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Magnesium: what is it & what does it do for you?

I regularly recommend my clients use magnesium, either in the form of a supplement, topical cream or oil, or as salts dissolved in a warm bath.

But what is magnesium, and what does it do for our body?

The Science

Magnesium

Magnesium is a chemical element. It is the fourth most common element on Earth, and the third most common dissolved in seawater. Magnesium is the eleventh most abundant element by mass in the human body and is essential to all cells and some 300 enzymes.

The important interaction between phosphate and magnesium ions makes magnesium essential to the basic nucleic acid chemistry of all cells of all known living organisms. More than 300 enzymes require magnesium ions for their catalytic action, including all enzymes using or synthesizing adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Now I don’t want this to turn into a boring chemistry lecture, but ATP is a complex organic chemical that participates in many processes, including providing energy for nearly all of the body’s metabolic processes and muscular contraction. 20% of the body’s magnesium is for skeletal muscle function.[1]

Magnesium is also an imperative part in;

  • Nerve conduction
  • The production of energy from carbohydrates and fats
  • The production and maintenance of healthy bones, including the synthesis of bone matrix, bone mineral metabolism and the maintenance of bone density
  • Maintenance of healthy heart function and normal heart rhythm.[2]

Where can we source magnesium?

The Source

Nuts, Greens, Cocoa & Spices

Spices, nuts & seeds, cereals, cocoa (W00T!) and leafy green vegetables are rich sources of magnesium. [3]

Thankfully, if we are not getting enough magnesium in our diet, or are experiencing symptoms of magnesium deficiency alternative methods for magnesium intake is readily available.

Bath salts

Magnesium chloride

Magnesium chloride is extracted from seawater and is more readily absorbed through the skin than other forms of magnesium, so it’s perfect for bath salts. It is not for ingestion.

Magnesium sulfate

Magnesium sulfate is more commonly known as Epsom salts. A great source of magnesium and available in most supermarkets and chemists, Epsom salts have been popular since it was discovered in the British town it was named after, in the 17th century. [4]

Topical creams and oils

As both magnesium chloride and sulfate are absorbed through the skin, they make great topical applications and are available in creams and oils that can be rubbed directly on the sore or cramping muscle. Great for carrying in your sports or travel bag and cant get to a bath.

Topical spray, supplements, bath salts

Supplements

Magnesium itself cannot be absorbed and needs to be bonded to another molecule to be absorbed. The most common bonding agents are oxide, citrate, glycinate, sulphate or amino acid chelate.

This is the least absorbed form, but also has one of the highest percentages of elemental magnesium per dose so it still may be the  highest absorbed dose per mg. This is a great general purpose magnesium if really Mg is all you need.  It makes a simple muscle relaxer, nerve tonic and laxative if you take a high dose.

This is one of the most common forms of Mg on the commercial market. This is Mg bonded to citric acid, which increases the rate of absorption. Citrate is a larger molecule than the simple oxygen of oxide, so there is less magnesium by weight than in the oxide form. This is the most commonly used form in laxative preparations.

In this form, Mg is bonded to the amino acid glycine. Glycine itself is a relaxing neurotransmitter and so enhances magnesium’s natural relaxation properties. This could be the best form if you’re using it for mental calm and relaxation.

Magnesium amino acid chelate is usually bonded to a variety of amino acids. In this form there is less magnesium by weight but the individual amino acids could all be beneficial for different things. Every formula is different so if you need both Mg and a particular amino acid, then this could be the way to go. [5]

Recommended daily intake of magnesium is;

  • 400 mg/day for men aged 19-30 years, increasing to 420 mg/day for those aged 31 and above,
  • For women aged 19-30 years, the RDI is 310 mg/day, increasing to 320 mg over the age of 30,
  • Depending on their age, the RDI for adult women who are pregnant is 350-360 mg/day.
  • The RDI for breastfeeding for those who are breastfeeding is 310-320 mg of magnesium each day. [6]

What happens if I don’t have enough magnesium?

The Symptoms

If you’re not getting enough magnesium in your diet then you may be experiencing symptoms such as;

  • Muscular cramp

    Muscular problems such as cramps, twitches, slow to recover from injury, aches and pains,

  • Fibromyalgia is sometimes linked to magnesium deficiency,
  • Migraines and headaches, including tension headaches,
  • Period pain and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including mood swings , fluid retention, premenstrual migraines,
  • Stress, irritability, insomnia and anxiety,
  • Fatigue, which may be a symptom of magnesium deficiency.

It may also play a role in helping to maintain cardiovascular health and healthy bone density.

What could be causing my magnesium deficiency?

The Seed

  • Stress (especially when prolonged or severe),
  • Inadequate sleep,
  • Profuse perspiration,
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine, salt, sugar and alcohol,
  • Heavy menstrual periods,
  • Eating large quantities of processed and refined foods,
  • The use of some multiple pharmaceutical medications,
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as short-term diarrhoea or vomiting and conditions that affect your absorption of nutrients,
  • Getting older. [7]

Can I have too much magnesium?

Doses less than 350 mg daily are safe for most adults. When taken in very large amounts, magnesium is possibly unsafe.

Symptoms of magnesium overdose include;

  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • lethargy
  • muscle weakness
  • irregular heartbeat
  • low blood pressure
  • urine retention
  • respiratory distress
  • cardiac arrest. [8]

 

The best way to ensure you’re getting enough magnesium is to maintain a healthy diet of whole foods and steer clear of processed and refined foods. If you are getting regular cramps or muscular pain it might be a good idea to get some advice from your physical therapist.

Maintaining muscular health can be as easy as regular gentle exercise and stretching, fresh air and water each day, a 20 minute magnesium bath a week, some leafy greens and nuts in your diet and regular massage.

If you think you have a serious magnesium deficiency you should consult your doctor.

 

Have you ever used magnesium? How did it work for you?