Magnesium is one of those minerals that defies a one-sentence description. You might already be familiar with magnesium as a sleep aid. After all, magnesium supplements are often paired with melatonin supplements. And while it can play a supporting role in sleep, magnesium does a whole lot more in supporting neurological and musculoskeletal health.
The problem is that up to 30% of people are sub-clinically deficient in magnesium. Low magnesium has been linked to problems with asthma, constipation, poor sleep, migraines, restless leg syndrome and muscle pain. Worse yet, because it’s so difficult to detect and diagnose, many of those who are magnesium deficient aren’t even aware of it! But we are getting ahead of ourselves. First, some background on this key mineral.
Magnesium: The Basics
Magnesium is the fourth-most abundant mineral in the body and the second-most abundant positively charged electrolyte inside our cells. The adult human body contains 25 grams of magnesium, 50-60% of which is in the bones. The remainder of the magnesium is in soft tissue (muscle, mostly), and less than 1% resides in the blood.
Among hundreds of other functions, magnesium is required for the active transport of other electrolytes—like calcium and potassium—across cell membranes, including those of neurons. As such, magnesium is vitally important for helping maintain the proper electrochemical gradient for nerve impulse transmission in the brain.
What does all this mean? Magnesium is vital for brain function and the central nervous system. It is not surprising, therefore, that anxiety, agitation, depression, hyperactivity, irritability, and aggression are potential symptoms of magnesium deficiency. More severe deficiency can result in personality changes and sudden behavioral changes believed to come from excessive electrical activity in the brain.
Other magnesium-dependent reactions are central to DNA repair, DNA synthesis, glutathione production (for antioxidant defense), and breaking apart body fat. These functions deteriorate in the magnesium-deficient person, which could be associated with a whole slew of problems Here are some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency:
- Weakness or fatigue
- Muscle cramps
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Increased inflammation
- Kidney stones
- Osteoporosis (brittle bones)
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Heart palpitations
Okay, so now that we have a pretty good sense of the risks associated with magnesium deficiency, let’s change our tune and take a more encouraging look at the many benefits that magnesium has to offer when we get enough of it.
#1: Energy and Strength
As an electrolyte (more on those here), magnesium is required for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP for short), the energy currency that powers your body. Since ATP powers your muscles, it follows that supporting ATP production also supports strength and energy.
In one meta-analysis, people with low magnesium status showed strength gains from magnesium supplementation. Those with high magnesium status did not, suggesting that the benefits of magnesium supplementation on strength and energy come into play in the case of a deficiency.
#2: Bone Health
About 60% of the magnesium in your body is stored in bone. When you don’t get enough magnesium, your body starts to pillage bone to meet its needs.
Observationally, both potassium and magnesium intakes are positively correlated with bone density in older adults. In other words, higher intakes correlates with better density and stronger bones. This effect (for magnesium, at least) also holds for women with osteoporosis.
#3: Promotes Calming Sensation and Combats Anxiety
Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral because it has a calming effect. This effect appears to be mediated by the neurotransmitters GABA and glutamate.
Specifically, magnesium helps increase Gamma-aminobutyric acid AKA GABA (a calming neurotransmitter) and decrease glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) in the brain. It does so by blocking the brain’s N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which are sensitive to glutamate.
Through this mechanism, magnesium regulates a variety of systems involved in sleep. These include the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the GABAergic system, and the glutamatergic system.
GABA and glutamate are also implicated in anxiety and depression. It’s a complex picture, but the gist is that less glutamate and more GABA (borne of magnesium supplementation) can ameliorate these disorders. Through these pathways, optimizing magnesium may help with anxiety and depression. Consider that:
- Low magnesium intakes have been linked to higher rates of anxiety.
- Assorted clinical research suggests magnesium supplementation can improve anxiety.
- Six weeks of magnesium supplementation improved depressive symptoms in 126 adults with mild to moderate depression.
More research is needed to establish magnesium supplementation as a treatment for anxiety and depression, but it’s worth noting their linkages. And the consumption of supplemental magnesium is low risk and high reward.
Even though improved sleep is one of the most commonly recognized benefits of magnesium, there isn’t a ton of research out there to verify the full extent. That said, there are two very promising clinical studies that promote the idea:
In a 2012 randomized controlled trial, 46 elderly people with insomnia took either 500 mg magnesium or a placebo for eight weeks. When the results were tabulated, it was clear the magnesium folks were falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. They also showed lower levels of cortisol (the alertness hormone) and higher levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Another randomized controlled trial examined if 20 days of supplemental magnesium could reverse the decline in slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) seen with aging. It did, by about 60%!
Magnesium might not put you to sleep, as we’ve covered, it’s a critical mineral that helps regulate bodily functions that contribute to strong sleep hygiene.
Dietary sources of magnesium come from green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and meats. Magnesium sits at the center of the chlorophyll molecule, so if it’s green—and it’s not Mountain Dew—it’s probably rich in magnesium.
Other magnesium-rich foods include:
- Pumpkin and sunflower seeds
- Summer squash
- Beef, chicken, and salmon
- Cocoa (dark chocolate)
- Black beans
- Brown rice
Keep in mind that grains, legumes, and to a lesser extent, nuts contain phytic acid, a compound that inhibits mineral absorption. In addition, a lot of the crops today are produced in less fertile soil, reducing the amount of magnesium absorbed from the earth - this in conjunction with a shifting western diet are some further cited causes for magnesium deficiencies.
Other Sources and Proper Dose
If you’re looking to meet your magnesium needs with supplements, there are a few things to look out for. First off, there are several different magnesium compounds to consider with magnesium malate, magnesium gluconate, magnesium citrate, or magnesium threonate being popular choices.
A study in rats found magnesium malate was absorbed better than other forms of magnesium. Malate is a derivative of malic acid, a tart, natural compound that enhances mineral absorption, may prevent kidney stones, and supports ATP (energy) production. This is why malate gets our recommendation and why we chose this form to include in Patch.
The recommended optimal dose of magnesium varies from person to person and is between 300-400 mg. We opted to include 150 mg in Patch to support your magnesium needs that you may not be getting from food. One sachet will supplement any shortfalls and 2 sachets should help bridge the gap entirely if you aren’t able to get many magnesium rich foods in.
Magnesium does a heck of a lot for your overall health. This single but mighty mineral keeps you powered up via ATP production, supports strong bones, balances your mental state, and even shows promise in tucking you in at night. For all these reasons the inclusion of magnesium malate in Patch was a key consideration to help connect our worlds.