Magnesium: the calming essential mineral

My eye twitches. From time to time, I’ll go through phases where I’m irritable,
tired, and things get on my nerves. And my right eyelid will start to twitch when something annoying happens. And this can go on for days, weeks, or months, and then it goes away.

Weird, huh?

I mean, it’s kinda convenient as a warning sign to my family. I will just point to the eye, and they know what that means.  And then there’s the stress. Now, I have had stressful days, or events, but this is more like I feel stressed all the time. Even when there is nothing stressful going on. I can consciously *know* that I am not stressed, but I still can’t turn of the feeling of being stressed. If that makes any sense.<twitch, twitch>

And then there’s the rapid, unexplained weight gain. <TWITCHtwitchtwitch>

But why?

Lately, my man and I have been having some odd “growing old” type symptoms that really had us puzzled. Aches, the aforementioned twitches, sleep quality and quantity is just not where it should be…and other weird things like phases of muscle pains that don’t connect to injuries and such.

All of these things sort of came out of nowhere…no health complaints to speak of really in the past, but this odd cluster of symptoms that set in a little over a year ago for each of us.  We have a very sweet General Practitioner, but the options she offers are therapy, depression meds, or sleep studies/meds.  None of those options “feel” right to us.  So what’s been going on?

I think I have had a BIG “A-HA” moment today, after discussing this with some of my “herbish” friends.  One of my good friends, Heather (and by good, I mean, she’s one of those people that you can discuss poo with.  Everyone needs a friend like that, right?)…anyway, Heather suggested that I do some research on Magnesium.

Many of my symptoms align with adrenals or thyroid, while my husband’s are more of the anxiety/insomnia/muscular-skeletal.  Come to find out, there IS a common thread, and Heather was right on the money: the mineral magnesium.

My research is just blowing me away.  Read through my notes below and see if any
of this makes sense for you or your family. I even see several things that apply to my kids!

Meet Magnesium

Magnesium is a critical mineral to all forms of life.  It is essential to the life of every cell,
as well as being required for over 300 enzyme or chemical reactions in our bodies. 1  It is also critical to our muscular/skeletal system, and nervous system.  Healthy levels of magnesium are necessary for proper nerve and muscle function, as well as immune system health.  Which is why the symptoms range so widely from heart rhythm to sleep disorders, from depression to eye-twitches.  It’s critical for immune system function,
and some infections and conditions cause the body to require even more magnesium.  I also discovered that it’s a common link in preventing some very common diseases.

Now I know that there are a lot of health “bandwagons” to jump on, and I don’t want to act like this is the root cause of all poor health, but HOLEY schnitzel, Batman!

Look at how critical this is to body function! Yes…yes, I know that many of the recognized “authorities” of mainstream medicine don’t recognize magnesium deficiency as being a big problem, but I’ll say this: for my family, there are so many matches on the symptoms list, that we’re going to try on some magnesium supplementation for size, and see what happens.  The worst that can happen is an unintentional “cleanse”.

And even if there *are* other conditions or problems happening, at least we’re
providing for the raw materials that our bodies need to function properly.  So it’s not going to hurt anything, and may actually be quite helpful.

After learning about how important this mineral is to basic health, I had lots of questions, like:

How do you know if you’re deficient?

I mean, what if it’s something else causing these symptoms?

Heather says,

“Magnesium is one of those things that is very deficient in our diet so most people need it. It’s also critical in lots of processes that are affected by adrenals/nerves/neurotransmitters [like sleep problems, anxiety, stress, etc…] So if you are having issues in any of those areas it’s good to see if Magnesium will help.”

(More about neurotransmitters is posted on the Edge Effect book review, here.)

Okay, so, that makes sense. We can gauge our success on how we feel as we go along.

But of COURSE I want to know more about magnesium deficiency, and how likely or probable it is. So I investigate what Wiki has to say about it.  Here are my cliff notes from a couple of their articles:

“Magnesium ions are essential to the basic nucleic acid chemistry of life, and thus are essential to all cells of all known living organisms. Over 300 enzymes require the presence of magnesium ions for their catalytic action. Magnesium is a vital component of a healthy human diet. 57% of the US population does not meet the US RDA for levels of magnesium.

The kidneys are very efficient at maintaining body levels, but not in cases where the diet is deficient.  Low levels of magnesium in the body [have] been associated with the development of a number of human illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Magnesium plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism and its deficiency may worsen insulin resistance, a condition that often precedes diabetes, or may be a consequence of insulin resistance. Deficiency can cause irregular heartbeat.  There has been some speculation that magnesium deficiency can lead to depression.

Taken in the proper amount magnesium plays a role in preventing both stroke and heart
attack. The symptoms of people with fibromyalgia, migraines, and girls going
through their premenstrual syndrome are less severe [with magnesium supplementation] and magnesium can shorten the length of the migraine symptoms.

Alcoholism can produce a magnesium deficiency, which is easily reversed by [supplementing].  Other nutrient deficiencies are identified through biomarkers, but none are established for magnesium.”1, 2

Okay, so this looks pretty legit.

But what about getting solid numbers from lab testing?

I’m a fan of this, especially in cases where I suspect a deficiency or imbalance.

First, let’s look at how the body stores and uses magnesium.  About 50% of the body’s magnesium is bound in the bones, and the other half is actually inside of your cells, making up the organs and tissues of your body. 3 Only about 1% of the magnesium in the body is circulating in the blood.3

So, while doctors can do blood tests for serum magnesium levels, and even if you test “normal” for blood levels, these types of tests really tell you very little about how much magnesium you have at the cellular level, where it really counts.

As the Wiki article points out, there are no boimarkers established for identifying magnesium deficiency.  Meaning that science has yet to find a measurable biochemicial or molecular characteristic or substance that is going to tell your doctor that you’re magnesium deficient.  Which is maybe (probably) why doctors often don’t take the idea of magnesium deficiency too seriously.

But I’m thinking it is worth looking into more.  How hard would this be to correct with foods and supplements? So I start looking for-

Ways to increase the magnesium in our diet: 

I’ve recently been reading about adding Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate) to the garden to help increase the available magnesium in your soil and plants.

Wiki lists foods that are high in magnesium, like

“spices, nuts, cereals, coffee, cocoa, tea, and vegetables…green leafy vegetables such as spinach are also rich in magnesium as they contain chlorophyll. Observations of reduced dietary magnesium intake in modern western countries compared to earlier generations may be related to food refining and modern fertilizers that contain no magnesium.” (Emphasis mine.) 1, 2

The National Institute of Health cites leafy greens and whole grains as good sources, but says,

“Refined grains are generally low in magnesium. When white flour is refined and processed, the magnesium-rich germ and bran are removed.” 3

Now it makes SO much sense to me why Americans, even ones who eat a fair amount
of veggies would be deficient.  AND why a friend would have relief from anxiety attacks,
chronic stress, and insomnia from adding in green smoothies or juicing to her
diet.  Isn’t that cool!  (I might need to mention this to my GP).

So, doctors can’t measure it, but are there any physical signs that I may not have enough magnesium?

Symptoms that may indicate magnesium deficiency:

Dr. Michael Schacter writes a very informative article on magnesium and the symptoms of deficiency. He says,

“Be aware that not all of the symptoms need to be present to presume magnesium deficiency; but, many of them often occur together. For example, people with mitral valve prolapse frequently have palpitations, anxiety, panic attacks and premenstrual symptoms.” 4  He notes that individuals who have a magnesium deficiency often seem to be “uptight.”

<twitch> yes. Yes!

Other general symptoms include breast tenderness in women, and cravings for salt and carbohydrates. The carb cravings may be coupled with an intolerance of the food, such
as a craving chocolate, but then it doesn’t agree with your stomach.  Here are the categories of symptoms that he outlines:

Skeletal/muscular: twitches, cramps, muscle tension, muscle soreness, including back aches, neck pain, tension headaches and jaw joint (or TMJ) dysfunction. Also, one may experience chest tightness or a peculiar sensation that he can’t take a deep breath. (This is one of the symptoms my husband had!) Sometimes a person may sigh a lot. 4

Impaired contraction of smooth muscles: constipation; urinary spasms; menstrual cramps; difficulty swallowing or a lump in the throat-especially provoked by eating sugar; photophobia, especially difficulty adjusting to oncoming bright headlights in the absence of eye disease; and loud noise sensitivity from stapedius muscle tension in the ear.4

central nervous system symptoms: insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness with constant movement, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and premenstrual irritability. 3

peripheral nervous system symptoms:  numbness, tingling, and other abnormal
sensations, such as zips, zaps and vibratory sensations. 4

cardiovascular system symptoms: palpitations, heart arrhythmias, angina due to spasms of the coronary arteries, high blood pressure and mitral valve prolapse. 4

I highly recommend reading the rest of his article!  It’s linked in my source citations below.

And More Magnesium Research…

There are a number of very interesting studies on the use of magnesium for some very serious medical conditions.

It’s been found to be more effective in treating eclampsia and preeclampsia than the medications that are standard treatments for these serious conditions. 5

Oral or IV magnesium supplementation has shown very promising results with treating rapid atrial fibrillation and ventricular arrhythmia.5,6

Cluster headaches, and classic or common migraines (especially hormone or cyclical induced headaches) generally occur with people who have low magnesium levels.  One study in Germany found that a single daily dose of 600 mg of magnesium significantly reduced the frequency of migraine, while lower doses were ineffective.  IV magnesium treatments for migraine sufferers showed significant improvement in all symptoms for patients with migraine auras.5

GERD (gastroespohageal reflux disease, aka “acid reflux“) is very common, and growing problem from tiny newborns, through the elderly.  H2 (stomach acid) blockers are commonly prescribed, but a study showed that when patients treated “on demand” with a magnesium and carbon containing antacid, that they had better results with stomach discomfort than those using the H2 blockers.5

Another amazing study showed that patients who received intravenous magnesium at the time of a heart attack were 25% less likely to die or experience heart failure after the initial attack as they recuperated.  These results were similar to, but independent of the “standard” clot dissolver drugs and aspirin.  Dr. Kent Woods, who headed the research team cited that the magnesium is safe and simple, and strongly suggest that it be added to first response care for heart attack patients.7 Magnesium is not part of standard medical care for heart attack patients right now in the U.S., and we see about 500,000 deaths per year of those who suffer from heart attacks.

Chronic magnesium deficiency is common among type 2 diabetics, and is “associated with insulin resistance (IR) and increased risk for type 2 diabetes in adults.”  It plays a critical role in energy metabolism and transporting glucose across the cell membrane.8,9 A 2005 study concludes, “Magnesium supplementation or increased intake of magnesium-rich foods may be an important tool in the prevention of type 2 diabetes in obese children.”9

Clearly, increasing magnesium intake should be on the radar screen of anyone with these medical conditions. But is it attainable and affordable?  I have GREAT news…

Easy DIY Magnesium Supplement

If you suspect that you need more magnesium in your diet, my brilliant friends, Heather and Judi have introduced me to a DIY recipe for a form of very effective and affordable magnesium supplement.

My next post in this series is the Magnesium supplement recipe from my friend Heather’s Naturopath. You can make it easily with ingredients found in most any grocery store, and it’s far superior to pricier supplements and other common forms of magnesium.  We’ll also talk about a couple of other forms of magnesium supplements that I have experience with.

Obviously, I’m still learning about this amazing mineral and how it fits into the big picture of overall health.  If you have any questions about, or experience with magnesium deficiency, please leave a comment, and we’ll see what we can learn together!

Important note: Kidney health is very critical in maintaining healthy magnesium level.  If you have a kidney condition, please discuss magnesium supplementation thoroughly with your doctor before beginning a protocol of self-treatment.

Sources cited:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnesium#Biological_role
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnesium_deficiency_%28medicine%29
  3. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
  4. http://www.mbschachter.com/importance_of_magnesium_to_human.htm
  5. Therapeutic Uses of Magnesium: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0715/p157.html
  6. study with mag preventing atrial fibrulaiton: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15620927
  7. Study recommending it as first aid in heart attacks: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/28/world/a-study-finds-magnesium-cut-deaths-by-heart-attack.html
  8. Magnesium deficiency in type 2 diabetes: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19629403
  9. Magnesium deficiency associated with insulin resistance in children & adults: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15855585

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  1. YouthfulOne says

    Gwen, would you please update this article with obvious buttons/links to the rest of the magnesium series?
    Thanks!

  2. Missy Mareau says

    I loved reading this. My favorite part was: “I mean, it’s kinda convenient as a warning sign to my family. I will just point to the eye…”

    It CRACKED me up. Such a good visual.

    • Its_Gwen says

      I’ve not looked into it extensively. I have used epsom salts in baths from time to time, but as a busy Mama, baths for myself are not very practical right now.
      I do remember reading that you need to limit your soak to 20 minutes with epsom salts, as there can be a strong detox if you stay in too long.

  3. Emily Frye says

    I have a quick question…maybe not so quick…I am now 35 weeks pregnant. I have been taking the liquid mag supplement since week 26. It has made a world of difference in this pregnancy! I have RLS and it’s usually horrible during pregnancy. Not this time! But as I’m reaching the end I am needing to take MORE to keep the aching legs happy. I’m up to almost a liter a day. Plus an Epsom salt bath every night. Is it normal to need more mag in the end of pregnancy? Can I hurt the baby by taking too much?

    Please feel free to direct me to a book or resource to help me find the answers.

    • Its_Gwen says

      This is definitely something you’ll want to talk with your midwife or doctor about, because they do use high doses of magnesium to stall early labor. It can over-relax the uterus.

      I’d look more at an imbalance of potassium/calcium to try to relieve the cramping, and follow your care providers instructions on dosing the mag. ♥

  4. says

    Great article. One thing I learned in my research is that magnesium absorbs best through the skin so a magnesium cream would be better than a magnesium supplement for getting more into your body.

  5. nick says

    thank you Gwen for such a well-researched and informative article
    on this unsung hero in our midsts, for sure we could all benefit
    from optimising our magnesium intake. I’m going straight to
    your magnesium recipe page NOW!!!

  6. Lisa says

    interesting.. Our acupuncturist recommended magnesium for my husband for stress and insomnia. He got me off antidepressants with vitamin D and fish oil, as well as consistent exercise

  7. says

    I have been taking Calm magnesium citrate for almost three years now. It has been a critical element in treating my Fibromyalgia symptoms. I’m still learning more about magnesium though. I had no idea about the eye twitches which, it’s interesting to note, I had recently been experiencing. I’ve started seeing a neurologist about headaches (tension & migraines), and she had me add magnesium oxide supplements also. I appreciated the notes you included about how your body stores magnesium.Thank you for sharing such helpful information.

  8. Linda Paradis says

    i enjoyed this article, my grand daughter has had problems with monthly and constipation since early teens. She has been to the Dr for years for constipation she’s on a med for it everyday finally has relief. I fear she has become dependent, she can not go without it. I am on strong pain meds I need 5 PeriColase and 3 Senakot a day and going is still painful. I told her I now know how she feels. We both drink plenty of water every day. Could magnesium be the answer?

    • Gwen says

      Linda, you’ll probably want to research more direct options than this absorbent form of magnesium. Usually, non-absorbent forms are better at moving the bowels. But I’d really rather see a change of direction with the stimulant meds, and address the root cause of her constipation, which may be a combination of gut flora imbalance and issues with the nerve that controls the movements of the bowels. If her doctor is not familiar with those approaches, look for a functional medicine doctor that can help her pinpoint the root cause.

  9. Yvonne Tallent says

    My husband and I have been taking magnesium for leg cramps. I didn’t know that it helped all these other conditions.
    Recently, however my husband has been having severe cramping in his stomach muscles when he gets up after a nap in his chair even though he is taking the magnesium. Just wondering if you have ever heard of anyone with this problem?
    YT

    • says

      With anything, including pure water, you can overdo. The key to minerals is finding the balance. If you’re getting too much, you can throw your balance off. I’d definitely take a break if he’s having issues and consult with a Dr. for testing to see his levels of calcium/potassium/magnesium.

  10. Hannah says

    Wow. The eye twitch comment caught my interest here as I have one just as you described. Thought it was just me! Read further and saw I have so many of the other symptoms listed with magnesium deficiency!Definitely will be reading more on this and trying the remedy. Thanks, Gwen!

  11. Tsandi Crew says

    I read back in the 70’s that magnesium treats depression. I know I’ve been taking magnesium that long. But recently, as I’ve grown much older, I find I am short on electrolytes. I have to supplement with them all… I can’t eat enough food to get what I need. Our food isn’t as nutritious as it used to be because the soil is depleted.

    I find magnesium has done all of the above for me, and when I don’t take it I’m in pain and all the rest. It works. Getting the minerals and vitamins we need really works. And walking away from food that is bad for us works as well… that’s harder to do.

    So take the magnesium and get the rest of the electrolytes as well. I discovered my daily headaches are healed with electrolytes. Says I don’t get what I need.

    Well written article. Blessings.

    • says

      Yes! Minerals are a balance issue, and food quality and also the quality of your digestive process are both important factors. Digestive bitters may help you get more out of your foods. :)

  12. says

    Holy Mackerel!
    Magnesium has been mentioned to me before, and I just recently tried out a drink supplement with magnesium in it. I swear the effects were almost instant.
    Then, reading this post I see so many similarities between your research and what I have been experiencing, especially anxiety and muscle aches!
    Definitely will be supplementing my diet with Mg from now on.

  13. Vickie says

    I too found your findings interesting and also hitting home. With so many different types of magnesium, how do you know what is the right one for you?

  14. Sylvia says

    Gwen,
    I am new to your site and am excited to try some of these DIY recipes. I fight insomnia, and also have neuropathy as well as osteoporosis. Is it possible that all my calcium supplements are causing magnesium deficiency? Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Sylvia,
      After having high blood calcium and reading up on the complications of too much calcium, I’m no longer a fan of calcium supplementation. Osteoporosis has lots to do with other supporting minerals besides just calcium that help it go to the right places and get used (instead of creating calcium deposits like I was starting to get).

      There are lots of reasons that people can be deficient in magnesium though including the health of your intestinal lining, and just an overall lack of it in our foods/diets.

  15. says

    I read a while a go while researching natural ways to help my epilepsy, that a magnesium deficiency could cause seizures. Have you heard anything like this before? So I did start taking a pill supplement. I can’t day for sure if it helps because I had also made many other diet changes….like cutting way back on sugar, carbs and no caffeine. Which has helped tremendously! No seizures for 4 months!

    • says

      Hi Morgan! AWESOME that you’ve been seizure free! I’ve heard that cutting out carbs can help with seizures, but haven’t spedificially researched magnesium for that. I did blog about different forms of magnesium and the best type to take for absorption. :)

  16. Pat Martin says

    very interesting article. I already supplement with Natural Calm before retiring at night, and it does seem to help me sleep. But now I look at this and think perhaps I need more during the day. I am going to pass this on to my son, who I think needs it too!

  17. Pam says

    I began taking magnesium for leg an foot cramps and constipation and to my surprise my depression and anxiety left me! I am a true believer! I never leave home without it and never miss a day of taking it. If I do, the first thing that returns is the foot cramps and that is a wonderful reminder to take my magnesium. Thanks for the article, it was worth sharing!

  18. Tricia says

    Hi Gwen,
    I just stumbled on your site and love, LOVE, how investigative and thorough you are! I will definitely be going back to your blog often.
    I too, have been fascinated by all the information I’ve been discovering on magnesium. It started with Katie from Wellnessmama (I think you’d find her blog interesting, if you haven’t seen it yet), where she “fanatically” writes about it. And I’m glad she does. In my research I have found that many doctors (or scientists) have stated that absorbing magnesium through the skin, topically, has proven to be far more effective than internal supplementing. The magnesium therefore goes directly to the blood stream to then be delivered to its rightful places, bypassing the intestines, where it would have to later be absorbed into the blood. I know there is a far more scientific way of explaining that, but you get the gist.
    So, with that, I have been making my own magnesium body butter that I use most nights before bed. I even give my husband mini foot rubs with it in order to make sure he’s getting it. I know he wouldn’t do it on his own as often as he should! I believe he can REALLY benefit from it. I started off using a spray, but that can sting a little so I always had to put lotion on after anyway.
    I hope you find this helpful. And I’m sure you will find the studies out there that back it up. If you don’t please let me know!
    I am not by my desk or I would give you the recipes I use. But there are so many out there. I do use the actual magnesium oil for my butter rather than making my own with flakes and water just to keep the possibility of bacterial grown down.
    Peace and health,
    Tricia

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