Magnesium - the Master Mineral
Updated: May 15, 2022
Many of us give vitamins a fair amount of thought, but when is the last time you wondered about your magnesium levels?
There are four macrominerals - these are minerals that we require relatively high amounts of every day through our food, as the body cannot produce them. They are calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. There are many misconceptions out there on all of these, but today we focus on magnesium.
The master mineral is magnesium -
it tells the other minerals what to do and where to do it.
- Dr. Carolyn Dean, "The Magnesium Miracle"
Magnesium is considered the master mineral. Without it, 500+ enzymatic processes (including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation) are diminished, impaired, or non-existent.
Magnesium is necessary for:
igniting metabolic reactions / producing and transporting energy
processes and function within every organ
structural bone development
synthesis of RNA, DNA, and glutathione
muscle contraction (including the heart)
Unfortunately, up to 80% of us are deficient in magnesium. There are many reasons for this, but the most common are:
food grown in depleted soils, thanks to decades of commercial chemical-based farming
an excess of calcium in fortified processed foods and through recommended supplementation (too much calcium depletes magnesium)
malabsorption due to low stomach acid levels (which is also chronic, especially as we get older)
constant high levels of stress, which burns through the magnesium we do manage to absorb
So, how do you know if you're deficient and what do you do about it?
With all minerals, testing is a good idea, especially before starting a supplementation regimen. For magnesium, there are two types of tests that each give you different, yet important information. Unfortunately, the most common test is also the least accurate: a serum magnesium test measures the magnesium in your blood, but the body tightly regulates this and will pull from cells to compensate if it gets low. You can ask your doctor for an RBC Magnesium test - this looks at the levels within the red blood cells themselves, which is somewhat more useful.
We are also able to use a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) test to see magnesium levels within hair tissue (the majority of magnesium is stored and used within cells and tissue). We can also see ratios of magnesium compared to other minerals, which is crucial given how they all interact.
To increase your magnesium levels, start with food. Our goal is 300-400 mg/day (from combined food and supplement sources). Unfortunately, as stated before, modern farming practices has reduced the magnesium availability in soils but up to 90% in the last 100 years, but there are still food-based changes that can be made.
ADD foods highest in magnesium: dark leafy green, nuts and seeds, whole grains (quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat), summer squash, and dark chocolate.
REDUCE or even eliminate processed foods and sodas that can actively deplete magnesium (remember that magnesium is required for blood glucose control and insulin production).
BALANCE your calcium: your magnesium intake ideally would be at least equal that of calcium, but for most of us the calcium far exceeds the magnesium.
Many of us also need to supplement. Some versions of magnesium have a strong laxative effect, so pay attention to the form that you buy.
Magnesium oxide is the least expensive, and therefore the most commonly found in supplements. Unfortunately, it is only about 4% absorbed on average, and thus not recommended, except, perhaps for its laxative properties.
Magnesium citrate is generally well absorbed. It does, however, also promote bowel purging, so be careful with this one if constipation is not one of your symptoms.
Magnesium glycinate can be calming and thus possibly help with insomnia and anxiety.
Magnesium taurate includes the amino acid taurine, and can be helpful with blood sugar regulation.
Magnesium orotate, magnesium l-threonate, and magnesium malate are generally all well-absorbed without much laxative effect.
ALSO, magnesium can be absorbed through the skin, which bypasses the digestive system altogether, which can be very beneficial as you're healing your gut. Espom salt (which is magnesium sulfate) or magnesium flakes are great for sore muscles - either in a full bath or a foot soak.
Want a deep dive into magnesium? Read "The Magnesium Miracle" by Dr. Carolyn Dean (Ballantine Books, 2nd ed., 2006).