Of all the macronutrients that our bodies require, magnesium may be the most underappreciated. This humble mineral facilitates over 300 metabolic processes in the human body and is entirely non-toxic. Deficiency can cause issues including depression, fatigue, muscle twitches and cramps, heart problems, and more.
Every ounce of magnesium on Earth was created in the thermonuclear furnace of dying stars, then exploded into space. It drifted through the cosmos with its fellow elements to ultimately coalesce into our rocky planet.
Earth’s crust is approximately 2% magnesium by volume, where it is always found in combination with other minerals. Magnesium is remarkably versatile and has many industrial applications. Biologically, magnesium is necessary for the proper function of every living organism.
Magnesium is available in modest amounts from many dietary sources, including greens, nuts, seeds, fish, chicken, and beef. While the volumes from food may be adequate for health maintenance, supplementation is sometimes desired.
The Challenges of Modern Civilization
While we may enjoy the many comforts and conveniences of modernization, we also suffer from disorders that our ancient ancestors could hardly have imagined. The stress of modern life can lead to anxiety, insomnia, hyperactivity, fatigue, and depression. The typical modern American diet can lead to a deficiency of this important mineral,1,2 leaving our bodies more susceptible to these stressors. Magnesium supplementation may play a key role in mitigating that. While I typically recommend magnesium glycinate for general nutritional support, there are many other forms which have their own unique utility.
Magnesium, and its alkaline counterpart calcium, act as signaling ions in the nervous system. Calcium is excitatory, while magnesium has an inhibitory or calming effect. Magnesium taken in the evening may improve sleep quality. Magnesium glycinate at a ~200 mg dose would be an excellent choice, as L-glycine has calming properties as well.
Calcium and magnesium also play opposite roles in muscle tissue. Calcium is necessary for proper contraction, and magnesium is needed for relaxation. Studies have shown that it may help with relieving symptoms of periodic limb movements during sleep (PLMS) and restless legs syndrome (RLS). Magnesium glycinate is a great choice since it has a low laxative affect. If experiencing muscle pain, magnesium malate is a good choice.
Energy is produced by cellular mitochondria in the form of adenine triphosphate (ATP). However, ATP is inactive until it is combined with magnesium.
Magnesium is necessary for maintaining regular heart rhythm. Consider 200 mg to 300 mg of magnesium taurate in cases of atrial fibrillation or other arrythmias.
In one of its many roles as a metabolic catalyst, magnesium is necessary to produce calcitriol (activated vitamin D) from the precursor created in our skin during sun exposure. Vitamin D regulates immune response (as well as many other processes).
Magnesium intake that slightly exceeds bowel tolerance can create a gentle osmotic laxative effect, which can safely alleviate constipation. Doses of 300 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate or oxide at bedtime are usually sufficient.
Magnesium L-threonate: Guaranteed Delivery
Magnesium is a critical element in brain function. Despite this great need, magnesium does not cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) efficiently. If this circumstance is combined with low levels of magnesium in the blood, the relative amounts delivered to the brain may not be enough to maintain optimal cognitive capacity. When magnesium is chelated (combined) with the essential amino acid L-threonine, it crosses the BBB much easier.
Magnesium L-threonate administered at 2000 mg per day has been shown to reverse cognitive decline in dementia patients. Magnesium supplementation has also been helpful for migraines, depression, and hyperactivity.
While magnesium may not spend much time in the spotlight, it is working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep us functioning in the modern age. Simply put, life would be impossible without it. Not bad for stardust.
- Marier JR. Magnesium content of the food supply in the modern-day world. Magnesium. 1986;5(1):1-8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3515057 accessed 9/4/20.
- DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson W. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis [published correction appears in Open Heart. 2018 Apr 5;5(1):e000668corr1]. Open Heart. 2018;5(1):e000668. Published 2018 Jan 13. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786912 accessed 9/4/20.