The Magic of Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that gets very little attention compared to other members of the mineral family, yet it is actually the fourth most abundant element in the human body. Recent findings suggest that a large percentage of adults and older children do not meet recommended amounts of this mineral, with many having at least a mild deficiency.  Magnesium’s many functions within the body means it plays a major role in disease prevention and overall health. With all the crucial benefits it has, it’s therefore time we gave it a little bit of press, so this article is dedicated to magnesium.

Many common symptoms can actually be caused or aggravated by a magnesium deficiency, yet most people don’t know what the role of magnesium is and its importance to the body. The reality is, that it is involved in over 350 biochemical reactions in the body and therefore, if we don’t get enough we can start to suffer, often not having a clue that this little mineral may offer a solution.

Migraine

For those who suffer with migraine, especially those suffering regular attacks, living with the pain and disruption to daily life that migraine causes, is an ongoing battle. For some people, migraines may be triggered by certain environmental factors such as artificial lighting or computers, for others they may be caused by certain food triggers or the menstrual cycle. Sometimes though, there are no specific triggers at all and a migraine can strike without warning with varying frequency.

The majority of migraine sufferers have low magnesium levels compared to those who don’t suffer migraine...
migraine.jpg

So how is magnesium associated with migraine? A lot of research suggests that the majority of migraine sufferers have low magnesium levels compared to those who don’t suffer migraine. When magnesium levels were increased in migraine sufferers, whose magnesium levels were low, there was a marked reduction (by almost 50%) in the frequency of migraine attacks. Magnesium has also shown to be effective in women whose migraines are linked with the menstrual cycle. Although the reason why magnesium may be helpful in migraine sufferers is not fully understood, it is suggested that it is most likely down to the fact that magnesium has a relaxing effect on the blood vessels in the brain, which can constrict during a migraine attack.

Asthma

Currently around 5.4 million people in the UK are receiving treatment for asthma and it is one of the most prevalent, chronic conditions affecting children around the world. A lot of evidence suggests that a low dietary intake of magnesium is associated with impaired lung function, including reduced lung capacity and airflow, and just like migraine sufferers, asthma sufferers are often seen to have lower levels

of magnesium than non-sufferers.  Although this is still under the research spotlight, there is good reason why magnesium may certainly be helpful in people suffering with asthma, particularly because it is a powerful muscle relaxant. Smooth muscle is found within the lungs and airways, which, during an asthma attack, constrict. The muscle relaxing properties of magnesium can be very helpful here and have been found to help relax the bronchial tubes within the lungs. One of the characteristic symptoms of asthma, is inflammation in the lungs, which can lead to the buildup of sticky mucus that then contributes further to the breathing difficulties.  With magnesium also been shown to have good anti-inflammatory properties, this ‘magic’ mineral may have a powerful part to play in reducing the inflammation in asthma, which is  one reason why many studies have suggested that patients suffering with mild to moderate asthma may benefit from increased magnesium.

Mood, anxiety & stress

Magnesium has a massive part to play in the release and uptake of serotonin, the body’s happy hormone, and so can help stabilize our mood. Magnesium is often referred to as the ‘calming mineral’ due to the positive, calming influence it can have on our nervous systems. Many studies have actually shown that when we are under stress, especially prolonged stress, magnesium stores in our body become depleted. In other words, the more stress our body is under, the more magnesium we use up. This is certain to have an impact on how we feel, as we know that magnesium actually helps to suppress the body’s stress hormone cortisol. Without magnesium, our cortisol levels can often be higher, especially if our stress levels are high. With stress and depression on the increase in this modern world, the research suggests that magnesium could certainly be helpful in the management of mild to moderate depression.

Restless leg syndrome & Insomnia

This annoying condition is a neurological disorder that results in an overwhelming desire to move the legs and can affect the feet, calves and thighs. For many people this condition is also the cause of their

insomnia. Magnesium can be very helpful for those suffering with both restless leg syndrome and poor sleep, because without magnesium your muscles can’t relax properly! Many studies consistently show that magnesium helps improve sleep quality, not only because it is a muscle relaxant, but also because it helps to inhibit that stress hormone, cortisol.

Cardiovascular Health

There is a huge connection between heart health and magnesium intake, with insufficient magnesium increasing the risk of a variety of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks. In fact,

some research has even said that consuming more magnesium could cut heart disease by 30%! Magnesium also helps to regulate blood pressure, so can also help protect the heart in this way too.  If that wasn’t enough to convince you of its heart healthy effects, then here is another reason.  We have all heard about fatty deposit build up in the arteries, which increase the risk of heart attacks. This is called atherosclerosis and magnesium deficiency has been shown to accelerate the rate of it, whilst increased magnesium levels have reduced its formation. That doesn’t meant to say you can increase the fat content in your diet if you eat more magnesium!!

Now the importance of magnesium has been highlighted, it’s important to know how you can get more of it in your diet. This is the fun bit, as so many tasty foods are good sources of it, so let your imagination run wild on how you can incorporate some of these great foods into your daily diet.

Unrefined wholegrain foods

These are foods that contain all the parts of the grain kernel, so contain all the naturally occurring nutrients in their original proportions. These foods are good sources of magnesium and include oats, oatmeal, wild & brown rice, whole wheat bread, popcorn, barley and rye.

Goats’ milk

Goats’ milk is certainly your friend when it comes to upping your magnesium levels. Goats’ milk is a slightly higher source of magnesium than cows’ milk, but more importantly the magnesium found in goats’ milk is far better absorbed and utilized by the body, compared to the magnesium in cows’ milk.

Some research has also suggested that goats’ milk has anti-inflammatory properties and with inflammation at the root of almost all chronic health conditions, including those discussed above, this is one helpful benefit that we could all do with! One recent piece of research into the anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects of goats’ milk even suggested that it should be a recommended part of the diet for all people suffering with allergic and inflammatory conditions, so certainly could be especially useful in those suffering with asthma and asthma-like symptoms.

Other foods which should be eaten regularly for their good magnesium source include figs, avocado, spinach, kale, pumpkin seeds, legumes, soy beans, dark chocolate, nuts and bananas.

A warning…………

One thing to remember is that the mineral zinc actually decrease magnesium absorption, so if you are taking a zinc supplement or your diet is high in zinc, you could be effecting your magnesium levels, even if you are consuming enough. In contrast, vitamin D helps magnesium absorption, so make sure you soak up some of the beautiful sunshine that we have been having recently to maximize your vitamin D levels.

The conditions above have only skimmed the surface of the potential benefits of magnesium, but have hopefully given a taste of just how important magnesium is, for both disease preventative and overall health. 

 

RESOURCES:

  • Magnesium in Disease Prevention and Overall Health, 2014. Advances in Nutrition: An International Journal
  • Why all migraine sufferers should be treated with magnesium, 2012. Journal of Neural Transmission
  • Investigation of the effect of short-term change in dietary magnesium intake in asthma, 1997. European Respiratory Journal
  • Magnesium should be given to all children presenting to hospital with acute severe asthma, 2014. Paediatric Respiratory reviews
  • Magnesium for treatment of asthma in children, 2009. Canadian Family Physician.
  • Magnesium in Depression, 2013. Pharmacological Reports
  • Magnesium for Cardiovascular Health: Time for Intervention, 2012. The American Journal of Clinical       Nutrition
  • Anti-inflammatory and Anti-Allergic Properties of Donkeys and Goats’ Milk, 2014. Endocrine, metabolic and Immune Disorders

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