Magnesium is commonly overlooked as one of the most deficient minerals in our diet today. Magnesium plays a critical role in some 300 chemical reactions in the body, including maintaining healthy vision.
If you have ever suffered from cramping, heart palpitations, twitching (including an eye twitch) , anxiety, neck pain, irritable bowel and constipation, high blood pressure, asthma and migraines, these could all be signs of a deficiency.
Health Benefits of Magnesium
Magnesium is a key mineral involved in regulating cell energy metabolism with particular importance for cardiac and skeletal muscle. It forms an integral part of our bones and assists in relaxing smooth muscle – muscle not under conscious control, such as the stomach, heart, oesophagus, eyes and other organs – and continuously repairing body proteins.
Only 1% of total body magnesium is found in the blood.
The majority is found in the bones, muscles and other soft tissues. Many of the mentioned symptoms can be eased or eliminated by simply providing for more magnesium in your diet.
Magnesium helps to lower blood pressure and maintain normal cardiac rhythm.
What can lower your levels of Magnesium?
Of little surprise is that caffeine, alcohol, stress, strenuous exercise (sweating) and high fat diets can lower your body stores of this vital mineral. Many of us would be affected by one or more of these categories.
We often start our days with a coffee or tea, pack in a stressful day at the office and then exercise to unwind in the evening – or have a relaxing drink or two.
Any of these in moderation is likely to be ok if it is balanced day-to-day with good nutrition and relaxation. However, busy lifestyles do not always provide for the balance we really need.
An excessive calcium intake can also deplete your levels.
Calcium supplements and high dairy consumption can disturb the natural balance between the two minerals, in effect swamping your magnesium. Ideally the ratio between the two should be as close to 1:1 as possible.
While no one would deny that calcium is an important mineral, the promotion of calcium, be it through the dairy or supplements industry, may well have tipped the scales too far.
Recent studies are even suggesting that many people taking regular calcium supplements are at elevated risk for cardiovascular disease. Magnesium is a heart muscle mineral. You can join the dots from there.
A meta-analysis of studies involving more than 12,000 participants published in British Medical Journal found that calcium supplementation increases the risk of heart attack by 31%, stroke by 20% and death from all causes by 9%.
Another reason for this imbalance is that common fertilisers used in agriculture to grow many of the foods we eat contain calcium in the form of calcium phosphate, but little to no magnesium - or many other essential minerals for that matter. Soils are used and reused making them less mineral-rich over time.
Best Sources of Magnesium
Wheat bran, Wheat germ, Spinach, Cashews, Almonds and Oatmeal are all top sources. Other good sources include, brown rice, lentils, kidney beans, cocoa, bran flakes and peanuts.
Depending on your household water supply, tap water can also be a source of magnesium and other minerals. Water containing a high level of minerals is usually referred to as ‘hard’ water. However, if you live in an area with poor water quality, filtering for heavy metals and other agents that can pollute your water is a wise choice.
An epsom salts bath is also an easy – and relaxing – way to increase your magnesium levels.
In supplement form, Magnesium is often attached to a transporting substance for better absorption through the digestive system. This is called chelation. Hence many multi-vitamins use a ‘magnesium chelate’, combining magnesium with a transporting amino acid of some form to aid better uptake (bio-availability) in the body.
The better forms of magnesium chelate are magnesium aspartate or arginate.
Two forms of Magnesium, Orotate and Citrate tend to have the best absorption. The citrate form being commonly used in hospitals to clear patient’s bowels.
Fact: Intravenous magnesium is commonly used in hospitals in life- threatening situations including trauma, cardiology and obstetrics.
Magnesium & Eye Health.
Magnesium plays several key roles in the health of our eyes:
- relaxes the smooth muscle in the eye. Eyelid twitching and other spasms of the eye, including a condition called Blepharospasm, can often be remedied with continued magnesium supplementation
- acts as a muscle relaxant. Can help prevent ocular migraines (pain behind the eyes) by relaxing the associated spasms.
- protects the optic nerve and other tissues at the back of the eyes from overstimulation
- prevents calcium accumulation in the focusing lens which can in turn accelerate the onset of cloudy cataracts.
Fact: studies trace the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and cardiac deaths to the degree of magnesium depletion induced by a diet and drinking water low in magnesium.
Respected MD, Mark Hyman, discusses magnesium’s critical role in general health.
Good Health in The 21st Century. Dr C Hungerford 2nd Edition 2008