I’m here to tell you that this passing item of noninterest, which was maybe in one of the bonus questions on the chemistry final, actually matters WAY more than you thought in today’s dietary habits of Americana.

 

First, here’s a briefing on the nutritional guns that magnesium is wielding. The human body utilizes Mg in an almost innumerable amount of processes, including over 300 enzymatic catalytic reactions, synthesis of DNA and RNA, and utilization and synthesis of ATP. You remember ATP, adenosine triphosphate, as the energy currency of cells from biology class (less agonizing than chemistry if my high school is any indication). Turns out an Mg ion is necessary for the ATP to be bioactive at all. Well, lookie there.

 

Besides the contributions and merits on its own, magnesium is in a perpetual sparring match with its brother mineral calcium. Both of these guys are found predominantly in your bones with internal calcium stores tipping the scales at 99% of bodily Ca inside bone tissue and teeth, while internal magnesium stores total about 60% in bone. 39% of Mg is found inside other cells with about half that inside skeletal muscle tissue alone. The remaining 1%, along with the 1% of calcium, is darting around causing mischief, egging and toilet papering all the cells up and down the block.

 

More accurately, though, magnesium shadows its beefier brother in the processes of nerve conduction and muscle contraction. Positively charged Ca+2 ions rush into an excited neuron through conduction channels not unlike a torrent of jizz erupting into whatever your preferred orifice is (no judgment here), but when’s too much excitement down there and no way to cool down, then shit can and will hit the fan. Luckily, Mg+2 saves the day, closing off some of these channels to prevent neurons from firing out of control spastically.

 

Another major role that magnesium plays in cleaning up after calcium’s romping around and general mayhem-causing is the decalcification of arteries. The jury is still out, I found at a later stage of my research, on whether calcium supplementation is culpable for arterial calcification plaques, but I will say this: Excessive calcium in the blood can over time kickstart the pathologies of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. [1]

 

(Note: I’m NOT deliberately attempting to vilify calcium. It is AT LEAST as much an essential mineral as magnesium, if not more so, since it’s the most abundant in the human body. It’s MANDATORY for bone and heart health. However, it must be kept in check like everything else, and in conjunction with more Mg (along with Vitamins D and K2, the subjects of future posts) inside the context of a Western diet, one’s long-term health will assuredly fall into balance).

 

Also, magnesium teams up with potassium in intracellular levels. This alliance though is about as interesting and intellectually stimulating as the on-set Wheel of Fortune bond between Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Woohoo, let’s run a game show together with as minimal interaction as possible! I dunno, I just find it boring. Jeopardy is a way better investment of 30 minutes of your time. Quality education by the exalted Alex Trebek concerning only semi-mostly-useless trivia, and sustained anticipation on whether anyone will ever overturn Ken Jennings’ otherworldly record. But yeah, keep up your potassium intake, eat those bananas.

 

In any case, sounds pretty damn important right? Indeed it is, and my premise here is that almost everyone can stand to benefit from a little bit more magnesium in their diet. I say this because as it happens, nearly 2/3 of Americans are chronically deficient in their daily intake of Mg according to the USDA. [2] The main reason? Depleted nutrients in the soil. As always.

 

ERMAHGERD! Magnesium deficiency! The horror! Christ Bill, stop playing doctor for me and go get laid already. I eat a balanced diet per the USDA food plate guidelines or else a whatever-the-!@#$-I-want diet so I should be perfectly fine, and in fact, I FEEL perfectly fine. I understand that impulsive dismissal of my advice is an inescapable reality, especially considering that assaulting a person’s dietary habits is tantamount to assaulting their honor and integrity as a human being.

 

Having said that, if you hear me out, I promise you that your days will be slightly less stressful and your general health will improve over the long term. Magnesium ain’t no Magic Pill, even if it alliterates well with Magic, but sprinkling a little extra on the usual American cuisine every day will definitely help down the line. Don’t sprinkle too much though, otherwise you and the toilet will be going on a date. A loud, explosive date concluding with the toilet walking out and making you foot the bill for the plumber. (Magnesium in higher doses produces a potent diarrheic effect for those out of the loop.)

 

Here’s the deal: your body cranks away at daily organ system upkeep at a snail’s pace. If you’re not meeting daily dietary Mg needs, it will find Mg one way or the other – in this case, from your bones and skeletal muscle. You won’t realize this leeching, however, until it is way too late in the process, many years down the line. And that too late means you’re at the doctor’s office wondering just what in the Seven Hells is happening to your body.

 

With that said, what can you expect, as a typical American, from chronic magnesium deficiency? Before I expound on this idea, note that I emphasize chronic here since it is rare indeed to be acutely deficient (termed hypomagnesemia) barring controlled exposure to very uncommon frankenmedications or getting hammered every single !@#$ing night of the week. As a chronic deficiency, lowered magnesium intake is a major risk factor for this fun laundry list of medical complications:

 

1)      Cardiovascular disease (from artery calcification)

2)      Diabetes

3)      High blood pressure

4)      Anxiety disorders

5)      Migraines (noticed a substantial reduction in frequency and intensity with these myself)

6)      Osteoporosis

7)      Cerebral infarction (a type of stroke for the medical jargon illiterate, which is like everybody)

 

One other malady: Muscle spasms. Ever notice a subconscious compulsion to twitch your knees rapidly when sitting down? Bouncing your foot up and down repeatedly and all that? It seems to be a mild form of Restless Leg Syndrome, and there are a host of causes which I am not qualified to diagnose anyone with. I’d wager fairly highly though that you’re not getting enough magnesium in your diet, allowing ol’ Calvin Calcium to flood neural conduction channels and not giving your muscles a goddamn break already.

 

I see it in SO many people my age, it’s absurd. Do you honestly think a caveman in his prime like us had this issue? Can you picture them sitting around the fire all jiggling their legs like twitchy gorillas? I guess people think that it is due to not enough walking around or exercise, or functions as an anxiety and stress reducer. These may be the case, but it can almost certainly be eliminated by adding some Mg into the mix. That’s how I got rid of mine (and I thought it was because I was a twitchy, video game marathoning, Dr. Pepper and Domino’s fueled, frustrated nerd in my younger years).

 

I know people who are as active as I am (which isn’t much, I only weight train 3x a week) if not more so, who have their legs start flopping around like a sorry excuse for a spawning salmon hurling his scaly ass onto the river bank. Do you want to be bear fodder? DO YOU?

 

bear-denied-salmon-o
Or human fodder for that matter…

 

Again, I’ll make the point that almost everyone can experience a healthier body with additional magnesium. Many people are perfectly adequate in their endogenous levels, particularly if they’re young and beautiful (like me). After all, neither the USDA nor I claimed that every single mother!@#$ing person in ‘Murica needs to chug magnesium until the last thing exploding out of their newly-acquired anus-rocket is their skull. But just how much? Let’s look at the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance): 300 – 400 mg / day. Where does this come from in the diet? The best sources are:

 

1)      Dark leafy green vegetables like spinach (surprise surprise, having mom or dad bark at you to eat your veggies had its valid intent)

2)      Nuts, esp. brazil nuts, cashews, and almonds (I’m kinda addicted to cashews and cashew butter actually)

3)      Seeds

4)      Dark chocolate (one of my favorite things to ingest with reckless abandon… yes I’m on my freaking period all the time)

5)      Bran and some whole grains

 

It is best to diversify your magnesium eating portfolio to ensure you are hitting several food groups from a balanced diet instead of scarfing down 27 dark chocolate bars, no matter what time of the month it may be. I’d recommend 27 chocolate bars over 10 loaves of whole grain bread though, for reasons I will present in a future article.

 

More magnesium intake carries even greater primacy due to the propensity of the American diet shoe-horning as much calcium in fortified and processed junk as possible. Let’s take a look with a quick Google search to discover the relative percentages of calcium and magnesium in an example breakfast of Wheaties with skim milk and a tall glass of fortified OJ:

 

Calcium: 2% from Wheaties, 15% from ½ cup skim milk, 30% from fortified OJ

Magnesium: 6% from Wheaties, 3% from ½ cup skim milk, 3% from fortified OJ

 

I know, I know, a gross, contrived oversimplification, but it gets the point across. You’re starting the day off with a Ca:Mg ratio of 4:1 in terms of %DV here. The proper ratio of Ca:Mg consumption should hover around the 1:1 ballpark at the very least, preferably 1:2, and certainly NOT the 2:1 regularly found in calcium supplements.

 

Alright, now with the assumption in tow that you have lowered your defenses and allowed this potentially life-saving advice into your home beside the hearth, I will give my best estimates on how much exactly you should supplement Mg per day if you so choose. For most people, I recommend a magnesium citrate complex taken at nighttime on the order of 125 mg a day, depending on your diet. For older folks, take the larger serving size I’ve seen, 250 mg. If you take a calcium supplement, add even more. If you’re diabetic, an alcoholic, or have gastrointestinal disorders, add more too.

 

Why Mg citrate? It’s more bioavailable than other forms (esp. inorganic Mg salts like magnesium oxide) and relatively cheap and accessible. **DISCLAIMER** Take heed though: while supplementing ANYTHING, always err on the side of caution and titrate your dosage upwards from a lower amount. START with something as low as 50 mg and move up if necessary in increments. Once your bowels seem a little loose, back off some. That’s your optimal dosage. If you decide to pop 20 pills in one sitting, then I’d say “I told you so” and recommend a new bathroom remodeling.

 

Finally, I will conclude with what should always be stated following an enraged diatribe about the health of another human being. Always consult your doctor before making any significant changes to your lifestyle, be it diet or fitness. Don’t take the advice of an exhaustingly world-weary recent master’s graduate in electrical engineering without several grains of salt. Do, however, talk to your doctor about the possibility of incorporating a magnesium supplement into your routine. That is, after all, the takeaway here: spurring discussion, not taking my advice and running with it.

 

References:

[1] Cardiovascular calcification: an inflammatory disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21566338

[2] What we eat in America, NHANES 2005 – 2006. http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12355000/pdf/0506/usual_nutrient_intake_vitD_ca_phos_mg_2005-06.pdf

[3] The Almighty Wikipedia for a ton of stuff. http://www.wikipedia.org

For more information: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/