MAGNESIUM…The Anti-Stress Mineral
By Charles Poliquin
Sleep better, be less fatigued, make your brain work better, get rid of stress, and support your health with magnesium. And lose abdominal fat and have a leaner body composition. Magnesium is the answer!
Certainly one of the most important nutrients needed by the human body, magnesium is involved in all of these issues, as well as at least 300 essential biochemical reactions, including protein synthesis, testosterone production, insulin sensitivity, calcium absorption, and regulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Plus, magnesium has been shown to enable the metabolism of vitamin D, meaning it is essential for bone health and treatment of osteoporosis.
Three things you should know about magnesium to begin are:
First, Americans are chronically deficient in magnesium and this pattern of scarcity is evident across the Western world.
Second, the standard test used by medical doctors for magnesium measures serum magnesium levels in the blood, but only about one percent of this mineral is found in the blood. Rather, about 66 percent is found in bone and 33 percent in skeletal and cardiac muscle. In order to effectively asses magnesium levels that reflect how it works in the body you need to test content in the red blood cells. It’s very common for individuals with serum magnesium lab results in the normal range to be deficient in magnesium.
Third, magnesium plays a role in physical performance and muscle function, meaning that athletes and recreational trainees are commonly deficient because strength training increases magnesium requirements. I present the many reasons you should make sure your magnesium levels measure up below with detailed research with MY TAKEAWAYS if you just want the quick tips. At the end you’ll find a link to a magnesium supplementation guide.
1. Sleep Better and Reduce Insomnia
Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system, meaning that if you are deficient your heart rate and sympathetic nervous system will be sent into overdrive. Additionally, lack of magnesium has shown to alter electrical activity in the brain, causing agitated sleep and frequent awakenings.
A recent study of people with poor sleep quality as measured with the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index found that taking a magnesium supplement decreased chronic inflammatory stress levels and improved sleep quality. Researchers suggest that adding magnesium to their diets decreased the participants’ sympathetic nervous activity, effectively reducing stress and allowing them to relax. Take note that in this study, lower magnesium levels were also associated with a higher body mass index, indicating the connection between body fat percentage and magnesium levels.
A second study supported the relationship between low magnesium levels, sleep deprivation, sympathetic nervous system stimulation, and elevated heart rate response to exercise. Participants were chronically sleep restricted and it was found that a decrease in magnesium levels coincided with increasing levels of sleep deprivation. At the same time, norephinephrine concentration increased—an indication of sympathetic nervous stimulation—which was suggested as the reason for the diminishing magnesium levels. Meanwhile, heart rate was elevated after a fatiguing exercise test, lending support to the connection between los magnesium, high stress, and anxiety.
MY TAKEAWAY: Take Magnesium to help you sleep restfully throughout the night and de-stress.
2. Improve Brain Function and Fight Depression
Magnesium is essential for a great memory. Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to increase brain function by improving brain electrical activity, meaning elevated learning and memory functions. This has implications for depression and a chronic low mood as well. Magnesium plays a major role in neurotransmitter release, which affects the discharge of brain chemicals such as serotonin that makes you feel good.
Research from MIT has shown that magnesium regulates a key receptor in the brain that supports memory and learning. Adequate magnesium content in the cerebrospinal fluid is essential for maintaining the plasticity of synapses. Further, magnesium is necessary for the proper activity of many enzymes within brain cells that control cellular and memory functions.
MY TAKEAWAY: Magnesium makes your brain work better and improves memory!
3. Raise Testosterone Levels and Build Muscle
Magnesium is necessary for energy metabolism and physical performance and new research shows that taking it increases testosterone levels. A 2011 study tested a group of sedentary men who received 10 mg of magnesium per kilogram of body weight a day (Group 1), a group of male tae kwon do athletes taking the same magnesium protocol daily (Group 2), and a group of tae kwon do athletes who did not take magnesium (Group 3). Group 2 had the greatest increases in testosterone levels after tae kwon do practice, followed by Group 3, while Group 1 had the lowest levels (no practice or exercise), indicating that magnesium supplementation raises testosterone levels when combined with exercise. This suggests that adequate magnesium in the body not only increase testosterone when training but also has a performance-enhancing effect.
MY TAKEAWAY: If you’re not taking magnesium you’re missing out on the greatest testosterone response and leaving muscle gains on the table.
4. Get Stronger and Maximize Protein Synthesis
Magnesium supports protein synthesis because it enables enzyme function in the body. Additionally, research shows that magnesium supplementation paired with resistance exercise can make your stronger. This study found that a group that took eight mg per kilogram of body weight a day of magnesium while strength training three times a week, improved strength significantly more than a control group that only trained. Researchers suggest that magnesium plays a role at the ribosomal level in protein synthesis, and taking it while strength training leads to significant strength and muscle mass gains.
MY TAKEAWAY: Optimal magnesium levels are necessary for muscle development.
5. Decrease Inflammation: Improve Heart Health
Inflammation is not only an obstacle to recovery from hard workouts; it also contributes to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and diabetes. A study by George Washington University found that magnesium deficiency led to increased inflammation in the body, affecting blood vessels, cardiovascular, and intestinal tissues. Cardiovascular tissue inflammation can lead to heart disease because it increases oxidative stress, while intestinal inflammation causes digestive disorders.
Magnesium deficiency also decreases lipid metabolism and increases blood pressure, negatively impacting the health of the arteries and ultimately causing atherosclerosis. Research shows that adding magnesium to the diet in the form of 365 mg magnesium twice daily for six months can reduce the likelihood of experiencing exercise-induced chest pain. Research participants had previously experienced chest pain before the study. Taking magnesium also allowed them to improve exercise duration by 14 percent over a control group.
MY TAKEAWAY: Magnesium is critical for cardiovascular health because it decreases inflammation.
6. Get Stronger Bones: Prevent Osteoporosis
Calcium is necessary for stronger bones, but it does nothing if you don’t have adequate levels of magnesium and vitamin D. Magnesium activates cellular enzyme activity, allowing the body to convert vitamin D into its active form to help with calcium absorption and bone building. Magnesium leads to the release of the hormone calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure and draws calcium out of the blood and soft tissues and back into the bones. Plus, magnesium suppresses parathyroid hormone, which breaks bone down.
Research studies point to the importance of the calcium to magnesium ratio (ideally in the 1:1 range), and the integrated role of vitamin D and magnesium in bone health. Support for the relationship between these two minerals was from research that found that giving a vitamin D supplement to obese women who are deficient in both vitamin D and magnesium resulted in an increase in magnesium concentrations. Interestingly, for non-obese women with the same deficiencies and supplementation, magnesium concentrations increased but not significantly.
MY TAKEAWAY: Your calcium supplement is useless without adequate magnesium. Combine calcium and magnesium in equal doses… and don’t forget the vitamin D.
7. Improve Insulin Sensitivity: Prevent Diabetes
Low magnesium levels will decrease your insulin sensitivity, making it harder for you to lose fat and get lean. It will also hamper the body’s storage of glycogen, meaning a longer recovery from workouts. Also, increased insulin resistance and poorly controlled diabetes results in more magnesium loss, magnifying the whole problem.
A review from the journal Biological Trace Element Research reports that magnesium plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism, while influencing the activity of hormones that control blood glucose levels. Low magnesium can cause insulin resistance, which may result in the kidneys being unable to retain magnesium during episodes of hyperglycemia, creating a downward spiral of magnesium deficiency and subsequently diabetes.
MY TAKEAWAY: Magnesium supports a lean body comp AND prevents diabetes.
8. Prevent Metabolic Syndrome: Magnesium and Pregnancy
Low magnesium levels are common in pregnant women and have been found to increase risk of the development of diabetes and metabolic syndrome in the child after birth. Metabolic syndrome is an inflammatory condition, and lack of magnesium results in a stress effect that activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing oxidative stress and inflammation. Are you getting the point that all these health problems interact? Metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, elevated sympathetic activity, decreased sleep, and cortisol release (which I’ll get to in #9) are all inter-related.
MY TAKEAWAY: Magnesium deficiency in pregnant women can lead to diabetes and metabolic syndrome in the child.
9. Stress: Magnesium Necessary for Detox of Cortisol
Remember that magnesium affects the sympathetic nervous system and norepinephrine release, which causes cortisol release as part of your stress response. Magnesium is essential for the detoxification of cortisol as well and adequate levels help return you to more relaxed state.
MY TAKEAWAY: Magnesium supplementation lowers cortisol levels.
10. Digestion: Magnesium Deficiency Causes Constipation and Digestive-Related Diseases
There are a number of symptoms of magnesium deficiency including constipation, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, muscle tremors and twitching, and poor mental function. Normal digestion involves two to three soft bowel movements a day, but the average person has a hard bowel movement once every two days.
Studies shows that magnesium improves digestion and researchers suggest the beneficial effect of dietary fiber on a healthy gastrointestinal tract is due to its high magnesium content. An added benefit to faster transit time through the GI tract is to reduce the risk of disease including colon cancer and diabetes.
MY TAKEAWAY: Magnesium improves digestion and eliminates constipation. This lowers diabetes and colon cancer risk.
11. Treat ADHD and Hyperactivity
Studies of children with ADHD consistently point to low magnesium levels as a cause. Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to increase attention span, which researchers suggest is due both to its calming effects and the fact that it improves brain activity. A mere 200 mg daily will do the trick.
MY TAKEAWAY: Take magnesium to improve focus and decrease ADHD.
12. Abdominal Fat and Central Obesity: Waist Circumference Can Suggest Magnesium Deficiency
This may be the single most valuable point highlighting the essential role of magnesium in weight management: because of magnesium’s role in glucose regulation, insulin sensitivity, and its ability to decrease inflammation and anxiety, lower cortisol, improve HDL cholesterol levels, and stimulate protein synthesis, adequate levels are absolutely critical for a lean body.
Magnesium is particularly important in treating obesity, because extremely overweight individuals commonly have metabolic syndrome and chronic low-grade inflammation, which is magnified by typically low magnesium status. Additionally, research shows that high abdominal fat levels are related to excessive cortisol, low magnesium, and greater risk of all the related health issues listed above.
MY TAKEAWAY: Adequate magnesium is crucial for treating obesity and a lean body comp.