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The magnificent mineral


Magnesium is chock full of benefits. A deficiency may result in fatigue, muscle spasm, or an abnormal heart rhythm. Learn the best sources of magnesium.

Magnesium is chock full of benefits. A deficiency may result in fatigue, muscle spasm, or an abnormal heart rhythm. Learn the best sources of magnesium.

After a hard day at work or play, there’s nothing like slipping into a hot bath to relax and relieve sore muscles. Add a cup of Epsom salts, and the experience is that much more enjoyable. The active ingredient in Epsom salts responsible for these actions is magnesium sulphate.

The first reported medicinal use of Epsom salts occurred sometime in the 17th century after a farmer in Epsom, England, found that the well water, which contained magnesium sulphate, had soothing and healing properties when applied to the skin. Since then Epsom salts (or magnesium salts) have been commonly added to a bath and applied to the skin to support healing from numerous ailments.

An abundant mineral

Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the human body, the seventh most plentiful element in the earth’s crust, and the eighth most common element in the universe. It is so easy to come by, yet so many of us don’t get enough magnesium. Older adults may be more prone to a deficiency.

Why do I need magnesium?

A variety of symptoms can result from a magnesium deficiency, including

  • fatigue
  • abnormal heart rhythms
  • muscle weakness and spasm
  • depression
  • loss of appetite
  • listlessness
  • potassium depletion

Magnesium drives over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, so a deficiency is not something you want to experience. Many who find themselves low in this otherwise prevalent and widely available mineral aren’t even aware of their problem.

How do I know if I’m deficient?

There are some simple blood tests that your health care practitioner can use to determine magnesium deficiency. They include a simple blood test that evaluates serum magnesium along with red blood cell magnesium. Your health care practitioner may test you for magnesium at your next annual physical if you request it. Less frequently used, but possibly more accurate, are the magnesium load test and X-ray microanalysis.

Causes of deficiency

Overt magnesium deficiency is common in people who take

  • potassium-depleting prescription diuretics
  • too many laxatives
  • antacid medications (proton pump inhibitors)

Deficiency may also be caused by

  • severe burns
  • diabetes
  • heart failure
  • alcoholism
  • chronic diarrhea
  • pancreatitis
  • conditions associated with malabsorption, such as Crohn’s disease

Besides deficiencies, conventional practice has employed therapeutic uses of magnesium for decades. It has been the gold standard in the treatment of eclampsia and pre-eclampsia (toxemia of pregnancy). In these cases it is usually given via intravenous administration in the hospital.

What can magnesium treat?

Studies have shown magnesium is beneficial for the treatment of

  • irregular heartbeat
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • type 2 diabetes
  • certain forms of hearing loss
  • leg cramps
  • complications following a heart attack

At higher dosages, magnesium may help to control high blood pressure. Magnesium has also been shown to be an effective adjunctive therapy for the treatment of acute childhood asthma when given using a nebulizer (inhaled as magnesium vapour).

Best sources of magnesium

The most common way to get magnesium isn’t by applying it, injecting it into your veins, or breathing it in. The best source of magnesium is your diet. Good sources are nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios) grains (oatmeal, wheat germ, whole grain breads and cereals) legumes (soybeans, lentils, kidney and pinto beans) dark green vegetables (spinach and beet greens)

Most people don’t get enough magnesium from their diets to achieve optimal levels. So the best way to get an optimal amount is by supplementing with it. Many nutritionally oriented health care practitioners recommend 250 to 350 mg per day of supplemental magnesium for adults. That dose is hard to achieve unless you supplement your diet with magnesium liquid, capsules,
or tablets.

Regardless of form, consider taking vitamin B6 to increase the amount of magnesium that can enter your cells. Ask your health care practitioner about the best form of magnesium for you to take and for vitamin B6 dosage information.

Before moving on to the next article, why not draw a nice hot bath with Epsom salts and read
while you soak?

Get enough magnesium

Gender/Age Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) in mg
 9 to 13  
14 to 18  
19 to 30 
31 and older
9 to 13
14 to 18
19 to 30
31 and older

—Source: Health Canada


Before taking magnesium, check with your primary health care practitioner. If you are taking blood thinners or iron supplements, or if you have severe kidney disease, a low heart rate, or myasthenia gravis, magnesium may not be advisable.

Magnesium may compete for absorption with other minerals, particularly calcium. Taking a multimineral supplement avoids this potential problem.

Oral magnesium may also interact and decrease the effectiveness of medications such as the antibiotic tetracycline and synthetic thyroid hormone (for example, Synthroid, Levothyroxine, and Eltroxin). Therefore, it is advised to separate the taking of magnesium and these substances by at least two hours.

If the specific interaction is unknown, separate the taking of magnesium from any other medication by two hours or more (when taken in amounts greater than recommended daily allowances).



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