Everything you ever wanted to know about magnesium

From easing stress and muscle cramps to aiding sleep, there’s good reason there is so much fuss over essential mineral magnesium.

Do you suffer from poor sleep, low energy, headaches, muscle cramps, chocolate cravings, sluggish bowels, anxiety or PMS?

You may be deficient in magnesium.

“Magnesium is one of my favourite minerals,” naturopath Alison Mitchell says.

“It’s essential for health and can improve vitality and wellbeing, as well as help you function in times of stress and it supports your mood.”

So, what actually is magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral found in the earth, the sea, plants, animals and humans.

And it’s a bit of a rock star, considered a macromineral – one of seven vital minerals that people need at least 100mg or more of a day.

Science has found it is used in hundreds of biochemical activities and that we need it for muscles and nerves to work properly, to keep our heart rhythm steady, our blood sugar in check, and to make protein and bone.

“When I do talks and ask people to raise their hand if they have any of the symptoms of low magnesium, the room is full of hands in the air,” clinical nutritionist and naturopath Belinda Kirkpatrick says.

But 60 to 80 per cent of us are low in magnesium, Belinda says.

“And there’s also a huge difference between deficiency and optimal levels, so upping it works well for nearly everyone,” she says.

Why causes low magnesium levels?

“Hundreds of years ago, our foods were naturally rich in magnesium and deficiency was rare,” Alison says.

“But our modern lifestyles and a diet of over-processed foods mean we’re getting less and less of it.

“When we’re stressed we also chew through lots of magnesium and whether you think you’re stressed or not, many of us are – more than we perhaps realise.”

Studies show that lack of vitamin D can also deplete your body of magnesium, as can over-exercising, type-2 diabetes and too much alcohol.

Different types of magnesium

It is recommended women under 30 have 310mg of magnesium a day and 320mg after the age of 31. For pregnant and breastfeeding women it is 350mg to 360mg.

Men under 30 need 400mg per day and those over 31, slightly more at 420mg.

Foods high in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

“While it’s good to try and increase your intake of magnesium through food, there’s a good chance you’ll need to use a supplement,” Belinda says.

Here are some of the most common:

Oral magnesium supplements

There are lots of different types of magnesium available in powder, capsule and liquid form, which can become confusing.

Talk to a health professional about which is best for you.

Magnesium citrate

This is easily absorbed and one of the most popular forms, used to replenish low levels.

Magnesium oxide

This has the lowest absorption levels and is used for short-term relief for uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as constipation, Alison says.

Magnesium diglycinate

This is also highly absorbable and often used for its calming effects and to treat anxiety, depression and problems with sleep, Belinda says.

Magnesium orotate

This is shown in studies to bolster heart health by producing energy production in your heart and blood vessel tissue.

Topical sprays, oil and cream

Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) is popular in a hot bath for easing muscle cramps, anxiety and for promoting a sense of calm.

“Magnesium spray or oil can also be useful for aches and pains and to help with muscle relaxation,” Belinda says.

“Being sprayed directly on to the skin means the magnesium immediately begins to absorb, bypassing your digestive system.

“An oral supplement, however, will provide therapeutic doses and is usually more ideal.”

Then there’s magnesium cream. Alison makes her own using magnesium chloride, which she says is easily absorbed and is good for sore muscles and to reduce tension and stress.

Magnesium supplements can affect the way your body absorbs some medications, including some antibiotics so check with your doctor if you’re unsure.

Written by Liz McGrath.