Amidst all this choice and variety in your supplement isle, one of the least spoken about and least understood minerals is Magnesium

To put the importance of magnesium into perspective one needs to understand that it is actually essential to our existence. It’s a critical compound utilised in over 300 enzymatic processes in the human body and is required in nearly every single cell in the body to ensure proper function.

Magnesium also plays a crucial role when it comes to energy production. It is a major element required for the body to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is basically what fires the muscles and gets them to function properly. Low magnesium in the cells will ultimately lead to lowered ATP production, which results in fatigue, cramping, reduced power and nausea.

Magnesium deficiency

It’s a fact that many of the world’s population are deficient in this vital mineral. However, this is not due to a lack of availability as many natural foods such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, Brazil nuts, spinach, rice and sesame seeds, to name a few, are rich in magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is primarily a result of poor food selection; an unhealthy diet in other words. The interesting thing is that even if you follow a diet that is high in these types of foods, the chances are that if you lead an active lifestyle you’ll most likely still find that you’re on the low end of the magnesium scale.

So, how do you know if you’re deficient in magnesium?

Firstly, magnesium deficiency is symptomatic. However, from personal experience, many people don’t pick up on the messages their bodies are giving them, yet ‘listening’ to your body is often the best way to pick up on a deficiency. With that in mind, you could try supplementing with magnesium if you experience any noticeable differences in energy levels, reduced immunity or fatigue. Any improvement in these symptoms would show that magnesium, or rather a lack thereof, is definitely playing a role.

The other way to test for a magnesium deficiency would be to have blood work done to check your magnesium status. The two types of blood tests generally done to test serum magnesium and red cell magnesium. Serum magnesium tests are the most common tests, and are done because it is a critical indicator of heart function; if it’s too low or too high you risk cardiac arrest, but this level is pretty much controlled at the expense of magnesium in the cells. It’s unlikely that magnesium serum levels would be out as that is a very serious condition and a cardiologist would need to be consulted immediately. A red cell magnesium test would be requested to see what the true condition is, although levels do change on a regular basis, and is also commonly used in the case of fatigue.

Exercise and Magnesium

Athletes need more nutrients than less-active people as they place higher demands on their bodies. And the greater the stress imposed on your body the greater the requirement for nutrients becomes. These nutrients should first come from the foods you eat, then supplements are required to ensure optimal physical health, performance and recovery.

Magnesium has been shown, both scientifically and medically, to be one of the most beneficial minerals for athletes. Some scientific studies on magnesium have found that endurance athletes that supplemented themselves with it were able to perform at maximal intensity for a longer period of time, and also increased their VO2 max.

There is also evidence that magnesium requirements are elevated in athletes, and that performance can benefit from higher intakes. Aside from being used up in the production of energy, magnesium can also assist performance by reducing the accumulation of lactic acid and reducing the perception of fatigue during strenuous exercise through its action on the nervous system. Magnesium is also lost through sweat, so an athlete training in a hot and humid environment will probably require more.

Benefits of Magnesium

The European Union has very strict legislation around health and food claims, and all have to contain a solid scientific basis. When it comes to magnesium there are a large number of claims that are permitted due to the wealth of scientific evidence already behind them.

These include:

  • Magnesium contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue, and contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism which is why supplementing with magnesium can reduce fatigue.
  • Magnesium is a key element in energy provisioning.
  • Magnesium contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system. It has actually been shown to have a calming effect on the nervous system, allowing for a better night’s sleep. This, of course, aids recovery.
  • Magnesium contributes to normal muscle function as it plays a vital role in the production of ATP, which contributes to normal muscle function. This is especially critical when performing at a very high level.
  • Magnesium contributes to normal protein synthesis. Athletic performance creates muscle breakdown and the importance of protein synthesis cannot be stressed enough with respect to proper muscle recovery.
  • Magnesium contributes to the maintenance of normal bones. Physical exercise puts stress on our skeletal structure and magnesium has been scientifically shown to assist in the maintenance of this structure.
  • Magnesium contributes to electrolyte balance, which plays a critical role in proper hydration.
  • Magnesium contributes to the maintenance of normal, healthy teeth.

Based on the above approved scientific claims one can understand how important a simple mineral like magnesium actually is. Even if your magnesium levels are normal and your diet provides optimal levels of the mineral, additional magnesium supplementation does no harm to the body whatsoever. The body will utilise what it needs and will get rid of what it doesn’t. However, the one clear symptom of magnesium over-supplementation is diarrhea. If you’re taking magnesium and your bowel function is normal then everything is good.

What Magnesium Supplement should you use?

There are many different magnesium supplements on the market and it’s good to question what you should be looking for when it comes to selecting a suitable product. The most important thing to consider is the bioavailability and concentration of the product. These elements pertain to how much actual magnesium there is, and of it, how much will actually be absorbed and utilised by the system?

Magnesium citrate has been shown to have one of the highest levels of bioavailability, but a low concentration of magnesium. Magnesium oxide, on the other hand, is highly concentrated but is lower in terms of bioavailability, unless bound with the proper elements. Magnesium chloride lies in the middle of these two as it has moderate concentrations of magnesium and fairly decent bioavailability. There are others, but the ones that should be avoided are magnesium glutamate and magnesium aspartate as they become neurotoxic due to a lack of amino acid binding.

What Magnesium Supplement should you use?

However, it is the preparation of the mineral that will ultimately determine the outcome. Magnesium can come in its raw form, which is often encapsulated or coated with an enteric coating, which slows the breakdown of the tablet to ensure it reaches the lower bowels where absorption is maximised. In truth this does help reduce the risk of stomach irritation by processing it lower down in a less acidic environment. However, it doesn’t leave a very high bioavailable product.

Typical magnesium absorption involves:

  • 40% of magnesium intake absorbed in the small intestine.
  • 5% absorbed in the large intestine.
  • 55% leaving the body as waste.

Depending on the type of magnesium ingested and the magnesium status of the individual, these figures can be higher or lower. Studies have shown overall absorption of magnesium in some individuals as low as 20%.

Aside from the delivery mechanism many magnesium supplements are bound with other minerals such as calcium or zinc. Some companies that manufacture magnesium-calcium combination supplements promote a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio as being ideal for absorption of these elements. However, there is no credible research to support this claim.

So, before taking a magnesium supplement do the research and ask the questions, as some magnesium supplements definitely outperform others. When it comes time to choose ensure that what you are consuming provides digestive comfort and functionality.

Author: Mark Wolf