Why you should start taking magnesium today
Because magnesium is maybe the most important mineral for plant and animal life on Earth. Because magnesium is certainly one of the essential minerals most deficient in our food. And because we are all magnesium deficient.
Magnesium was the key element in the evolution of plant life on Earth as it is the heart, the central ion of chlorophyll—the plant’s photosynthesising lifeblood. I was amazed when I learnt that chlorophyll and haemoglobin have identical molecular structures, only that chlorophyll has magnesium at its heart, while haemoglobin has iron. This does indeed seem amazing at first, but upon reflection, it seems quite natural, as we can be pretty sure that this is not an evolutionary coincidence since simple cellular life came first, then plant life—obviously dependent on the simplest forms of life, and then animal life—which is completely dependent on plant life.
The human body is about 70% water by weight, with about 2/3 inside our cells and 1/3 outside; the dry weight of a 70 kg person is about 20 kg. So we can say that the rest of our weight is various arrangements of naturally occurring elements. But of the 92 naturally occurring elements, a mere 7 of them make up 99% of the body’s total mineral content. These essential macrominerals are, in order of abundance: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, magnesium, and chloride (chlorine gas dissolved in water).
Calcium is the most abundant and it must be in balance primarily with phosphorus for proper physiological function, but also with magnesium. Phosphorus is the second most abundant, and, present in every cell of the body, it plays a role in almost every chemical reaction. Potassium and sodium work together in their most notable function to transport nutrients into cells and metabolic waste out of them. And hence, potassium is the most abundant element inside the cell, in the intracellular fluid, while sodium is the most abundant element outside, in the extracellular fluid. Sodium is also the primary element on which rely the kidneys for regulating the amount of water in the blood and bodily fluids in general. Chloride works with its siblings potassium and sodium in their role as fluid and acid-base regulators, but it is also the essential element in hydrochloric acid secreted in the stomach to break down proteins into amino acids. Sulphur is necessary for the formation of hair, nails, cartilage and tissue. It is needed for metabolism and a healthy nervous system, plus it aids bile secretion in the liver.
Why so important?
Among these 7 macrominerals, however, magnesium is king. It is second most abundant element inside cells after potassium, and even though it totals only around 25 g in the average 70 kg human body, (more than half of it stored in bones and teeth, and the rest in muscle and soft tissues), it plays a role akin to that of a conductor in regulating the absorption and excretion of many of its sibling macrominerals, both in the intestines and in our cells. Of the multitude of functions it plays, magnesium is involved as a necessary co-factor on which more than 300 essential metabolic enzymatic reactions depend; it is crucially needed for structural function of proteins, nucleic acids and mitochodria; it regulates production, transport, storage and utilisation of energy in cells; it regulates DNA and RNA synthesis, cell growth and cell reproduction; and it regulates nerve function throughout the body.
But certainly most noteworthy, and indeed very important for the vast majority of us magnesium-deficient humans, is that magnesium is what allows muscles to relax: every single muscle cell in our body depends on magnesium to release a contraction instigated by calcium, magnesium’s antagonist brother. Going further, only magnesium can inhibit calcium-induced cell death: only magnesium regulates entry, and can thus prevent calcium from flooding a cell to trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death). It is for these two reasons that magnesium is so much more important than calcium. Sadly, we are as over-calcified—caked stiff with calcium from the inside out—as we are magnesium deficient. And that’s bad news because the more over-calcified the body grows, the more magnesium deficient it becomes. In addition, as important as it is to optimise vitamin D status, it is now clear that this cannot be done without at the same time optimising magnesium status (1).
And in practical terms, what does this mean for you? It means that most modern diseases and conditions are either a direct consequence of or severally aggravated by magnesium deficiency. It means that of all the heart attacks and strokes that claim the lives of most people in industrialised countries, it’s estimated that more than half are caused by magnesium-deficiency. It means that hypertension, poor circulation, water retention, osteoporosis, kidney stones and kidney disease are all caused or severely aggravated by magnesium deficiency. It means that arterial plaque buildup (atherosclerosis), arterial wall thickening and stiffening (arteriosclerosis), cardiac arrhythmia and palpitations, headaches and migraines, anxiety, irritability, insomnia and depression are all caused or severely aggravated by magnesisum deficiency. It means that from the seemingly most benign, occasional involuntary twitching of the eye, or the cramp in your foot, calf or hamstring that just seems to you as a brief nuisance unworthy of attention, to the cardiac arrest or stroke caused by a prolonged spasm of a coronary or cerebral artery that can claim your life in a few instants or leave you paralysed and debilitated for the rest of your life, to chronic anxiety, occasional panic attacks, recurring depression, bipolar or schizophrenic disorders, all of these health problems and hundreds more are caused or severely aggravated by magnesium deficiency. Insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes are also intimately related to magnesium deficiency as it is this mineral that allows insulin to transfer its cargo of glucose from the bloodstream into the cell.
Like many other realities of our world in the realm of medical sciences and treatment of disease, that this can be so—that we can be in such a dire situation of global magnesium deficiency—is truly mind-boggling given the ease with which it can be both prevented and remedied. But for this one as well as so many other such logic-defying realities in today’s medical and health sciences, ignorance is the major hurdle, but the power of the politics of profits cannot be underestimated, and should not be ignored or overlooked.
Why so magnesium-deficient?
Very unfortunately for us, agriculture is not, and to a great extent, never has been as it should rightly be—feeding and enriching the soils and the land, while at the same time producing from it, foods with the perfect balance of minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients in an amazing and unique positive balance process, ultimately based on a remarkably efficient harnessing of the Sun’s energy by the grass and soil. Instead we have an agricultural system that globally pollutes the waters with toxic runoffs, depletes the soils with chemical herbicides, pesticides and Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium or NPK fertilisers, all of which help to slowly but surely sterilise the earth’s surface.
Now, to give you a sense of the scale of the problem of soil mineral content depletion, as far back as 1936, a hearing was held in the 74th US Senate Congress where the following statement was made:
“Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies which cannot be remedied until depleted soils from which our food comes are brought into proper balance? The alarming fact is that foods now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us—no matter how much of them we eat. Our physical wellbeing is more directly dependent upon the minerals we take into our systems than upon the calories or vitamins or upon the precise proportions of starch, protein or carbohydrates we consume (my italics). Laboratory tests prove that the fruits, the vegetables, the grains, the eggs, and even the milk and the meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago. No man today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his stomach with the mineral salts he requires for perfect health.”
And you can be sure that the situation has gotten worse since then—much, much worse. Just to illustrate the point, all chemicals, whether they are those found in fertilisers, in herbicides or in pesticides, contribute to magnesium wasting. Pollutants in the air that fall back down in the form of acid rain waste magnesium stores because it is simultaneously a potent acid buffer and the most water-soluble of the macrominerals. Therefore, it is also the most affected by acid rain and runoffs saturated with agricultural chemicals.
To make matters worse, any processing of a food in its natural form, will most effectively deplete its magnesium content. Here again this is due to magnesium’s super water solubility. Such that with every step of processing, more magnesium is lost from the already magnesium deficient food. The result is that all processed foods are basically devoid of it. Fluoride, the reactive industrial by-product and poison that is put into many municipal drinking waters under the false pretence that it is good for the teeth, seeks out minerals like magnesium, and by binding to them makes it impossible for the body to absorb or use. (This is just one of the many, well researched and well documented negative effects of water fluoridation. See the Fluoride Action Network for plenty more details.)
And the last straw in this magnesium-depleting scenario is our own evermore stressful lifestyle. Always more stress: stress related to the economic situation in our country; stress related to the stability of “The Market”; stress related to the economic stability of our company; stress related to the security of our own job; stress related to our professional and therefore social status; stress related to worries about our kids’ wellbeing, happiness, social development, about their future; stress related to all those deadlines we have to meet, and to those that we set ourselves for our personal projects that somehow always slip to the bottom of the pile of books sitting collecting dust next to your bed; stress about how to save money for hard times, and about where we will go on our next holiday; and on and on and on. Incredible but true: the more time passes, the more technological advances are made, the more stuff we are able to make and use and buy, the more stress there seems to be in our lives.
And what does stress have to do with magnesium? Very simply: stress depletes magnesium and magnesium deficiency magnifies stress. How do we know this? By doing a simple experiment where adrenaline is introduced in the bloodstream intravenously, and seeing the levels of magnesium drop immediately, together with those of calcium, potassium and sodium. Stop the adrenaline and they start to make their way back up, but unfortunately, is takes magnesium the longest to recover to physiological concentrations. But the fact is that every time we feel any kind of stress, adrenaline triggers our fight-or-flight response, in which the heart starts pumping, digestion is stopped as blood is diverted from the digestive system to the arms and legs, blood also thickens by the release of clotting factors to prevent excessive blood loss in case we get injured, glycogen stores are released from the liver to be made available as glucose for immediate energy use in the heart, lungs and muscles, and yes, all of these processes are intensely magnesium-dependent, and at the same time, intensely magnesium-depleting.
In short, almost all soils on agricultural land everywhere are magnesium deficient, some totally depleted, others just greatly depleted. All foods grown in these soils are inevitably also magnesium deficient, and in some cases even more due to the excess potassium in the chemical fertilisers that prevent the plant from taking up magnesium. All processing of food further depletes magnesium, and our crazy and sickly addiction to stress delivers yet another blow—a final blow. We—all of us—really are magnesium deficient. And many of us severely so. For this reason we all need magnesium supplementation. And the sooner we start, the better off we’ll be. If you want to know how magnesium deficient you are, order an RBC Mg test (red blood cells hold about 40% of the body stores of Mg): the lab’s reference range can be anywhere from 3.5 to 7, but you want to be at 6.5 mg/dL.
Remarkably easy, extremely safe and incredibly inexpensive
There are several forms of magnesium supplements. Magnesium chloride is the most completely ionised (with a stability constant of 0), and therefore the most easily absorbable in its ionic form by our cells. This also means that it is super hydrophilic (water-loving) and dissolves instantly when in contact with even a drop of water, so it needs to be kept very dry in a well-sealed bag or container. All the better for us, it also turns out to be very inexpensive (about 6 euros/kg) in the form of white, brittle flakes called Nigari, which is used to make tofu.
To drink your magnesium, dissolve 20 g (4 teaspoons, and 10 cents worth!) in a 1 litre bottle or 30 g (6 teaspoons) in a 1.5 litre bottle. (This makes a 2% solution of magnesium chloride.) Take 50 ml on an empty stomach when you get up in the morning, and again at bedtime. You can dilute this in as much water as you want because it is the total quantity of magnesium that counts, not the concentration of the solution that you drink. At first or when you feel you need more (stressful day, weakness, cold coming on), you should take another 50 ml in the late afternoon when the body is most in need of it. This will supply 360 mg if you take it three times, and 240 mg if you take it twice per day (magnesium chloride is 12% magnesium by weight. Dissolving 20 g in 1 litre gives 2.4 g of ionic magnesium, and dividing this litre in twenty 50 ml doses yields 120 mg per dose. Therefore 3 doses gives 360 mg and 2 doses gives 240 mg).
To absorb your magnesium through the skin, dissolve 20 g in 80 ml of water. (This gives a 20% solution of magnesium chloride—ten times more concentrated than the drinking solution.) Naturally, you can dissolve more magnesium chloride in more water, keeping the same proportions, and storing the solution in a spray bottle. With just 6 sprays on each arm and leg as well as on 6 on your chest and back, you can take up as much as 600 mg of magnesium every day. This is a much more effective way to absorb magnesium because instead of going through the digestive system from which as little as 25% up to 75% of the magnesium will be absorbed depending on many factors but primarily the state of health of your digestive system, which in most of us is appalling, almost all the magnesium is absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream in about 30 minutes. We use both methods at home.
Finally, supplementing with magnesium is extremely safe for the simple reason that it is extremely water soluble: it binds so tightly to water that the magnesium ion forms a hydration shell around itself resulting in a radius 400 times larger than in its dehydrated form. This is unlike any of its macromineral siblings. And for this reason, it is also excessively easy for the body to excrete any excess magnesium either through the urine or in the stools. Therefore, there is virtually no chances of overdosing on magnesium, and no possible negative side effects.
So please, for your own good, for the good of your sons and daughters, husband or wife, ageing mother and father, buy some Nigari at your local natural food store, and start magnesium supplementation for all of them. And for the good of your friends and colleagues, tell them about it and send them this article if they need convincing. (In France, Spain and probably other European countries, we find the Celnat brand 1 kg bag of Nigari. I’ve bought is at Bio-coop stores in Paris, and at Eco-centro in Madrid)
Conclusion: Main points to remember
- We are all magnesium-deficient, and many of us, dangerously so. This is due to the severe lack of magnesium in soils everywhere and therefore in the foods we eat, due to the fact that processing of whole foods strips most if not all the magnesium that is present in the unprocessed food, due to the fact that our diet is excessively rich in calcium that must be balanced with magnesium in order not to accumulate in our tissues and stiffen everything from our organs to our arteries and to our brain, and finally due to the excessive stress that we all know to be the most remarkable feature of our modern lifestyle.
- Magnesium is absolutely essential for relaxing muscle cells including—and maybe most importantly—the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels. Stiff blood vessels cause high blood pressure. This puts great stress on the kidneys and causes a chain of negative consequences that mould into a vicious cycle in kidney deterioration that eventually leads to failure. In addition, stiff blood vessels causes them to suffer much greater damage, especially at bifurcations where the arteries split into finer and finer arterioles. This damage leads to the buildup of plaque, and then to cardiovascular disease, heart attack,s strokes, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- We all need magnesium supplementation, and fortunately it is easy, cheap and safe because Nigari is an inexpensive, food grade magnesium chloride salt easy to buy in natural food stores, and because magnesium’s ultra water solubility makes it very easy for the body to excrete in the urine and eliminations, which guarantees that that it cannot accumulate excessively. On the other hand, this also means that it takes several months to replenish intra-cellular magnesium levels, and that we need to take it daily.