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Magnesium Benefits Uses and Types

Magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body and plays a critical role in health, yet it’s estimated that up to half of Americans may be deficient. In this article, we’ll explore why magnesium deficiency is so common, how to know if you’re getting enough, and practical strategies to optimize your magnesium levels without unpleasant side effects.

Key Points

  • Symptoms of magnesium deficiency – including muscle cramps, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and constipation. A blood test measuring red blood cell (RBC) magnesium levels is the best way to test for deficiency.
  • Different forms of magnesium – some forms like magnesium citrate can cause diarrhea at high doses. Chelated forms of magnesium like glycinate and malate tend to be better absorbed without GI issues. Time-released magnesium can also help slow absorption.
  • Taking magnesium before bed – magnesium glycinate or malate can help with sleep by inhibiting excitatory neurotransmitters. But all forms of magnesium may interfere with sleep if taken too close to bedtime.
  • Enhancing magnesium absorption – magnesium works synergistically with B vitamins like methylfolate, methylcobalamin, and P5P (active vitamin B6). Taking these together can enhance absorption and avoid loose stools.
  • Magnesium’s interaction with iron and copper – magnesium helps convert iron into its active form and supports ceruloplasmin to transport iron properly. This prevents issues like hemochromatosis.
  • Topical magnesium – transdermal magnesium from lotions or baths may help reduce muscle cramps but little is absorbed systemically. Oral magnesium is better for overall levels.
  • New research – a clinical trial found sustained-release magnesium (MegaSRT) increased RBC magnesium levels 30% over 90 days with minimal GI side effects.

Magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body and plays a critical role in health, yet it’s estimated that up to half of Americans may be deficient. In this article, we’ll explore why magnesium deficiency is so common, how to know if you’re getting enough, and practical strategies to optimize your magnesium levels without unpleasant side effects.

Why Magnesium Deficiency is Common

Several factors can contribute to suboptimal magnesium levels:

  • Poor diet – magnesium is found in dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and chocolate, but the typical western diet is low in these foods. Refining grains also strips away most of the magnesium.
  • Medications – common prescriptions like birth control pills, diuretics and antacids can deplete magnesium stores over time.
  • Stress – chronic stress takes a toll on nutrient reserves, and magnesium is used up during the stress response.
  • Alcohol – excessive intake can damage intestinal cells and impair the body’s ability to properly absorb magnesium.
  • Sweating – athletes and those who sweat heavily lose extra magnesium through perspiration.

Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

Early signs of magnesium deficiency include muscle twitches, cramps, trouble sleeping, constipation, anxiety, and headaches. As it progresses, more severe symptoms can develop like numbness, heart arrhythmias, and seizures.

Testing magnesium levels through a blood test is tricky because only 1% of the body’s magnesium is found in blood plasma. A red blood cell (RBC) magnesium test is more accurate to assess true deficiency. The optimal range is generally 5.5-6.5 mg/dL. Doctors may also prescribe IV magnesium to rapidly correct a severe deficiency.

Choosing the Right Magnesium Supplement

One reason many people don’t get enough magnesium is that it’s difficult to consume adequate amounts without causing diarrhea. Some forms of magnesium penetrate the intestinal wall rapidly, drawing water into the colon – great for constipation but not so pleasant in higher doses.

Magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate are excellent choices as they tend to be well absorbed without a laxative effect. Magnesium citrate, on the other hand, is so fast-acting that it’s often used as a bowel prep prior to a colonoscopy. Here’s a quick rundown of some top magnesium supplement options:

  • Glycinate – chelated to the amino acid glycine, this form penetrates cells easily, calms the nervous system, and promotes restful sleep.
  • Malate – chelated to malic acid, this form targets energy production, muscle function, and anxiety. It may also enhance athletic performance when combined with creatine.
  • Orotate – highly absorbable form that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and supports neural health.
  • Taurate – chelated to the amino acid taurine, this calming form is good for the heart and blood vessels.
  • Threonate – unique form shown in studies to raise brain magnesium levels and enhance cognitive function and memory.

For other forms like magnesium oxide or magnesium sulfate, absorption tends to be lower so you need a higher dose to get sufficient magnesium, which often leads to GI distress.

Slow and Steady Absorption is Key

The ideal goal is to get a highly absorbable form of magnesium to gradually penetrate the intestinal wall. Rapid absorption floods the colon with water, triggering diarrhea.

Combining sustained-release magnesium with vitamins B6, B12, and folate can further help absorption while preventing loose stools. This was demonstrated in a recent clinical trial using a patented product called MegaSRT.

After 3 months, red blood cell magnesium levels increased 30% with minimal side effects. Slow-release technology prevented the usual laxative effect. B vitamins play a synergistic role because magnesium requires them for proper uptake and utilization.

The Ideal Magnesium Dosage

Recommendations vary on the optimal daily magnesium dose. For maintenance, the RDA is 320mg for women and 420mg for men, although some functional medicine experts suggest 400-600mg may be better.

Tolerable upper limits before diarrhea occurs are generally about 350-400mg per dose. It’s best to split doses morning and evening for steady absorption rather than take it all at once.

Those with a known deficiency may take more aggressive doses but should start low (200-300mg) and gradually increase every 3-5 days while monitoring stool consistency. Working with a functional MD can help determine ideal amounts.

Can You Get Enough from Baths and Lotions?

Epsom salt baths and topical magnesium gels are popular home remedies for sore muscles and stress. But studies show very little magnesium is actually absorbed through the skin.

While soaking in a warm Mg bath may provide some mental relaxation, rely on oral forms to truly replenish cellular stores. Transdermal magnesium should be considered complementary to, not a replacement for, ingesting high-quality magnesium supplements.

The Bottom Line

Choosing the right type of magnesium supplement, taking it with synergistic nutrients like B vitamins, using sustained-release preparations, and properly dosing can help you overcome deficiency without undesirable bathroom side effects.

Pair this with limiting processed foods, eating plenty of magnesium-rich whole foods, minimizing stress, staying hydrated, and avoiding magnesium-depleting substances. Getting your magnesium levels into the optimal zone can pay huge dividends for your health, energy levels, and wellbeing.

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