I had some blood work last year that showed I was deficient in magnesium. I had never thought much about this mineral as I assumed I was getting enough from my diet. It prompted me to not only make sure I was getting enough of it going forward, but to also share what I’ve found out about this mineral with other guys – and why we need it.
What is magnesium?
The media generally leads us to believe that the main function of magnesium is to support heart health and bone strength. Although these are both important activities, this mineral is involved in much more, especially in relation to men’s health.
Every organ in your body needs magnesium to some degree, and those in most need are your heart, kidneys, and muscles. In fact, your heart has the highest amount of magnesium of any organ in the body (bones and teeth are also significant reservoirs for this mineral). Magnesium is also classified as an electrolyte, which means it, along with fellow electrolytes (calcium, potassium, sodium) help keep the body’s fluids in balance and maintain normal functions, which I mention below.
Magnesium is necessary for more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, so it’s impossible to list them all here. However, it’s worth mentioning that this mineral is instrumental in:
- Activating muscles and nerves
- Assisting in the digestion of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins
- Creating energy by stimulating adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
- Acting as a building block for the synthesis of DNA and RNA
- Serving as a precursor for serotonin and other neurotransmitters
- Supporting a healthy immune system
- Maintaining healthy brain function
- Regulating blood glucose levels
- Moving other electrolytes into and out of cells
- Supporting proper enzyme function
Approximately 57 percent of the US population does not get enough magnesium, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Joseph Mercola, ND, places the percentage closer to 80 percent. Regardless of which figure is correct, or if it is somewhere in between, the bottom line is, magnesium deficiency is a significant health concern for the majority of us.
Signs of magnesium deficiency
If your body has low or deficient levels of magnesium, you may experience one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Unexplained weakness or fatigue
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Muscle spasms, including restless legs syndrome
- Eye twitches
- Coronary spasms
- Personality/mood changes
- Loss of appetite
- Poor memory
The following signs and symptoms are also associated with a severe magnesium deficiency:
- Continued muscle contractions
Causes of magnesium deficiency in men
Insufficient or deficient levels of magnesium can be caused by:
- Alcohol abuse or withdrawal
- Nutrient absorption disorders such as celiac
- Kidney disease
- High levels of calcium (hypercalcemia)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Prolonged diarrhea
- Underactive parathyroid glands (hypoparathyroidism)
- Diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication of diabetes in which the body produces excess blood acids
- Gastrointestinal diseases (e.g., ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome)
- Use of diuretics
- Excessive use of caffeinated beverages, alcohol, salt, soda
- Abnormally excessive sweating
- Chronic stress
How much magnesium do you need?
The recommended daily requirement for magnesium for adult males is 400 to 420 milligrams. This is the minimum amount to maintain health.
Research suggests however that athletes, especially endurance athletes, may need more magnesium, perhaps as high as 1000-2000+ mg daily. There are several reasons for this suggestion. One is that athletes sweat more and thus lose more essential electrolytes than sedentary or moderately active individuals. This is especially true in hot, humid weather.
Another reason is that vigorous exercise results in excessive amounts of lactic acid, which results in poorer performance and muscle weakness and pain. Taking more magnesium can help reduce or eliminate these issues.
Before taking extra magnesium, you should evaluate your current intake, and understand the importance of balancing magnesium with other nutrients (see below). For the record, I am taking Magnesium L-threonate in a 2,000mg daily dose. This is the one I use.
Balancing magnesium with other nutrients
It’s not just a matter of not getting enough magnesium—you also need to have the right balance of magnesium with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2. Let’s start with the magnesium:calcium partnership (which is recommended to be 1:1), as this relationship is critical for several reasons.
For example, if your body has too much calcium and not enough magnesium, you can experience muscle spasms. This same imbalance can also result in heart attack and sudden death. Calcium supplements also have been associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer when not properly balanced with magnesium.
At the same time, you should also maintain a healthy balance between magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2. Here’s why.
Vitamin K2, which is found primarily in dairy foods, organ meats, and egg yolks, helps keep calcium in the bone and out of the arteries. (Vitamin K1 is the form found in leafy green vegetables.) If you have low levels of vitamin K2 and you take too much calcium, the combination can cause calcium to accumulate in your blood vessels and contribute to cardiovascular disease risk.
According to Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, author of Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life, if you take mega doses of oral vitamin D supplements and your vitamin K2 levels are insufficient, you also risk calcification (hardening of the arteries and tissues). She warns that if you take oral vitamin D, you also should be sure to eat foods that contain the vitamin or take a vitamin K2 supplement.
Although experts have not determined the best ratio of vitamin D to vitamin K2, Dr. Rheaume-Bleue suggests taking 100 to 200 micrograms of vitamin K2 for every 1,000 International Units of vitamin D taken. Here’s where the experts vary widely on recommended intake. The National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IUs of vitamin D daily, while the Vitamin D Council says 5,000 IUs and Dr. Rheaume-Bleue states 8,000 IUs. Based on these figures, the recommended intake of supplemental vitamin K2 would be 0 mcg, 500 to 1,000 mcg, and 800 to 1,600 mcg, respectively. Personally, I take 10,000 IU of vitamin D, which is the upper limit of the Vitamin D Council recommendation.
One more caution concerns fluoride, which is found in fluorinated water and in many medications and supplements. According to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, fluoride “interferes with the biological activity of magnesium ion,” and that fluoride reduces absorption of magnesium in the intestines. Overall, “the toxic effect of fluoride ion plays a key role in acute Mg deficiency.” So avoid fluorinated water and other sources of fluoride whenever possible.
Testing for magnesium deficiency
A blood or urine test can be performed to test for low or deficient levels of magnesium. Abnormal levels of the mineral are most often seen in people who have a condition or disease that causes too little magnesium to be absorbed or excessive amounts to be excreted by the kidneys, as noted under “Causes of magnesium deficiency.”
Doctors typically order a magnesium test when someone is experiencing symptoms of deficiency and/or they have severe kidney problems, uncontrolled diabetes, heart problems (including abnormal rhythms), alcoholism, malnutrition, a malabsorption condition, or if someone is taking medications that can cause the kidneys to eliminate too much of the mineral.
Some experts question the accuracy of magnesium testing since only about 1 percent of the mineral in your body is found in the blood. That’s why it’s recommended you ask for the RBC (red blood cell) magnesium test, which is more accurate than a simple blood test. The normal magnesium blood levels for adults is 1.8 to 2.6 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
You can help ensure more reliable test results if you tell your doctor about any nonprescription and prescription medications you are taking. Also do not take any medications or supplements that contain magnesium for at least three days before your test. That includes any antacids or laxatives that contain magnesium as well as nutritional supplements and some diuretics.
Best sources of magnesium for men
You can always get magnesium in a supplement, but the ideal source is food. Given the wide and delicious varieties of foods that are rich in magnesium, you should have no problem meeting your daily goal in your diet. Some of the top magnesium-rich foods include:
- Dark green leafy veggies. This includes favorites such as spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens, Swiss chard, and mustard greens. One cup of cooked spinach provides about 157 mg of magnesium
- Nuts and seeds. One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides 150 mg while 1 ounce of roasted sesame seeds offer 101 mg. Other sources include squash seeds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, and walnuts.
- Beans and legumes. One cup of cooked lentils offers 72 mg; an equal amount of navy beans delivers 53 mg
- Whole grains. One cup of cooked quinoa delivers 118 g, while brown rice provides 86 mg and one cup of cooked oatmeal, 57 mg. Other sources include millet, buckwheat, and bulgur.
- Low-fat dairy (in moderation). One example is non-fat plain yogurt (1 cup), which provides 47 mg.
- Other produce. While most veggies and fruits are only fair sources of magnesium, broccoli and beets come in at 102 mg and 62 mg (cooked, 1 cup), respectively, while one banana delivers 33 mg.
- Other sources: Approximately 3 ounces of any of the following food items will provide you with a super source of magnesium: dried seaweed (agar), 770 mg; dried basil, 422 mg; cried coriander leaf, 694 mg; and flaxseed, 392 mg.
Another source of magnesium is supplements. Several forms are available, but not all are equally bioavailable to the body. Avoid magnesium oxide, which is not adequately absorbed by the body.
However, there are several other magnesium supplements you should consider. These chelated forms of magnesium mean that the mineral is bound to a negative charged anion, which improves its bioavailability. Magnesium supplements can be chosen based on your specific needs and/or the benefits you want.
- Magnesium carbonate contains 45 percent magnesium and has antacid characteristics
- Magnesium chloride/magnesium lactate contain only 12 percent magnesium but are absorbed better than some other forms, especially magnesium oxide, even though the latter has five times the amount of magnesium
- Magnesium citrate contains citric acid and has laxative properties
- Magnesium glycinate is often chosen by individuals who have a magnesium deficiency
- Magnesium taurate is combined with the amino acid taurine. This combination can provide a calming effect for both mind and body.
- Magnesium L-threonate is a newer addition to the magnesium supplement family and has an exceptional ability to penetrate the cell walls. This is the one I take.
Magnesium supplements are also available in topical form as a lotion, gel, and oil. These formulations are absorbed through the skin, bypassing the gastrointestinal tract. Applying topical magnesium (as magnesium chloride) allows the mineral to reach your cells more rapidly and avoids any possible GI side effects that can affect susceptible individuals. This is the one I sometimes use at night which also has 3mg of melatonin. And this one is a pure magnesium spray that has about 100mg for every 8 sprays on the skin -it has a mild sting to it when sprayed on. Use it after a hot shower when your pores are open and it is better absorbed.
If you use topical magnesium supplements, be sure to follow the use directions on the label. The amount of elemental magnesium available from each of these forms of magnesium can vary significantly. For example, one teaspoon of one brand of magnesium chloride lotion contains about one-third of the amount found in one teaspoon of the same brand’s oil.
Another form of magnesium is Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate). Epsom salt, when mixed in water, can provide a great soaking opportunity for sore, overworked, and crampy muscles. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath is said to reduce inflammation, relieve strains and sprains, and even improve your mood. That’s because the magnesium is said to be absorbed better through the skin.
According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, an effective Epsom salt soak is 2 cups of the magnesium salts in bath water. If you prefer a foot soak, one cup of Epsom salt will do.
Lots of guys swear Epsom salt soaks are helpful for relieving muscle aches, although there are only limited scientific studies to back up these claims. Perhaps they are just responding to the hot or warm water. However, since Epsom salt is inexpensive, it’s worth a try when recovering from an intensive workout or injury.
11 reasons I started taking magnesium supplements
Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, here are the 11 reasons why I make sure I now get enough magnesium in my diet, and through supplements.
Enhances bone strength and integrity. Magnesium is one of the most important minerals involved in promoting and maintaining bone strength and integrity, and one reason is that it stimulates calcitonin, a hormone that helps regulate calcium levels and is involved in building bone. Magnesium also suppresses the parathyroid hormone, a substance that stimulates the excretion of calcium from bones, promotes the destruction of bone, and interferes with new bone formation.
Increases free T levels. A recent study showed that men who took magnesium supplements (10 mg/kg body weight) for four weeks experienced increases in both free and total testosterone levels. This was true both for sedentary and active men (sportsmen who practiced tae kwon do where the subjects of the study), but the increases were greater among the men who exercised.
Better exercise performance and recovery. Research shows that “magnesium deficiency impairs exercise performance and amplifies the negative consequences of strenuous exercise.” In addition, strenuous exercise boosts your loss of fluids (and thus electrolytes like magnesium), which may increase your requirement for magnesium by 10 to 20 percent. All the more reason to have your magnesium levels checked if you have any reason to believe you are not getting enough of this critical nutrient.
Improves sleep. The sleep/wake cycle is largely regulated by melatonin, and this hormone requires the assistance of magnesium to function properly. In addition, magnesium plays a significant role in controlling stress hormones. Less stress means better sleep and better performance during the day. Here is the melatonin and magnesium cream I sometimes use at night. I find it definitely works to help me sleep, however it also gives me crazy dreams – but maybe that’s just me!
Calms the nervous system. Serotonin, the brain chemical and neurotransmitter that plays such a critical role in our mood, depends on magnesium. In fact, insufficient magnesium seems to result in a decline in serotonin levels.
Helps develop stronger muscles. Magnesium is necessary in the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which is necessary for healthy muscle strength and growth. The mineral also is an important part of the production of ATP – your cells’ energy source.
Improves flexibility. Magnesium is a key factor in muscle contraction and relaxation. Without sufficient levels of this mineral, your muscles will not relax properly, resulting in cramps. Magnesium deficiency also is associated with an accumulation of lactic acid in your muscles, causing tightness and pain.
Helps prevent diabetes. An adequate intake of magnesium reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by enhancing insulin secretion and thus controlling glucose levels. A meta-analysis of 13 studies published in Diabetes Care in 2011 supported previous findings showing that magnesium intake is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
Supports cardiovascular health. Numerous studies have shown that magnesium plays an integral part in heart health on several levels. For one, it helps lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Higher serum levels of magnesium are also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, including the risk of stroke and sudden cardiac death.
Supports dental health. Insufficient magnesium is an invitation for tooth damage. Maintaining adequate magnesium intake supports a healthy balance of calcium and phosphorous in the saliva, which in turn keeps your teeth intact.
Keeps the motor running. I’ve already mentioned that magnesium is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions, and enzymes are part of those activities. Magnesium is necessary to make these enzymes function properly. So without magnesium, you’d be a vehicle without spark.
Given the above I can’t see any reason why supplemental magnesium shouldn’t be a part of every man’s nutritional program. My deficiency slipped under the radar for a long time before it was identified in a blood test. It’s not a mineral that you think about much, but for me, it’s definitely part of my health program going forward!
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