I still look back and wonder how I got into the world of nutrition and holistic health. Of course, there’s a story behind it, but it still shocks and amazes me when I look back at where I came from.
I say this because, the truth is, I use to be a big dude.
Most of what I ate consisted of massive amounts of take-out, fried chips; Dorito’s smothered in cheese, and of course, copious amounts of alcohol.
I had absolutely no care about what I put in my body back then, and this caused me to be significantly deficient in a pretty important mineral, magnesium.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium (Mg) is an essential mineral in our body that serves as a co-factor for over 300 enzymatic reactions, the list is absolutely endless.
One key thing we need Mg for is our nervous system, having an important role in establishing healthy nerve communication, and preventing excessive glutamate in the cell (Kirkland et al., 2018), which often results in cell death.
Generally, in a post substance abuse state, our glutamate levels are extremely high, and Magnesium is a fantastic tool in modulating this.
High glutamate also means high oxidative stress, and this often translates into overexcitation, agitation, high anxiety, and from a biochemical standpoint, neuronal cell death.
Putting addiction aside for a moment, what roles does magnesium actually have in the body?
The Role of Magnesium in the body
Magnesium serves many purposes in the body, and of course, I’m not going to list them all here, just the important ones.
One pretty key role is its requirement for ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) production, which is the main source of energy inside the cell. On top of this, we also need magnesium for:
- Protein Synthesis
- Muscle Contraction and Relaxation
- Control of Neurons and Nerve Function
- Controlling Blood Glucose
- Blood Pressure Regulation
- Hormone Receptor Binding
- Gating of Calcium Channels (Critical in Cell Signaling)
- Supporting your DNA
- Glycolysis (Breaking down of glucose for energy)
And so on and so fourth.
In short, magnesium is kind of a big deal and becomes, even more, when we deplete it through years of substance abuse.
How do I know if I’m deficient in Magnesium?
We store Magnesium in bone and muscle, and only 1% actually circulates in our blood, making a deficiency pretty hard to determine through a regular blood test.
Fun fact: Did you know a staggering 61-71% of young Australian individuals are deficient in Magnesium? (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015).
That number is a little concerning, especially when it’s so dang important.
Luckily, we do have other testing measures that can give us a more accurate read of magnesium deficiency, such as urine or muscle tissue measurements.
We can also use a range of common signs and symptoms to confirm deficiency and pair up common factors that are most likely to increase our risk of it.
Some Common factors that can potentially lead to a magnesium deficiency include
- Excessive use of diuretics (Caffeine, stimulants, etc)
- Alcohol (no surprise there)
- Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)
- Vitamin D (due to its role in Calcium absorption)
- Coeliac disease
- Chronic stress (emotional or psychological – overactive sympathetic nervous system)
- Crohn’s disease
- Type 1 and 2 Diabetes
- Diarrhoea / Laxatives
- Diets high in sugar
- Excessive menstruation
- High phosphorus in the diet (inorganic phosphates found in inactive processed food ingredients)
- Insulin resistance
- Low salt intake
- Low selenium intake
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency.
Potential Signs of Magnesium deficiency
The evidence of unexplained hypokalemia (low potassium) and hypocalcemia (low calcium) may be an indicator for significant magnesium depletion, in addition to a common neurological side effect known as Trousseau sign (Pokan, 2006).
Other signs of magnesium deficiency include:
|Less severe signs||More severe signs|
|Anxiety Aggression Cramps Disorientation Muscular weakness Irritability Neuromuscular irritability Tremors Tinnitus Fasciculations (Brief spontaneous movement of muscle fibres, often seen as a flicker or twitch under the skin)||Arrhythmias Calcifications (soft tissue) Cataracts Convulsions Coronary Artery Disease Depression Hearing loss Heart failure Osteoporosis Psychotic behaviour Tachycardia Hypertension|
Choosing the correct Magnesium supplement
Okay, so we’ve covered the basics of how important magnesium is, especially after years of substance abuse, and even more so in sobriety.
We know some of the testing options, signs, but the next question is, what magnesium supplement do you take in the sea of supplements?
It’s a great question, and not all magnesium supplements are created equal.
Now, you may be thinking, well if it’s got magnesium slapped on the label, I should be getting adequate magnesium as intended right? Not quite.
When products are listed through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), claims are generally only made regarding the evidence of the nutrient as a whole, not particularly on the form of nutrient used (E.g.: Magnesium vs Magnesium Oxide).
What this means, in a nutshell, is the form of magnesium, or on a slightly more technical level, what the magnesium is bound to in the supplement must be considered.
To help you understand this further, I’m going to list all the common forms you find in most supplements, and why you should care about them.
Forms of Magnesium Supplementation
So let’s break down the different types of forms of Magnesium you can find in various supplements. Feel free to bookmark this article so you can use this as a reference point when selecting your next Magnesium supplement.
Magnesium Glycinate (Sleep / Correct Deficiency) – Best for people trying to correct a deficiency or support sleep, the highest level of absorption/bioavailability (Schuette et al., 1994). Bound to glycine, which is a calming amino acid, confirming Magnesium Glycinate’s role in sleep support (YAMADERA et al., 2007).
Magnesium Oxide (Constipation) – Best for constipation, not the most absorbable form at all (Less than 10% roughly is absorbed) (Schuchardt & Hahn, 2017). Most of the time, you end up excreting a lot of it, making it great for constipation, although too much may send you to the loo.
Magnesium Citrate (Relaxation / Laxative) – Best for relaxation and laxative properties, helps with muscle cramping (Supakatisant & Phupong, 2012) and again, may send you to the toilet if you’re not careful.
Magnesium Chloride / (Topical Application) – Best for people who have poor digestion, most importantly stomach acid, and are trying to correct a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium Malate (Energy / Muscle Pain) – Best for promoting cellular energy (Scheibe, 2004), and soothing sore muscles. Bound to malic acid.
Magnesium Taurate (Calming / Heart Function) – Best for creating a calming effect to the body and mind, bound to amino acid taurine, which may also assist the heart to function better (Zulli, 2011).
Magnesium Threonate (Brain Protection) – Best for learning, memory retention and reducing cognitive decline (Wu & Zhuo, 2009). It’s highly absorbable by the brain (Li et al., 2014), which may be due to its ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane.
Magnesium Sulfate (Muscle Relaxation / Detox) – Also known as Epsom salts. Best added to baths to soothe muscle soreness, promote relaxation and draw out toxins from the body. Not recommended for internal consumption.
Magnesium Orotate (Cardiovascular Protection & Performance) – Best for cardiovascular health, protection and improving the potential of exercise output or capacity (Pokan, 2006).
Magnesium Carbonate (Antacid) – Best for its antacid/high acid neutralizing capacity (Krishna et al., 2007). The lowest form of absorbability and may have a laxative effect.
Least desirable forms of Magnesium
Magnesium Hydroxide – Most commercial preparations have sodium hypochlorite added (bleach), very poorly absorbed.
Magnesium Aspartate (Aspartame) – Bound with Aspartic Acid, which has shown to be neurotoxic (Gillessen et al., 2013), found commonly in ZMA sports supplements.
Magnesium Pidolate – Bound to glutamic acid, again like aspartic acid, too much can be neurotoxic (Gillessen et al., 2013).
Food Sources of Magnesium
Of course, this post wouldn’t be finished without listing the food sources of Magnesium.
While I do recommend supplementation to correct a magnesium deficiency, it’s always best to ensure you’re getting a good serving of Magnesium in your diet.
Based on a 100g serving, some good dietary sources include:
- Pumpkin Seeds – 535mg
- Raw Cacao – 507mg (Cacao nibs anyone?)
- Flax Seeds – 392mg
- Brazil Nuts – 350mg (also super high in selenium)
- Sesame Seeds – 340mg
- Chia Seeds – 335mg
- Almonds – 260mg
- Cashews – 250mg
- Buckwheat – 221mg
- Peanuts – 160mg
- Walnuts – 150mg
- Dark Chocolate (70%+) – 120mg (The darker the higher Magnesium content)
- Tofu – 74mg
- Spinach – 74mg
- Sardines– 39mg
- Kale – 33mg
- Avocado – 27mg
- Whole Oats – 24mg
Keep in mind some foods are high in a particular antioxidant compound known as Phytates or Phytic Acid, which unfortunately magnesium will bind to, reducing the amount of potential magnesium absorbed.
If your magnesium levels are normal – The average daily supplementation of elemental magnesium is roughly 400-600 mg daily.
If looking to correct magnesium deficiency – First, I recommend getting tested to ensure your magnesium levels are low. Supplementation will depend on weight, with the optimal daily intake being 7 – 10mg of elemental magnesium per kilogram of body weight across a four – six month period (DiNicolantonio et al., 2018).
Women who are ovulating – May want to slightly increase their elemental magnesium intake by 150-200mg.
Women who are pregnant – May want to stick to a maximum of 600mg elemental magnesium to be on the safer side.
Note on elemental magnesium – You may notice I’ve mentioned elemental magnesium, this is indicated on the supplement label and is the actual amount of magnesium the supplement provides per dose.
Magnesium is a critical component in any healthy person, and even more so in individuals exiting a life of substance abuse.
While it can be hard to determine a deficiency at first, it can be easy to correct it, ensuring you’re using the right supplement and dose ratio.
In terms of Magnesium products, I generally recommend the following:
For Tablets or Capsules
Do you have a good magnesium supplement that you use? Struggling to dial in the correct nutrients in your sober journey? Reach out and we’ll help you.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). Australian health survey: Usual nutrient intakes, 2011-12 financial year. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/australian-health-survey-usual-nutrient-intakes/latest-releas
- DiNicolantonio, J. J., O’Keefe, J. H., & Wilson, W. (2018). Subclinical magnesium deficiency: A principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart, 5(1), e000668. https://doi.org/10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668
- Gillessen T, Budd SL, Lipton SA. Excitatory Amino Acid Neurotoxicity. In: Madame Curie Bioscience Database [Internet]. Austin (TX): Landes Bioscience; 2000-2013. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK6108/
- Kirkland, A., Sarlo, G., & Holton, K. (2018). The role of magnesium in neurological disorders. Nutrients, 10(6), 730. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10060730
- Krishna, G., Kisicki, J. C., Olsen, S., Grasela, D. M., & Wang, Z. (2007). Effect of an aluminum- and magnesium-containing antacid on the bioavailability of Garenoxacin in healthy volunteers. Pharmacotherapy, 27(7), 963-969. https://doi.org/10.1592/phco.27.7.963
- Li, W., Yu, J., Liu, Y., Huang, X., Abumaria, N., Zhu, Y., Huang, X., Xiong, W., Ren, C., Liu, X., Chui, D., & Liu, G. (2014). Elevation of brain magnesium prevents synaptic loss and reverses cognitive deficits in Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Molecular Brain, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13041-014-0065-y
- Pokan, R. (2006). Oral magnesium therapy, exercise heart rate, exercise tolerance, and myocardial function in coronary artery disease patients. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(9), 773-778. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2006.027250
- Scheibe, R. (2004). Malate valves to balance cellular energy supply. Physiologia Plantarum, 120(1), 21-26. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0031-9317.2004.0222.x
- Schuchardt, J. P., & Hahn, A. (2017). Intestinal absorption and factors influencing bioavailability of magnesium- An update. Current Nutrition & Food Science, 13(4). https://doi.org/10.2174/1573401313666170427162740
- Schuette, S. A., Lashner, B. A., & Janghorbani, M. (1994). Bioavailability of magnesium Diglycinate vs magnesium oxide in patients with Ileal resection. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 18(5), 430-435. https://doi.org/10.1177/0148607194018005430
- Supakatisant, C., & Phupong, V. (2012). Oral magnesium for relief in pregnancy-induced leg cramps: A randomised controlled trial. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 11(2), 139-145. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-8709.2012.00440.x
- Wu, L., & Zhuo, M. (2009). Targeting the NMDA receptor subunit NR2B for the treatment of neuropathic pain. Neurotherapeutics, 6(4), 693-702. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nurt.2009.07.008
- YAMADERA, W., INAGAWA, K., CHIBA, S., BANNAI, M., TAKAHASHI, M., & NAKAYAMA, K. (2007). Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 5(2), 126-131. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00262.x
- Zulli, A. (2011). Taurine in cardiovascular disease. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 14(1), 57-60. https://doi.org/10.1097/mco.0b013e328340d863
Former drinker, Nutritionist, Biohacking enthusiast, self-experimenter, research fanatic, and self-taught writer, Stephen immerses himself deep into the literature of human optimisation and better understand the nature of addiction. His goal is to help people take control of their addiction, reset their cravings, unscramble their broken brain circuitry and use actionable strategies that work ten times better than anything else.