Everything you need to know about magnesium

Seasonal stresses on our festive social calendars are likely to be leading to short tempers right now, not to mention reducing the chances of us getting a good night’s sleep. When our brains are active, it’s harder to switch off as our head hits the pillow, and those with shifting mid-life hormones (especially declining oestrogen) can find sleep more difficult and less restful. That’s where magnesium comes in.

Magnesium for sleep

One of the most important minerals for surviving stress and encouraging better sleep is magnesium. A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 46 elderly participants by the Faculty of Nutrition and Food Technology, Tehran, found that those who received 500mg magnesium daily for eight weeks fell asleep faster (although their total sleep time wasn’t any longer).

Magnesium in food

Ideally, we should be able to get all the magnesium we need from our diet. However, the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey reveals that many are failing to get enough, in fact, almost 50% of teenage girls have a very low intake. Magnesium helps turn our food into energy and also ensures the parathyroid glands work properly. The hormones these glands produce are important for healthy bones, guarding against osteoporosis. It also plays a role in muscle and nerve function, and helps control glucose levels and blood pressure.

If you feel like your diet may be lacking in magnesium, try to add more of the following to your meals:

  • Green vegetables
  • Nuts (most notably almonds and Brazil nuts)
  • Fish, meat and dairy, such as salmon, chicken and yoghurt
  • Brown rice and wholemeal bread (removing germ and bran from bran cuts around 80% of its magnesium content, so stick to whole grains)

How much magnesium should we be consuming?

The UK government recommendation for magnesium is 270mg a day for women aged 19-75+ and 300mg for men (the EU daily recommendation is slightly higher). How do we hit these amounts? Roughly speaking, 30g of almonds contains 80mg of magnesium; 30g of raw spinach contains 24mg; two slices of wholemeal bread contain 46mg; and 150g of yoghurt has 28mg.

Magnesium for mood

As well as helping us catch a restful night’s sleep, Magnesium is thought to play a role in mood regulation too. A study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that those taking magnesium tablets on top of their usual medication had improved depression scores. Participants took four 500mg tablets of magnesium chloride daily for six weeks. However, because the study wasn’t ‘blinded’ by a dummy pill, it was said the improvements could have been a result of the placebo effect.

Magnesium and muscles

Epsom salts have traditionally been added to bathwater to help soothe aching muscles. In water, Epsom salt breaks down into magnesium and sulphate. The theory is that these enter the body through the skin, however taking magnesium orally is thought to have higher absorption rates.

Magnesium supplements

Alice Mackintosh, registered nutritional therapist and founder of Equi London supplements, says: “Magnesium can be tricky to absorb. However, research shows that chelated forms of the mineral are best.” Look out for magnesium bisglycinate chelate on the back of a packet. This form prevents the laxative effect that other forms of magnesium can have. For those with a history of kidney disease, magnesium supplements are not recommended and The Department of Health advises that taking too much magnesium could be harmful. While high doses (more than 400mg) taken for a short time can cause diarrhoea, there is not enough evidence of the long-term effects of higher doses.

It seems that eating foods that include plenty of magnesium can be a helpful way to lift low mood, ease headaches and muscle fatigue, and encourage a better night’s sleep.

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