Magnesium supplements are something I recommend to many of my clients. It is something that is easy, very beneficial and safe.
Magnesium is involved in so many of our bodies functions. This ranges from electrical activity in our brain and heart, to all muscle contractions including skeletal muscles, heart muscles and bowel muscles, to involvement in many other processes in our bodies such as immune pathways, hormone control and the balancing of other minerals such as potassium & calcium. Magnesium is so important for the health and optimal functioning of our body.
It has been estimated that at least 50% of the population, if not more, are deficient in magnesium. Causes of such a huge deficiency are multifactorial, but some big ones include:
Poor diet - lack of nutrients and reliance on sugar, alcohol, caffeine
Stress - your body uses up more magnesium when stressed so therefore requirements are increased (stress can be mental or physical therefore ranges from pregnancy, high training loads, chronic illness, busy jobs, demanding family life)
Medications including the very common Oral Contraceptive Pill which many women can be on for years
Gut issues affecting absorption
To be honest symptoms of magnesium deficiency are pretty vague, but they are plentiful and extend throughout the whole body. Possible symptoms could include headaches, poor concentration, muscle cramps, nausea, constipation, tingling feet, tight muscles, sleep issues, nervousness and jumpiness.
Benefits of supplementation have been seen in the general population, athletes, pregnant women, lactating women and those suffering conditions such as type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, anxiety, menstruation issues and chronic fatigue. Basically, anyone who is stressed at all, will usually benefit from supplementation. For me, muscle cramps and sleep are improved significantly by an evening magnesium supplement. I actually ran out of my magnesium supplement at 35 weeks pregnant for a few days - this coincides with the only time I suffered actual cramps throughout this whole pregnancy so far.
Magnesium is found naturally in our diet in a wide range of fresh whole foods - nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, rice, buckwheat, lentils, tofu, also smaller amounts in meat and dairy. Diets higher in processed foods are more likely to be deficient as these foods may be limited.
Still supplementation is often required and/or beneficial. And the quality of supplements is incredibly important - the main reason being that cheaper supplement companies often use cheaper forms of a nutrient that is not as well absorbed by our body - which is a waste of time and money.
The best absorbed forms are called ‘chelated’ varieties (basically this means the mineral is bound to an amino acid protein) - this may be labelled as glycinate, taurate, citrate, malate.
Epson Salts, or otherwise known as magnesium sulfate, are a great way of bypassing the gut if there are any absorption issues. They are found to be very calming but can also cause loose bowel motions - this can be helpful if you’re constipated, but good to be aware of if things start moving too much the other way.
Note: Magnesium supplementation is considered very safe and gentle, however as a precaution during pregnancy the upper level of intake shouldn’t exceed about 300mg/day because bowel stimulation can also extend to uterine stimulation.
Kim Lawler is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Functional Nutritionist & Health Coach. She runs a private practice, Explore Nutrition, based on the Northern Beaches & North Shore. She works in many different areas but has a passion for women’s & family health.