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/

 

 

Useful App: Squirt

In this next installment of software lifehacks, I will be talking about a topic near and dear to my heart (while also stubbornly evasive since it is a difficult skill to master): speedreading.

 

Here’s an article where information overload is actually the relevant topic (a reference to my page on a prior segment of the software reviews, f.lux). Whether we are:

a) browsing research papers and documentation on the job,

b) browsing Reddit on the job,

c) flipping through the latest literary masterpieces at Barnes and Noble,

d) browsing Reddit off work,

or whatever, we’re continuously bombarded with information. Knowledge is power; as absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute knowledge or omniscience makes one look like a giant pretentious douchebag. Still, to gain all that knowledge before we find ourselves in the lovely world of diapers, dentures, dementia, drool and discharge bequeathed to us by old age, we must master the art of speedreading.

 

A dual-faceted skill, speedreading not only necessitates a rapid progression of attention from one blob of characters to the next, but an equally fast comprehension, retention, and storage procedure. I don’t need to instruct you on proper use of search engine technology to find tutorials on improving your speedreading capabilities, although I may feature an article on the topic someday if I become proficient enough to offer advice.

 

For now, though, I will vouch for the browser plugin called Squirt (don’t worry, despite the name, this won’t end in an underhanded redirect to a NSFW site. I promise. You also don’t need instruction in blocking and / or reaching those sites yourself. However, innuendos are fair game here).

 

So what is Squirt? Put simply, it’s a black-box type tool to convert any webpage you are viewing into a stream of words, projected one by one on the screen in the exact same position (the horizontal center of the browser window) and at a user-specified pace defined in words per minute (WPM). You’ll likely grasp the advantage that this information-absorbing modality carries, namely, saving your eyes from passing back and forth following lines of text across the screen. Instead, you become the garbage can recipient of a relentless fountain of black, serif knowledge-vomit making a direct beeline for your brain.

 

A snapshot of Squirt vomiting a Wikipedia page.
A snapshot of Squirt vomiting a Wikipedia page.

 

Wonderful, Bill, now that a vivid image of the Internet tossing its cookies at me (har har, very pucking punny) is cemented in my mind, why don’t you grace me more with your anecdotal experience with this plugin? Glad you asked! I started off with Squirting by first gauging where my reading speed was at – this entailed maxing the WPM meter and wondering …

 

… just how in the honest-to-god !@#$ does someone absorb anything from such a display of pyroclastic puke before having a seizure?

 

The answer is practice, lots and lots of practice. I’m trying to work my way through the 300s of WPM. It’s tough, at least for me. Think something like the opening scene of Robot Chicken: eventually you’ll become a clucking, all-knowing cyborg after strapping yourself down in front of your laptop with your eyes pried wide open 24/7 taking in feeds of news articles. Though if you can master multiple screens at once, why are you even on this blog, you goddamn robot?

 

In any case, it’s worth your time to pick up Squirt, available as a plugin (well, technically a bookmarklet, oh gee let’s all be freaking pedantic now) for Google Chrome as well as Firefox and Safari. A couple points:

 

First, it’s delightfully simple to use, as you just click the button on your bookmarks bar when you navigate to a page you’d wish to have Squirted into your face.

 

Second, it has been known to glitch out in my experience by spewing out undecipherable HTML tags and other behind-the-scenes nonsense. If that happens, don’t fret. You haven’t reached a heightened level of Matrix-esque existence and awareness. Your little browser buddy is just having trouble getting it up on screen. So, either just give it a cyberviagra or two by refreshing the page, or settle for regular old-school reading.

 

Good luck, godspeed, and happy speedreading! Hell, test it out on this post. Squirt: It just works!

Useful App: f.lux

As part of my series on the Terrajolt blog featuring reviews of software lifehacks, I’d like to jumpstart that vein with a somewhat brief review of a small yet powerful desktop program called f.lux.

 

In yet another maladaptive facet of modern culture and the Information Age, we humans have become all too accustomed to being plugged in to the cyber-world on a nearly constant basis. One need only step into the nearest sports bar to be lambasted with bright TV screens in full rich HD color broadcasting the day’s game or highlight reels. He or she then breaks out the smartphone to either confirm the now-tardy arrival of friends at the venue or stall time on Reddit until society’s greatest social lubricant and crutch (alcohol for those clueless few) kicks in and suppresses anxiety. Or perhaps one can also journey to the local Starbuck’s to furiously study and type away at school projects well into the night in front of his or her bright laptop monitor.

 

Wherever you happen to be, the ubiquity of electronic displays vomiting out information cannot be escaped. Information overload, despite what I’ve implied, isn’t the problem I’m unearthing though; rather, the lighting and color of these screens physiologically disrupt the natural process of the body preparing to enter into the twilight hours.

 

See, these screens were designed to mimic sunlight, which is all well and good, until the sun gets chased over the horizon by Skӧll, that scumbag wolf from Norse mythology, and the stars come out. Now you’re staring into a sunlight screen when there’s a clear absence of glowy, life-bestowing orb in the sky (giant ass disco balls don’t make the cut here, sorry). Your eyeballs warm up, burn and sting, spontaneously combust, and before you know it, you’re writhing on the ground screaming bloody murder because you just glared at your laptop for way too !@#$ing long.

 

Enter f.lux. This nifty mini-program process runs smoothly and silently in the background on your computer, not making a whisper except for two precise times of the day: sunrise and sunset. At those moments, f.lux swoops in like a cyber-ninja and alters the color content of your screen’s backlighting. At sunset, it reduces white light and drapes your screen in a relaxing shade of orange, subtle enough to warrant little more than a brief notice yet powerful enough to minimize strain on your eyes in the context of usual indoor lighting. At sunrise, it performs the opposite transition, increasing white light to promote the alertness evolutionarily packaged with a typical human’s morning routine stemming from being greeted by sunlight.

 

You can view the difference in the two screenshots below.

 

My screen prior to sunset.
My screen prior to sunset.
My screen after sunset. Noted the muted blue. This is what our eyes want!
My screen after sunset. Noted the muted blue. This is what our eyes want!

 

So why do I advocate getting this free program? Well, mainly because of the sleep-improving effects it possesses, and if there’s one thing us wired, frantic, party-loving, boozing, ball-busting, plugged-in Americans love to screw with and loathe, even more so than foreigners and minorities, it is our sleep schedules.  Also, it’s pretty clutch to watch the transition unfold in real-time (it doesn’t change colors instantly), like your computer’s going into red alert and !@#$ is about to get real.

 

I’ll eventually be compiling an entire segment of articles on sleep and why you’re not receiving high-quality shuteye, despite what you may think, but I figure this little snippet is a sufficient striptease of what is to come. So download f.lux and give it a trial run for a while. Also nab the mobile equivalent, Twilight, on your Android phone while you are at it (don’t know if it’s on the Apple Store as well but it’s worth a looksie).

L-Theanine: For all you caffeine junkies and stressed-out types

Let’s be honest here: Dunkin’ Donuts slogan “America Runs on Dunkin’” has a great deal of truth behind its claim, if a little conceitedly exaggerated in asserting the sole responsibility of DD for fueling America. C’mon now, Starbucks is at least as popular (and overrated). But coffee here in the US reigns supreme as the quintessential morning / afternoon / evening / late-night-prior-to-report-deadline stimulant of choice.

 

Every morning on workdays, I bear witness to a profound metamorphosis of putrescent creatures, voices screeching and mouths dripping with venom, shambling into my local coffee shop like zombies up to the register counter, only to magically transform into beings largely resembling normal humans (some don’t lose the screechy voice but ah well). Caffeine commands respect and even borderline awe-inspired, cultish worship. Its molecular structure is becoming an increasingly non-blasphemous religious icon resting loftily among the ranks of the Crucifix, the Star of David, and the Crescent.

 

However you prefer to consume your caffeine, whether chugging coffee, energy drinks, mixing or snorting straight powder, it behooves you to know that you’re not reaping the maximum benefit from your cup-of-joe routine. Many who have coffee in copious amounts each day (> 2 cups) report feeling jittery and anxious with their blood pressure and pulse swinging high, sometimes severely. Befitting my role as a blogger, I come bearing good news: now you can have your coffee and drink it too with the wonderfully synergistic addition of one particularly strong supplement: L’Theanine.

 

Just what is L’Theanine, outside of another nutritional dud that this charlatan Bill is attempting to peddle to his more gullible readership? Well, it is the principal amino acid (you know, protein building blocks) found in teas, especially green tea. As an analog to its protein constituent brother L’Glutamine (another amino acid and perhaps the subject of another post) and glutamate (the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain – the chemical mostly responsible for you powering through and acing your final exams), theanine has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and thus exert psychoactive effects on the brain… and boy, what a prolific spectrum of cognitively nurturing effects theanine produces!

 

Its pharmacology is a perfect trifecta of benefits:

1) it acts as a physical and mental stress reliever,

2) it improves your ability to think, and

3) it boosts mood and performance in conjunction with… you guessed it, caffeine!

Throw another synergistic compound in the mix if there actually is one, and now we’re rolling with a goddamn Holy Trinity of American Workplace Whoop-Ass. !@#$ Yeah!

 

Stress reduction tricks and techniques permeate our daily supply of information to a disturbing degree, matched only by health and nutrition articles waging war on each other’s contradictory claims, as well as advertisements for U. of Phoenix online degree programs. Some of these techniques are as cultish as caffeine and downright terrifying (I’m looking at you, Tension Reduction Exercises, or T.R.E. for short – it’s really an exorcise routine rather than an actual exercise. These guys make holy rollers seem like reasonable folks).

 

Theanine, however, is much more convenient, effective, and safe for public areas – it induces alpha wave activity in the brain, which if you’re unaware, is that feeling you get when you’re in the mother!@#$ing zone. While this guy mucks around with whatever the hell lives between your ears, you’re positively cruising, stress-free and highly focused on the task at hand. Another perk: it’s an immune system booster, enabling you to stave off disease better! [1] Oh, and one more thing – did I mention it is stupidly non-toxic, like, on the same echelon of I-can-have-as-much-as-I-freaking-want as good ol’ Mary Jane. [2]

 

See, what we are most concerned with vis-à-vis theanine’s role in improving our health and upgrading our lives is the synergy it has with caffeine. This synergy fortunately is innately built-in to green tea, which contains both chemicals. However, green tea doesn’t contain either in a SuperSizeVentiUltraQuintupleShotFifteenPumpMurica quantity that you and I so desperately crave. Instead, I advocate the supplementation of OTC theanine with your morning cup of coffee. You can purchase it at your nearest GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, or natural foods store.

 

I may be biased, but it is my stalwart belief that people, particularly xanthine hounds like myself, truly suffer from a vitiating theanine deficiency, more so than voluntary theanine supplementation merely unlocking people’s adaptive potential regarding stress. Relaying my personal anecdote, I’ve found that theanine added to my morning joe not only kicks my brain’s volume knob up a notch, it expertly curbs any anxiety I may otherwise feel at that time. Sometimes, if I dose too high relative to my caffeine intake, I’ll be downright stupefied with calm and awe with an idle grin smeared on my face, sitting there looking like I was blazed or something.

 

Your mileage may vary, and probably will. I cannot guarantee the efficacy of theanine on your system since people’s bodies, physiologies and chemistries are like snowflakes, each one unique, mostly water, and fragile as !@#$ when subjected to crushing forces.

 

Next question: how much theanine should I take? The answer is trial and error ultimately, but here’s the rule of thumb: you want a 2:1 ratio of theanine:caffeine if you’re a caffeine person, and probably around 100 mg at most if you’re not. The ratio means that, for example, if you down 2 cups of coffee in the morning (anywhere from 150 – 200 mg total of caffeine depending on the strength) then you should shoot for about 300 – 400 mg of theanine to complement that. The worst that’ll happen if you go a wee bit overboard is you’ll feel buzzed, which hey, if that gets you through your morning at work, then roll with it.

 

Where does all this discussion lead us? Simple: if you want an anxiety-reducing, focus-improving, swift kick to the tuchus pairing with your coffee, look no further than Theanine.

 

Now the usual liability-evasion clauses: 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 theanine supplement into your routine. It may possess contraindications for various medications you’re on. Speaketh to thy doctor!

 

References:

[1] Antigens in tea-beverage prime human Vγ2Vδ2 T cells in vitro and in vivo for memory and nonmemory antibacterial cytokine responses. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC156317/

[2] A 13-week dietary toxicity and toxicokinetic study with l-theanine in rats. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691506000949

[3] The Almighty Wikipedia for a ton of stuff (especially the myriad citations for cognition enhancement with caffeine): http://www.wikipedia.org