PMS + 9 Other Concerns: The Mineral Deficiency Everyone’s Talking About

It always seems to be about calcium: are you drinking enough milk, eating enough cheese – or god forbid you’re vegan; what foods are you eating to get calcium?

While calcium does help build bone density, keep us from developing osteoporosis, and is essential to our overall health for innumerable reasons, there is one other mineral that deserves our attention: magnesium. Magnesium is like a supporting actor, small yet integral to the overall success of the play. Without it, nothing else seems to work, and all other jobs are infinitely more difficult. It’s utilized in every organ of the body, especially the bones, teeth, heart, muscles and kidneys. It activates enzymes, contributes to energy production, helps regulate calcium levels, and is critical to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm. And if this seem to be an esoteric list of functions, think about this: Could low magnesium levels be the root cause of your migraines, PMS, muscle twitches, depression, insomnia or irregular bowel movements? Research is pointing towards yes.

Understanding Deficiency: Magnesium is abundant in our food chain, with green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes being predominant sources, but we’re still not getting enough. Studies indicate that adults average only 66% of the recommended daily allowance, making us chronically deficient. A likely reason is that these healthy foods are frequently traded for processed ones, plus indulging in foods such as coffee, soda, salt and alcohol can cause deficiency itself. Heavy menstrual periods, excessive sweating, certain medications, intestinal disorders and prolonged stress can also lower magnesium levels. Most of us fall into one of these categories (we do love our coffee!), making the health benefits of magnesium something to start thinking about. Another reason to boost your magnesium levels is to use it as a therapy. Research has demonstrated that raising magnesium levels in the body can positively effect many chronic diseases and symptoms, easing their severity and bringing relief. Here are ten conditions where magnesium has the potential to help.

Hypertension and cardiovascular disease: May lower blood pressure, reduce incidence of stroke and cardiac arrhythmias.

Type II Diabetes: Magnesium is a co-factor for over 100 enzymes involved in the control of blood sugar and glucose metabolism. Optimal magnesium levels helps to balance blood sugar and prevent Type II diabetes.

Migraine Headaches: Magnesium deficiency is related to factors that promote headaches, including neurotransmitter release and vasoconstriction.

Restless Leg Syndrome: Preliminary studies suggest that supplemental magnesium may be helpful for treating restless leg syndrome, even when magnesium levels are normal.

Insomnia: Supplementation of magnesium improves the length of sleep, while promoting a deeper sleep and reducing the incidence of insomnia.

Constipation: Magnesium increases water in your intestines, which helps initiate peristalsis – the wavelike motion that is needed for normal bowel movements. The water also softens stool, easing the passing. Magnesium relaxes the muscles in the intestines, helping to eliminate constipation.

Osteoporosis: Magnesium is involved in bone formation and also affects the concentrations of both parathyroid hormone and the active form of vitamin D, which regulate the health of the bones.

Mood: Research studies have shown that when magnesium in our diet is low, we have increased risk of depression. Magnesium has an anti-depressant effect, since it plays a role in several enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters that effect mood.

Inflammation: A diet low in magnesium has been linked to an increase in the inflammatory process.

PMS (premenstrual syndrome): Although conclusive research is still in progress, there are strong correlations between magnesium supplementation and a reduction in premenstrual cramps and changes in mood. Its mode of action is attributed to magnesium’s ability to relax muscles and influence neurotransmitter pathways.

Boost your Levels: As mentioned before, there are many foods that are rich in magnesium, you just have to look in the right place. We’ve compiled a list of the foods with the highest concentrations, making it easy to meet your needs on a daily basis. Because the body consistently uses up its stores of magnesium, eat these foods throughout the day, instead of all at once.

Foods: Swiss chard, cacao, cashews, chia, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, quinoa, black and navy beans, tempeh, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, buckwheat, Brazil nuts, dulse, filberts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, brown rice, figs, dates, collard greens, avocado, parsley, barley, dandelion greens and garlic.

Our Favorite Magnesium-Rich Recipes:Warm Spinach Artichoke Dip, Summer Spinach Salad, Sauteed Swiss Chard, Pineapple Swiss Chard Smoothie, Raw Chocolate Truffles, Vegan Chocolate Disks with Pomegranate and Hemp, Hazelnut Cacao Goji Halva Bars

Best Magnesium Supplements: Recommended types of magnesium include magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium lactate, all of which are more easily absorbed into the body than other forms. It’s a good idea to take a B vitamin complex, or B6 with magnesium, because the level of vitamin B6 in the body determines how much magnesium will be absorbed into the cells. If you’re looking for a powder form, try Natural Calm, and if you prefer a capsule, try magnesium glycinate. Supplementation is the best choice when using magnesium for therapeutic uses.

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  1. What is the daily recommended dose of magnesium?

    Elizabeth Hagwood | 01.12.2015 | Reply
  2. I love love love Natural Calm. I had a very rough year. I added magnesium and am doing so very much better!

    Nancy | 01.15.2015 | Reply
  3. What about bathing in Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate)?

    Christine | 01.15.2015 | Reply
    • Hi Christine, bathing in epsom salts helps to relieve muscular tension and pain, but does not offer the same body wide benefits of taking it internally.

      Lauren Felts | 01.26.2015 | Reply
  4. What are your thoughts on Transdermal Magnesium? I’ve been reading some books on this that claim this is one of the best ways to absorb magnesium.

    Christin | 01.15.2015 | Reply
    • Transdermal Mg helps locally to relieve pain in joints and sore muscles, but there is yet to be conclusive evidence on transdermal Mg oil raising tissue and blood levels of Mg better than oral Mg. Therefore Mg oil (transdermal) should not replace oral Mg supplements. Mg oil works similar to an Epsom salt bath, so if you are looking to use magnesium for its other benefits, try the oral supplements.

      Lauren Felts | 01.26.2015 | Reply
  5. I started taking magnesium about 6 months ago and have never felt better. I felt effects within 24 hours, that’s how powerful it was for me. I recommend magnesium glycinate as it doesn’t have the GI side effects of many other supplements. Natural Calm is great for when you’re having trouble sleeping and just need something to lull you off to sleep. You need to slowly increase your dose with this as it can have a laxative effect. Thanks for bringing some attention to this mighty mineral!

    Stephanie @ Whole Health Dork | 01.20.2015 | Reply
    • Thanks for your tips and recommendations, Stephanie!

      The Chalkboard | 01.22.2015 | Reply
  6. I’ve used the natural calm and epsom salt compresses and I suffered terrible digest discomfort, especially from the latter! I use magnesium oil and mag phos cell salts as my preferred sources of magnesium.. Oh and some of the foods listed above!

  7. I started taking magnesium glycinate supplements almost exactly one year ago (about 400 mg daily), and I can’t say enough what a difference it’s made for my health and well being. My symptoms came on after a very stressful life change; I started having irregular heartbeats, anxiety and muscle spasms, among other issues. Yes, I’d also started drinking double shots of espresso after nearly 20 years caffeine-free, which only made everything worse. After weeks of blood tests, visits to specialists, and ayurvedic treatments, I tried taking magnesium and within *hours* I started to feel relief – it was incredible. I’m trained as a holistic personal chef and my diet is full of greens, vegetables and whole foods, no processed anything, so I was reluctant to believe I could be deficient in nutrients. I know now that our bodies’ supply of magnesium is definitely depleted by stress and other lifestyle choices, and also that the food we’re eating – even SUPER healthy organic produce you expect to be naturally high in minerals – is grown in soil that’s also depleted of nutrients because of industrial farming practices. Dan Barber describes this in his book The Third Plate – it’s a real issue that needs attention! Many thanks for posting this.

    karen | 02.09.2015 | Reply

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