Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Magnesium can make a world of difference to relieve muscle pain and therefore is a subject that comes up frequently in my massage practice. About six years ago, my good friend and chiropractor Jessica Myers https://hasslefreechiro.wordpress.com/hours/ recommended I take magnesium before going to see my massage therapist and sparked my never-ending fascination with the mineral. I now take it before a massage and before bed, to help relax muscles and turn my brain off for a great night's sleep. I want to answer some frequently asked questions that my clients have about magnesium.
What is Magnesium
Magnesium is one of the body's electrolytes, which are ionized minerals that conduct electrical impulses and action potentials throughout the body. Magnesium is a co-factor in at least 300 biochemical reactions in the body; it supports muscle relaxation, regulates blood sugar and blood pressure, supports optimal nerve function, promotes electrolyte balance, sleep patterns, and much more. There have been whole books written about magnesium; my focus here is going to be the effect on our muscles.
Magnesium and Muscles
It is essential to understand that a proper balance of calcium and magnesium is what makes our muscles function correctly. Calcium makes muscle cells contract while magnesium makes muscle cells relax. Calcium usually is outside of the cell; when there is a job that needs to be done magnesium allows the right amount of calcium inside of the cell, which causes the muscle to contract. When the work is done, magnesium pushes the calcium out of the cell and the muscle returns to a resting state. When there is not enough magnesium to push the calcium out of the cell, the cells never relax—creating muscle tension, cramps and spasm.
Magnesium and Sleep
Magnesium increases serotonin levels, which is in turn responsible for the production of melatonin. Magnesium is also essential for the function of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. In essence, GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that tells our brain to switch off and helps us drift away to a good night's sleep.
Why are so many Magnesium Deficient
It is safe to say that the majority of Americans are deficient in magnesium, I have seen estimates from 50-90% of the population. Here are some of the leading factors that can but do not always lead to magnesium deficiency.
Poor nutrition: A diet of highly processed and refined foods contains no magnesium. On top of that coffee, sodas, salt, sugar, and alcohol decrease magnesium levels in the body. Nutrient depleted soils. Our current agricultural practices that are designed to grow giant pest-resistant crops strip the soil of nutrients quickly. The food grown in this depleted soil has fewer vitamins and minerals than food grown in the nutrient-rich soil of our grandparents. A lot of medications deplete magnesium levels. To properly absorb magnesium you need adequate amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin D, and selenium.
Foods High in Magnesium:
Dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, nuts, beans, avocado, and salmon, are all high in magnesium. For a break down of the amount of magnesium in foods look here: https://drwillcole.com/a-functional-medicine-experts-guide-to-magnesium-foods-supplements-deficiency-more/
One question I get all the time is, "Which magnesium is best for muscles?" Magnesium by itself if not stable, so it needs to be bound to another molecule, and the difference in the types of magnesium are the molecules they are bound to, not the magnesium itself. Some are naturally occurring like magnesium chloride and can be found in seawater, and some are synthetic. All magnesium helps with muscle relaxation. What is essential to look at in the different kinds of magnesium is the absorption rate and the laxative effect. Magnesium is hydrophilic, meaning it likes water, magnesium tends to attract water to itself. It will draw water into the intestines, causing diarrhea, which then causes you to lose the mineral. Which is a waste of money, and as a single mother, I am really against wasting money. Some of the molecules that the magnesium is bound to will slow absorption so there is less of a laxative effect and better bioavailability of the mineral.
Here are my top 3 magnesium supplements:
Magnesium Malate: Magnesium + Malic Acid. Very powerful to energy production. The malic acid in magnesium malate plays a central role in the energy production cycle and is particularly essential for healthy energy levels. It also decreases muscle pain and cramps. Increases relaxation and reduces anxiety. It is recommended for people with fibromyalgia. Magnesium malate is absorbed slowly, there is more of a sustained release, so there is no laxative effect.
Magnesium Glycinate: Magnesium + Glycine, a calming amino acid that helps you sleep. It does not have a laxative effect. It is recommended a lot by doctors and can be a little on the expensive side.
Magnesium Theronate: Magnesium + L Theronate. This magnesium is one of the newer kinds and makes say it can penetrate the cell wall. This makes it the only magnesium that can elevate magnesium in the brain. It has been shown to increase short term memory and help in PTSD treatments. This is the form that I have been taking for years. I think Ben Greenfield recommended it on a podcast episode years and years ago, and I don't know the episode. But it was while I was still in major stress mode after my divorce, and my brain was fried, so I started taking Theronate, and continue to take it to this day.
Other forms of magnesium:
Magnesium Chloride: Magnesium + two chloride ions. This is the magnesium used topically in oils. If taken internally, it is used for detoxing and is not to be used daily. Magnesium chloride has a strong laxative effect, is very hydrophilic, and has a lower amount of magnesium, than other forms 10-15%.
Magnesium Oxide: Magnesium + Oxygen. This is the least absorbed form, but also has one of the highest percentages of elemental magnesium per dose. Magnesium oxide is such a strong laxative effect it is recommended for constipation. It is also the least expensive and the form you will find at most grocery stores and pharmacies.
Magnesium Sulfate: Also known as Epsom salts should be used in baths and soaked into the skin. Not to be taken internally.
Magneium Citrate: Magnesium + citric acid. This magnesium is usually recommended by doctors and has a calming effect, but still has a strong laxative effect.
Magnesium Orotate and Taurate: These forms are in the same category and can penetrate the cell membrane and has cardiac benefits.
Magnesium is not made in our body and needs to be replaced daily, and it can be difficult to get enough magnesium in our diets through food alone. Ideally, you want to work with a functional doctor to test your magnesium levels and go from there. Because magnesium is stored in your bones and cells, conventional lab tests can be inaccurate. If you want to try a magnesium supplement on your own, I would recommend starting with one of my top three and starting with a small dose and work your way up. The best supplement for you is the one that you take actually take daily! Please reach out if you have any questions. I would love to hear from you!
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