“We evolved in the ocean, developed methods of controlling potassium, sodium, and chloride across membranes to maintain metabolism and life (using solutes in the water), and, along with land plants, we now must carry the ocean water within our skins, controlling these electrolytes, bathing the outside surfaces of our cells as if they were single-celled organisms in the sea.” Michael Moore
I love this image presented by the late herbalist Michael Moore. I find it particularly helpful in understanding and educating around the importance of mineral balance in our bodies. We carry the ocean water inside our skins. The electrolyte balance that allows for life to thrive in the oceans at large must also be maintained in our own bodies by what we eat and drink on a daily basis. The macro- and the microcosm. Ahh, life.
I would like to add magnesium to the list of electrolytes presented above. In recent years, research surrounding the importance of this mineral and its function in our bodies has significantly increased. Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions, many of which contribute to production of energy and cardiovascular function. For many clients at the Evergreen Center, magnesium supplementation is an important part of their wellness protocol.
Magnesium sustains life on land as well as in the oceans. It is the central ion of the chlorophyll molecue, and therefore essential for plant photosynthesis. In vertebrates, magnesium is essential for numerous physiological functions. It is the counterbalance for calcium levels in the body and like calcium, is largely stored in our bones (about 65%). Magnesium functions to relax skeletal muscles as well as the smooth muscles of the blood vessels and gastrointestinal tract. Calcium stimulates muscle contradiction and magnesium relaxes them. For this reason, it can be thought of as the “anti-stress” mineral, acting as a natural relaxant. People tend to sleep better when taking magnesium before bed. However, magnesium supplementation often helps reduce symptoms of fatigue as well (as it works with potassium to restore normal energy levels).
Food sources for magnesium are, for the most part, found in the vegetable kingdom: dark leafy greens, nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts), seeds, legumes and whole grains (particularly wheat bran and germ, millet and brown rice). Avocados, dried apricots and seafood also have fairly high amounts. Try adding a touch of vinegar or lemon juice to your dark leafy greens as you’re preparing them to improve mineral absorption.
I prefer to get my vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet. This should be done whenever possible. However, it’s important to note that most of the farms involved in food production in this country, even organic ones, have magnesium-deficient soil. This, combined with the fact that many people don’t actually absorb the full spectrum of nutrients from their food, is why I recommend supplementing with magnesium to a majority of the clients I see.
When choosing a magnesium supplement, look for magnesium citrate or magnesium carbonate. Magnesium citrate provides an easily absorbed form of the mineral bound with an organic acid. When water is added, ionic magnesium citrate forms. Most research shows this form to be absorbed in the 75%-98% range. By comparison, overall magnesium absorption from food appears to be about 30-60%. Keep in mind that minerals are best absorbed in an acidic environment. So it’s best to take supplemental magnesium on a stomach empty of food, where it will interact with your stomach acid. I recommend taking your magnesium before bed to relax tension and aid deep sleep. Follow product directions for dosing or as directed by your practitioner. Before starting any supplement, it’s always a good idea to check with your health care practitioner.
Magnesium can also function as a laxative (think Grandma’s Milk of Magnesia). When taken in excess, magnesium attracts water into the colon, causing loose stools. This is the body’s mechanism to prevent hypermagnesaemia or magnesium toxicity. If you experience an undesirable laxative effect from magnesium, scale back your supplementation to bowel tolerance.
“We are a civilization in the midst of a magnesium famine” – Paul Bergner
Modern life and industrial food systems have led to widespread magnesium deficiency. Current estimates are that 80% of the US population doesn’t get the RDA for magnesium and 50% of the population gets less than half of this RDA. For current recommended daily allowances of magnesium and other nutrients, go to http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/dietary-guidance/dietary-reference-intakes/dri-tables. Many authorities feel the RDA should be increased by 50% (to about 600-700 mg per day for adults). Some practitioners will suggest supplementing up to 1,000 mg per day (taken in divided doses).
Our soils are depleted and our increased intake of mineral-depleted water, birth control, diuretic drugs and habitual consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and excess sugar have led to widespread magnesium deficiency. Deficiency is more likely in those who eat a processed-food diet, as well as for people who cook (particularly boil) all foods. Deficiency can also occur when magnesium elimination is increased with stress. This is something I’d like to emphasize. When stress dominates our bodies, we lose essential nutrients like magnesium, calcium and B vitamins.
Symptoms that can indicate a magnesium deficiency include: muscle cramping and spasm, menstrual cramping, headaches, migraines, gastrointestinal cramping, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, paresthesia (tingling) of the extremities, cardiac arrhythmias, dizziness, confusion, nervousness, poor concentration, and jumpiness. Tension, cramping and an inability to relax is the theme here. Sound familiar?
It’s been a long while since we evolved out of the oceans, but it’s comforting to know that we carry the memory of that mineral make-up in our extracellular fluid. Many in the modern world are mineral-deficient and the rates of diseases that are associated with mineral deficiency are on the rise (e.g., diabetes which requires minerals to balance blood sugar). But fear not! You can take charge of your health and balance your inner ocean with a nutrient-dense diet and a dash of magnesium.
- “Principles and Practice of Constitutional Physiology for Herbalists” Michael Moore, p28-29
- “Magnesium Basics”, Wilhelm Jahnen-Dechent and Markus Ketteler, Clinical Kidney Journal (vol 5 issue 1), http://ckj.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/Suppl_1/i3.full
- “Staying Healthy With Nutrition”, Elson M Haas MD, p162-166
- “Vitalist Treatment of Acute Symptoms”, album 2 disc 13, Paul Bergner
- “Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”, National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/