Everything you need to know about magnesium
Demands on our time and energy fluctuate with every season, impacting our diet, quality of sleep, mood and even how we manage menopause. Until more recently, magnesium has been an unsung hero for helping such symptoms, yet studies show it really can help make a big difference to our immediate and longer-term health.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It’s involved in over 300 metabolic processes including those that help regulate sleep, stress and how we cope with anxiety. Here we explain what you need to know about magnesium.
The benefits of magnesium
Helpful for sleep
It’s harder to switch off when our brains are active. Plus, as we experience shifting mid-life hormones (especially declining estrogen), we find sleep more difficult and less restful. This is where magnesium comes in as one of the most important minerals for surviving stress and encouraging better sleep.
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).
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Improve your mood
Participants took 248g of elemental magnesium daily for six weeks. The participants saw an improvement in their mental health, with researchers concluding that magnesium is effective for mild-to-moderate depression in adults.
Soothe your muscles
Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) have traditionally been added to bathwater to help soothe aching muscles. In water, Epsom salt breaks down into magnesium, sulphur and oxygen. The theory is that these enter the body through the skin. A soak in a warm Epsom salts bath is very soothing and can encourage a more peaceful night’s sleep after a busy day.
That being said, taking magnesium orally has higher absorption rates.
Regulate vitamin D levels
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, has a multitude of benefits for our body. It helps to support our bones, teeth, brain and immune system, to name just a few. More recent research has also explored magnesium’s role in determining just how much vitamin D our bodies can produce.
The December 2018 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition featured a study of the relationship between magnesium and vitamin D in over 12,000 individuals between 2001-2006. The result? Those consuming higher levels of magnesium, whether via their diet or supplements, were less likely to have low levels of vitamin D. Having the right amount of this mineral in your system appears to allow our bodies to regulate vitamin D levels.
Support your bone health
Magnesium is an important contributor to bone health. Those with a higher intake of this important mineral are likely to benefit from higher bone mineral density. This is an important factor in reducing our risk of fractures and osteoporosis – issues we become increasingly concerned about as we age.
How to source magnesium
How much should we be consuming?
The UK government recommends 270mg a day of magnesium for women aged 19-75+ and 300mg for men (the EU and US daily recommendations are higher, around 320-420 mg daily).
So 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. It’s also found in dark chocolate! Bottled waters can also be high in this mineral, as can tap water in some areas.
Keep in mind that the RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances) are often the minimum needed to keep us well. These aren’t necessarily the best levels for maximising good health. Some of us also have poor absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, due to the way our genes are structured. This makes it harder for us to hit sufficient levels through food alone.
Sourcing from our diet
Ideally, we should be able to get all the magnesium we need from our diet. However, a 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 think your diet may be lacking, 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)
Should I supplement magnesium?
Magnesium is available in many different forms, including magnesium citrate (one of the most bioavailable forms) and ascorbate. High doses (more than 500mg) can cause diarrhoea in some. On the whole, supplements are generally considered to be safe for most of us, unless there is a history of kidney disease (when they are then not recommended).
It is also available as magnesium malate. This is considered to be the gentlest on the digestive tract and least likely to cause an upset stomach, which can be tolerated in higher amounts. Those with Crohn’s disease or celiac disease are likely to be advised to take additional supplements as these conditions lower magnesium levels.
Research shows that supplements not only help sleep but also improve heart health (potentially reducing the risk of stoke) and improve athletic competitive performance. Because it helps regulate blood sugar levels, research shows that supplementing magnesium supplementation is helpful for those with insulin resistance and/or type 2 diabetes.
Some medical practitioners (including the National Migraine Centre) recommend magnesium for help with migraine and other chronic pain conditions. Studies show that taking 300mg magnesium twice a day (600 mg total) may help reduce the frequency of migraines.
It seems that eating foods and considering additional supplementation can be a genuinely helpful way to lift low mood, ease headaches, muscle fatigue and anxiety – and encourage a better night’s sleep.
The supplements that Liz loves
Liz also recommends the Pure Marine Magnesium from The Naked Pharmacy. The Naked Pharmacy sustainably source this from seawater and it’s one of the seven essential macrominerals we need for our bodies to function healthily. The marine magnesium formulation contains 376mg of elemental magnesium per capsule. Use code LIZLOVES for a 20% discount off at The Naked Pharmacy.
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