April 17, 2011

Magnesium - Essential Mineral Required To Optimize Health, And Performance

Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in the body and is involved in over 350 biomechanical reactions, including the creation of ATP (energy), protein synthesis (the conversion of protein you eat into muscle on your body), the action of heart, proper formation of bones and teeth, relaxation of blood vessels, promotion of proper bowel function, and regulation of blood sugar levels. On top of that, magnesium also –

1. Is alkalizing and will positively affect your pH levels which will aid in prevention of cancer, assist in fat loss, and promote longevity
2. Improves insulin sensitivity (more food you eat gets stored as muscle and less as fat), insulin action, and insulin secretion
3. Improves attention span and is used to correct attention deficit disorder
4. Reduces inflammation and thus lowers the risk of congestive heart failure
5. Improves memory
6. Increases mineral content, which reduces osteoporosis
7. Improves neural recovery, improves sleep, and is used in treating insomnia
8. Detoxifies cortisol (elevated cortisol levels result in bodyfat being stored around the belly button, and also promotes the usage of lean tissue as a source of energy, thus slowing down the metabolism which further promotes storage of bodyfat)

Those just happen to be some of the benefits magnesium provides. A more alarming stat is that an extremely high percentage of people that are thought to be magnesium deficient. Depending on your source, literature suggests that over 80% of people are deficient, the reason being their lifestyle and diet.

Those who workout are not necessarily at an advantage in this case as resistance training increases magnesium requirements. The more you workout or participate in strenuous activity/sport, the higher probability you are of being deficient. Even if you aren’t a strength training athlete, you may be deficient as well because farmers apparently are not using magnesium rich soil anymore, but opting for a cheaper soil rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. So, even if you are eating dark green leafy vegetables that your doctor or nutritionist told you to eat, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the magnesium you need. Signs and symptoms of deficiency, or early stages of deficiency, are:

1. Loss of appetite
2. Nausea and vomiting
3. Fatigue and weakness. Fatigue is a classic sign of a magnesium deficiency. People who are deficient will notice an increase in energy levels when they start to bump up their magnesium intake. If you are deficient than you would want to take magnesium early in the day to prevent losing sleep, but for the person who is not deficient, you ideally would take magnesium at night time because of the calming effect it has on the nervous system (which could hamper power production).

And an ongoing deficiency may lead to:

1. Numbness and tingling
2. Constipation, which is a direct indicator of a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium improves transit through the GI and reduces the risk of colon cancer
3. Muscle twitches or spasms/cramping ex. Charlie horse.
4. Stress (could also be stressed from a host of other factors besides a magnesium deficiency, although a deficiency develop contributes to stress)
5. Back pain (could also have back pain due to poor posture/muscular imbalances)
6. Stiff and aching muscles (could also be due to inflammation, amongst other things, although magnesium is a very potent anti-inflammatory)
7. Bones and joints that need continued chiropractic treatment (could also be due to poor posture/muscular imbalances)
8. Weakness (or maybe you are just weak, but magnesium would help regardless)
9. Insomnia or restless sleep
10. Headaches, cluster headaches, migraines
11. Hypoglycemia
12. Diabetes
13. Nervousness
14. Attention deficit disorder
15. Hyper activity
16. Anxiety
17. High blood pressure
18. Abnormal heart rhythms/Irregular heartbeat
19. Coronary spasms
20. Heart attack
21. High risk for metabolic syndrome (hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes)
22. Stroke
23. Osteoporosis
24. PMS
25. Angina
26. Kidney stones
27. Aging (due to increase in free radicals, which magnesium combats as it is an anti-oxidant)
28. Depression
29. Aggressive behaviour
30. Chronic fatigue syndrome
31. Confusion
32. Hiccups
33. High strung
34. Exhaustion from exercise
35. Seizures
36. Personality changes

Those are just some of the side effects of a magnesium deficiency, but the question becomes, how does one become deficient in the first place? There are many factors that contribute to deficiency, among them are:

1. Unhealthy digestive system, which impairs your body’s ability to absorb magnesium
2. Unhealthy kidneys which contribute to excessive loss of magnesium in urine
3. Diabetes, especially if it’s poorly controlled, leading to increased magnesium lost in urine
4. Alcoholism – literature suggests up to 60% of alcoholics have low blood levels of magnesium
5. Age – older adults are more likely to be magnesium deficient because absorption decreases with age and the elderly are more likely to take medications that can interfere with absorption
6. Certain medications – diuretics, antibiotics, and medications used to treat cancer can all result in magnesium deficiency

If any of this strikes a chord with you, and you’re questioning if you may have a deficiency, instead of self diagnosing based on all the possible signs and symptoms, locate a naturopath and have them put you through the necessary tests.

Blood work is not recommended in this case because 2/3 of your body’s magnesium is found in bone and 1/3 found in lean tissue, so a simple blood test may tell you that you are not deficient but the result would not necessarily be accurate at all.

Talking about magnesium would not be complete without mentioning calcium, magnesium’s complementary partner. The ratio that our bodies have evolved to need is 1:1 or at worst 2:1 in favour of calcium to magnesium, and some literature suggests that people with a high calcium to magnesium ratio, like 3 ½:1, and up to 5:1, are at higher risk of having a heart attack.

The calcium to magnesium ratio is out of whack in most cases because of the average diet, which typically consists of higher than needed amounts of dairy. Dairy foods have a massive imbalance between calcium and magnesium: milk being 7:1, yogurt being 11:1, and cheese being 26:1! All things being equal, whether you want to believe it or not, these foods, when consumed in excess, may negatively affect your health and essentially increase your risk of having a heart attack. That’s not to say it will happen, or even that it can happen to everyone, but rather that if you are in the over 80% of the population who are deficient, and you also consume a lot of dairy, then you may be increasing your chance of having a heart attack.

If you are unwillingly, and/or unknowingly, increasing your chance of having a heart attack, here are some things you may want to know in the unfortunate event that you, or someone in your presence, has one. The sequence of events during a heart attack are:

1. People can suffer from extension of the area of heart damage as calcium floods into the muscle
2. Blood begins clotting, which blocks blood vessels in the heart muscle
3. Blood flow is decreased as blood vessels go into spasm
4. The areas where muscle contraction in the heart originate are damaged causing arrhythmia

Magnesium is typically used directly after someone has a heart attack because it:

1. Is required for stabilizing heart muscle activity
2. Dilates blood vessels
3. Prevents spasm in the heart muscle and blood vessel walls
4. Counteracts the action of calcium, which increases spasms
5. Helps dissolve blood clots
6. Dramatically lessen the site of injury and prevents arrhythmia
7. Act as an antioxidant against the free radicals forming at the site of the injury

In terms of how much magnesium should be taken daily, it differs for each individual, but generally 400 mg for a male, and 320 mg for a female (unless she is pregnant, and then it becomes 360 mg) are generally a safe bet.

However, if you’re in the 80% group of deficiency, you likely are deficient for a reason, that being that you don’t take in much through diet at all, in which case a male could get away with taking around 2 grams a day, and a female around 1.2 grams per day. Seeing as how it is nearly impossible to get the daily recommended amount through diet (as few farmers are even putting magnesium rich soil into their land as is, meaning vegetables are not likely to provide you with what you need), supplementation may be the best, and most convenient way to go.

To give you an idea of how difficult it would be to get your daily amount through food, a banana has roughly 30 mg of magnesium. So an adult male would need about 66 bananas a day and adult female about 40, far from optimal I’m sure. An ounce of almonds will provide you with about 80 mg, while a ½ cup of spinach cooked will provide about 75 mg, and a baked potato about 50 mg (but only if you keep the skin on because mineral content is higher in the skin because that is the part that is exposed to the minerals in the soil). Given that supplementation is likely the choice for most, there are different types of magnesium to choose from, amongst the most common are:

1. Glycinate – the most common and effective
2. Oxide and Citrate – have a laxative effect and are ideal for those suffering from constipation
3. Malate – breaks up lactic acid and helps people with fibromyalgia

If you have any questions about the content presented, feel free to contact me at ben@paramounttraining.ca. I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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