Magnesium 101 | The Why + The How A comprehensive review of why you should care about taking magnesium, how much you need, and in what forms.
A Shot In The Dark
Jessie (fictional name, true story) started coming back into the office again for lower back and hip pain. They would check in with me periodically when they would get overwhelmed by how severely tight they were. Diagnosed with Type I diabetes as a child, Jessie has a high tolerance for discomfort because having to manage diabetes throughout your entire life is a real pain in the ass.
Type 1 diabetes is not the one you can fix with diet and exercise. Their body stopped making insulin, so they will always rely on an pump to administer insulin as needed throughout the day. The more they can keep their blood sugar in a steady range, the better for their long term health. That means always making healthy eating and exercise a priority everyday.
Over the years Jessie would come into the office for a period of time during a stretch they were focused on trying to make things feel better. We would do deep myofascial work like Graston Technique and Active Release Technique.
When your myofascia is so tight it feel like your body is wrapped in one of those heat shrink gift basket covers. And it is so hard to make change, as anyone with adhesive capsulitis knows first hand. 
The last time Jessie came in, I was in the midst of research some metabolic solutions for someone else. It seemed really obvious from the research I had been reading that magnesium supplementation was essential for anyone with metabolic syndrome and diabetes because it is well documented that magnesium levels are inversely related to insulin levels in the blood. And magnesium is necessary for so many things, as you'll read below, including blood sugar regulation. So these individuals have a higher functional need for magnesium.
Yet, in 15 years I never had a patient be told by their medical providers that they needed take a magnesium supplementation to support their wellness. I presented my thoughts of magnesium supplementation to Jessie and the outcome actually gave me goosebumps. Before I go further into that story let's dive into all that makes magnesium so important.
What Does Magnesium Do?
Magnesium is an essential mineral for human health because it plays a crucial role in a wide range of physiological processes in the body. Here are some key reasons why magnesium is essential for human health:

1. Enzyme function | Magnesium is a co-factor for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. Enzymes are proteins that facilitate and regulate various biochemical reactions, and magnesium is required for these enzymes to function properly. These reactions are involved in processes such as energy production, DNA and RNA synthesis, and protein synthesis.

2. Muscle function | Magnesium is necessary for muscle contraction and relaxation. It helps regulate muscle contractions by influencing the balance of calcium and potassium ions within muscle cells. This is critical for normal muscle function, including the beating of the heart.

3. Nervous system function | Magnesium is important for the proper functioning of the nervous system. It helps regulate the transmission of nerve signals and can have a calming effect on the nervous system, which may help reduce stress and anxiety.

4. Bone health | Magnesium is an essential component of bone structure, along with calcium and other minerals. It is involved in bone mineralization and helps maintain bone density. Adequate magnesium intake is crucial for preventing osteoporosis and maintaining strong, healthy bones.

5. Heart health | Magnesium plays a role in maintaining a steady heartbeat and regulating blood pressure. It helps the heart muscle contract and relax rhythmically, which is essential for normal cardiac function. Some research suggests that magnesium supplementation may help in the prevention of heart disease.

6. Energy production | Magnesium is a cofactor in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the body's primary source of energy. It is involved in the conversion of food into energy and is necessary for metabolic reactions in cells.

7. Blood sugar regulation | Magnesium is involved in the regulation of blood glucose levels. It can influence insulin sensitivity, and insufficient magnesium intake has been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

8. Immune system support | Magnesium is important for the proper functioning of the immune system. It is involved in the production and activation of immune cells and helps the body defend against infections and diseases.

9. DNA and RNA synthesis | Magnesium is required for the synthesis and stability of DNA and RNA, the genetic material of cells. This is essential for cell growth, repair, and replication.

10. Electrolyte balance | Magnesium helps maintain the balance of electrolytes in the body, which is crucial for various physiological processes, including fluid balance and nerve function.

Magnesium is also a natural NMDA antagonist, meaning it blocks excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain, and GABA agonist, meaning it promotes calming neurotransmitters in the brain; providing a relaxing effect and can facilitate sleep.
Decreased soil quality and decreased time vegetables are able to draw minerals from the soil prior to being picked does have an impact for the majority of produce we consume. 
That combined with stress and metabolic disorders increasing our functional need for magnesium, you can see why magnesium has recently become the next superstar supplement. Most people that show signs of needing magnesium supplementation do not have a low blood level of magnesium when their doctor checks it. This is related to the fact that only 3% of the magnesium you need for all the functions it perform is in your blood. So you can have a high functional need for magnesium without having a diagnosable magnesium deficiency. 
What Causes A Functional Higher Need?
If you experience excessive muscle tightness, muscle cramps, even in some cases of restless leg syndrome, you have a higher functional need for magnesium. Beyond a decreased mineral content in our foods and chronic stress causing a higher functional need for magnesium, there are other various factors that can affect magnesium absorption, utilization, and excretion. 
Here are some reasons why certain individuals might require more magnesium:
1. Stress and physical activity | Stress, intense physical activity, and excessive sweating can lead to increased magnesium excretion, making it important for athletes and people with high-stress lifestyles to ensure they get sufficient magnesium.
2. High calcium intake | A diet high in calcium can interfere with magnesium absorption. People with high calcium intake or supplementation may need to ensure they are also getting enough magnesium to maintain a proper balance of these minerals.
3. Chronic stress and sleep disturbances | Prolonged stress and poor sleep can deplete magnesium levels in the body, requiring higher magnesium intake for recovery and overall well-being.
4. Dietary habits | Diets that are high in processed foods, refined sugars, and low in magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains can lead to magnesium deficiencies, necessitating higher magnesium intake.
5. High dietary fiber intake | A diet very high in fiber can reduce magnesium absorption. While fiber is essential for health, individuals with exceptionally high fiber intake may need to monitor their magnesium intake.
6. Pregnancy and breastfeeding | Pregnant and breastfeeding women have increased magnesium requirements to support the growing fetus and the production of breast milk.
7. Age | Older adults tend to have reduced magnesium absorption and may require higher magnesium intake to meet their nutritional needs.

8. Genetics | Genetic variations can affect how the body processes and utilizes magnesium, leading to individual differences in magnesium requirements.

9. Health conditions | Certain medical conditions or medications can affect magnesium absorption or increase magnesium loss through urine. These conditions may include diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disease, and alcoholism.

10. Medications: Some medications, such as diuretics, can increase magnesium excretion and lead to deficiencies. Individuals taking these medications may need additional magnesium.

Magnesium Absorption
Several factors can contribute to problems with magnesium absorption, potentially leading to magnesium deficiency. These issues can affect the body's ability to take in and utilize magnesium from the diet.
Common problems that cause problems with healthy magnesium absorption as well as increasing magnesium excretion include:
  • Gastrointestinal disorders | Certain gastrointestinal conditions can interfere with magnesium absorption. Conditions like celiac disease, Crohn's disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can impair the body's ability to absorb nutrients, including magnesium. 
  • Stress | Chronic stress and resulting cortisol levels prevents you from properly reabsorbing magnesium in your kidney as you should. Stress can also have a negative inflammatory effect on the gut which can affect healthy absorption.
  • Low stomach acid | Adequate stomach acid is necessary for magnesium absorption. Conditions that reduce stomach acid production, like atrophic gastritis, can hinder magnesium uptake.
    Stress: Chronic stress can affect magnesium absorption and increase the body's magnesium requirements.
  • Alcohol consumption | Excessive alcohol intake can lead to magnesium deficiency as alcohol can interfere with magnesium absorption in the intestines and increase urinary excretion.
  • Medications | Some medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) used to treat acid reflux and certain diuretics, can decrease magnesium absorption. PPIs reduce stomach acid, which is necessary for magnesium absorption. Diuretics increase the excretion of magnesium through urine.
  • High calcium intake | Excessive calcium intake can compete with magnesium for absorption in the digestive tract. Consuming too much calcium through supplements or dietary sources may lead to reduced magnesium absorption.
  • High dietary fiber intake | Very high fiber intake can interfere with magnesium absorption. While dietary fiber is generally beneficial for health, excessive intake may reduce the body's ability to absorb magnesium.
  • Phytic acid and oxalates | Some plant-based foods, such as nuts, seeds, and certain whole grains, contain compounds like phytic acid and oxalates that can bind to magnesium, making it less available for absorption. 
  • High-protein diets | Diets exceptionally high in protein may increase the excretion of magnesium and, in some cases, interfere with its absorption.
  • High-fat diets | High-fat diets can lead to increased excretion of magnesium through the digestive system, potentially reducing absorption.
It's important to note that most people can absorb magnesium efficiently from a balanced diet. However, if you you have ongoing issues with diarrhea or constipation and experience excessive tightness or difficulty sleeping then a magnesium supplement might be worth a try. 
Types of Magnesium
The "best" type of magnesium supplement depends on your specific needs and preferences. There are various forms of magnesium available as supplements, each with its own characteristics, advantages, and potential drawbacks. 
Here are some common types of magnesium supplements and their properties:
  • Magnesium Citrate | This form is one of the most commonly used magnesium supplements due to its good absorption and bioavailability. It is often used to relieve constipation, as it can have a laxative effect.
  • Magnesium Glycinate | Magnesium glycinate is well-absorbed and tends to be gentle on the digestive system. It's a good choice for those who want to increase their magnesium intake without the laxative effect of other forms.
  • Magnesium Oxide | While magnesium oxide has a high magnesium content, it is not well-absorbed, so it may not be the best choice if your goal is to increase magnesium levels in the body. It is often used as a laxative.
  • Magnesium Malate | Magnesium malate is known for its potential to support energy production and muscle function. It may be beneficial for those with muscle pain or fatigue.
  • Magnesium L-Threonate | This form is magnesium bound to a vitamin C derivative and considered to be particularly effective at crossing the blood-brain barrier, potentially supporting cognitive function, calming the nervous system, and sleep.
  • Magnesium Taurate | Magnesium taurate is a combination of magnesium and the amino acid taurine. It is believed to support heart health and may be a good choice for individuals with cardiovascular concerns.
  • Magnesium Chloride | This type is commonly used in topical magnesium products, such as magnesium oil or sprays. It can be applied directly to the skin and absorbed through it.
    Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) | Epsom salt is often used in baths as a way to absorb magnesium through the skin. It can help relax muscles and relieve stress.
  • Magnesium Chloride | This type is commonly used in topical magnesium products, such as magnesium oil or sprays. It can be applied directly to the skin and absorbed through it.
  • Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) | Epsom salt is often used in baths as a way to absorb magnesium through the skin. It can help relax muscles and relieve stress.
Important Supplement Considerations
When choosing a magnesium supplement, consider the following factors:
  • Purpose | Why are you taking a magnesium supplement? Different forms may be better for specific goals, such as digestive health, muscle function, or cognitive support.
  • Tolerance | Some people may find certain forms of magnesium more gentle on the digestive system, while others may experience a laxative effect with the same form.
  • Bioavailability | Some forms of magnesium are better absorbed by the body than others.
  • Dosage | The amount of elemental magnesium in the supplement may vary by form. Ensure you are taking the right dosage for your needs.
  • Individual response | What works best for one person may not work as well for another. It may require some trial and error to find the form that works best for you.
I confidently recommend Designs For Health Magnesium Glycinate Complex. Magnesium Glycinate features magnesium bisgylcinate chelate, a highly absorbable form of elemental magnesium.* The buffered combination of magnesium bisgylcinate chelate and magnesium oxide helps to promote the bioavailability of magnesium and helps to support a healthy magnesium status.*
Each 2‑capsule serving provides 300 mg of magnesium as magnesium bisglycinate buffered chelate. Owing to a unique patented process that forms a very stable chelate between each magnesium ion and two molecules of the amino acid glycine, this formula may not cause any of the unfavorable gastrointestinal (GI) complaints that are sometimes associated with magnesium supplementation, such as loose stools or upset stomach.* One of the best absorbed forms of magnesium is a stable chelate with glycine that bypasses normal modes of absorption in the intestine; this avoids competition that occurs between minerals for absorption.*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
TRAACS® is a registered trademark of Albion Laboratories, Inc.
How Much Magnesium?
This is the key question that everyone asks me and I know it is on your mind. It's essential to recognize that individual magnesium requirements can vary widely based on these factors and others. The recommended daily intake of magnesium varies depending on factors such as age, sex, and specific health conditions but is typically in the range of 300-400 milligrams for most adults.
If you have a high metabolic need, and you do not have any contraindications to taking magnesium, then I typically have people start with 300-500mg. Some people like Jessie actually work up to taking over 1000mg a day and then decrease as necessary. And you’ll always want to take it with food. 
What’s good about magnesium is that if you are not absorbing it due to absorption problems or because you don’t need that much, then it will give you the tummy troubles. So if your tummy starts gurgling, then it’s time to get a better quality magnesium to try or it’s time to decrease your dose. 
I usually tell people that they should notice an improvement in their ability to stretch in 2-4 weeks. But for someone who is desperately in need of magnesium like Jessie, they experienced a big shift after one week. I got goose bumps when they said it was the first time in many years that they did not wake up is significant pain from their extreme tightness. 
this doesn’t mean that things will be perfect for Jessie, but it means that things will be better and they have a response of something simple that is making a big impact.  
Until next time, 
Be Well | Be Savvy
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Author: Dr. Ellen McNally
Dr. Ellen McNally is a chiropractor, functional movement specialist and preventative health strategist. She practices in Providence, RI as well as helping others virtually. She is the creator of WellnesSavvy, online and app based programming for metabolically building joint health and wellness for longevity.