The Essential Mineral You're Probably Not Getting Enough Of
By Christine Fitzgerald
Wouldn't it be great if there was one magical supplement, a jack-of-all trades pill that, once swallowed, would go straight to work to help your body kick butt? Guess what. There is — and chances are you/re not taking it.
Magnesium is most famously known for being on the periodic table (remember chemistry class?), but it's also one of the most necessary supplements your body needs — and the most underutilized. From nerves to cells to muscles, the "miracle mineral" helps your body regulate, promote, and improve all critical functions. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in adults, with an estimated 80 percent lacking the right amount of this vital mineral. Unlike other deficiencies with noticeable symptoms like tooth cavities, muscle aches or spasms, and trouble sleeping, magnesium deficiency is often overlooked and rarely tested because it doesn't show up on a blood test (only one percent of the magnesium in the body is stored in the blood; the majority of it is stored in the bones). Because the body loses magnesium stores through normal functions such as muscle movement, heartbeat, and hormone production, you need to constantly replace those lost stores.
While it's best to get magnesium through foods — green leafy veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains — a supplement can fill the gaps when diet falls short. Stick to chelated magnesium supplements, which means that the magnesium is united with amino acids to help your body absorb it better than other forms of Mg.
Now that that's covered, you're probably still wondering what exactly is so special about magnesium. Well, here's what it can do for you.
(*Note: Chelated magnesium can interfere with some medications. Consult your physician before using supplements if you also take blood thinners, digoxin for your heartbeat, muscle relaxants, antibiotics, or medications for high blood pressure or diabetes.)
1. INCREASED ENERGY
If you're tired and you know it, clap your hands! Unless you're too tired to clap, then just nod. If you're constantly feeling sapped, up that magnesium intake. Magnesium helps the body turn glucose into energy. Without enough magnesium, your body has to work twice as hard to complete that essential function, which can leave you feeling pooped.
2. CALM NERVES AND ANXIETY
Settle down, now. There's a reason I call magnesium supplements "the happy pill," and that's because magnesium plays an important role in GABA function (or gamma-aminobutyric acid, just in case you were curious), a neurotransmitter in the brain that creates "happy hormones" like serotonin. Magnesium helps regulate serotonin and other hormones crucial for calming the brain and promoting relaxation, which is why a magnesium deficiency can cause you to be high-strung.
3. SLEEP LIKE A ROCK
If counting sheep isn't doing the trick, if your mind races like Seabiscuit, or if you wake up as easily as a rooster in the Serengeti, it all might come down to a lack of magnesium. Magnesium helps decrease cortisol (a.k.a. "the stress hormone") and improve muscle relaxation, thus promoting that calm feeling you need to drift off to sleep.
4. MANAGE STRESS — AND WEIGHT!
It's no secret that stress interferes with maintaining a healthy weight. Every type of stress can influence weight, whether it be related to work, injury, illness, divorce, finances, childcare, or even the daily commute. (C'mon, you know you’ve finished off a bag of chips in record time while stuck in traffic.) All of these stresses and many others can lead to poor sleep patterns, excess worry, foggy brain, poor memory, and weight gain.
During bouts of stress, your body releases chemicals that slow down your metabolism. It's a primitive response. Imagine you’ve encountered a lion — you either fight or run, and if you're like me, you definitely run and hide. In order for your brain to keep you alive while you hide for a couple of days or more, it has to slow your metabolism to help you preserve fat to live through the "I almost died" stress response. Magnesium helps neutralize effects from stress — in other words, your body will no longer think a lion is hunting you, so it'll revert to a calm state in which it doesn't need to store fat to "save you."
Try it out before your next commute. Take a magnesium tablet with water before you leave for work and see how it helps keep your weight and sanity in check.
5. BALANCE THAT BLOOD SUGAR
Magnesium is vital for the production and function of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the metabolism of carbs, fats, and protein by promoting the absorption of glucose from the blood into fat. Diabetes is inevitable without insulin, so it’s no wonder that many who suffer from diabetes and its complications (such as heart disease, eye damage, high blood pressure, and obesity) have a magnesium deficiency.
Recent studies suggest that when the treatment of diabetes includes magnesium, diabetes and its evil cohorts can be prevented or minimized. Do yourself a favor and strengthen your body before this nasty illness creeps up on you.