Magnesium Supplements,
Yes, but...

Magnesium supplements would be a good idea for 68% of the people in the United States.  That is the percentage of people that do not meet the minimum recommended dietary allowance of 420 mg/day for males and 320 mg/day for females in the 31 to 50 year old age group.   

That bracket is just to make the point; none of the age brackets for either sex are anywhere near the dietary recommended intakes.

Click on the book cover, Magnifient Magnesium, below to get the real skinny on this miracle mineral.

Magnesium, It's Everywhere!

This is a strange paradox in that the element is ubiquitous, it is everywhere.  Magnesium is the seventh most plentiful element in the earth's crust, the third most plentiful element dissolved in seawater and a typical human body contains about 24 grams of the mineral. 

Think about it; 24 grams is not even one ounce yet that small amount is vital to life, all life.  In humans, 60% is in the skeleton, 39% in the cells and the remaining 1% is circulating outside the cells.  Of the 39% intracellular amount, half of that is found in the skeletal muscles.

<p>Its ions are essential to the chemistry of life via its role in nucleic acid.  It is the interaction between phosphate ions and magnesium ions that make it all possible.  Its importance cannot be overstated; magnesium is essential to every cell of every living thing. 

Why Magnesium?

In us humans, over 300 enzymes depend on magnesium in order to carry out their catalytic actions.  All enzymes that use or make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the fuel of intracellular energy transfer, depend on magnesium ions. 

The very construction of DNA and RNA depends on magnesium ions.

Magnesium and by extension, magnesium supplements, are the stuff of stars.  Stars, of which our sun is one, produce magnesium by fusing helium and neon with a temperature of 600 megakelvins. 

In plain English, that's about 1,080 million degrees Fahrenheit.  How did all that magnesium get from the stars into the earth’s crust, the oceans and our bodies? 

The stars exploded in supernovae that distributed magnesium and all the other elements throughout the universe and here we are.


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Deficiencies

Given the abundance of magnesium, why would so many people be deficient and need magnesium supplements?  As mentioned above, 68% of people in the U.S. are deficient yet most don't exhibit symptoms of deficiency.

From the NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements we learn that early symptoms cover a wide range of conditions including nausea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite and weakness.

Quite a few other medical conditions cause this same set of symptoms so just based on that, whether or not they are from a deficiency is indeterminate. 

As the deficiency worsens, symptoms graduate to numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, personality changes and coronary spasms and abnormal heart rhythms. 

A severe deficiency of magnesium can result in low levels of calcium and potassium in the blood. 

Magnesium is adequately present in a normal, healthy diet but there are many factors in today's lifestyle of over-medication, excess sugar, fast food, junk food and stress that inhibits the absorption of Magnesium.  If absorption is the problem, then the type of magnesium supplements and how they are taken becomes very important.

For example many diuretics, antibiotics and anti-neoplastic meds (chemo drugs to deal with abnormal cell masses) can cause loss of magnesium or inhibit its absorption.  

Other medical conditions that contribute to magnesium deficiency include poorly managed diabetes, Crohn's disease, gluten sensitivity and chronic diarrhea.  Alcoholics are prone to deficiencies as are geriatrics, both of which would indicate intervention with magnesium supplements. 

Older adults tend to lose magnesium through increased renal excretion and age related malabsorption, not to mention the fact that too many senior citizens are greatly over-medicated.

Magnesium Supplements

As with most minerals, we have to supplement smartly and magnesium is no exception.  First of all, there are all kinds of magnesium supplements with widely varying Mg content.  The chart below from the Office of Dietary Supplements shows the percentage of magnesium in seven different types of oral supplements.

Elemental magnesium content of various oral supplements

Lets Supplement

Just taking the chart at face value can be misleading in that bioavailability enters the picture.  Magnesium oxide with the highest Mg content would seem to be the obvious choice of supplement but it has a much lower bioavailability than the other forms. 

The lactate and chloride magnesium supplements, each containing only 12% of elemental Mg, are equal to the bioavailability of the Mg oxide supplement.  Both the elemental content AND the bioavailability of a magnesium compound determines its effectiveness.

If a person is exhibiting low blood levels of magnesium, it is important to find out the underlying cause and then supplement accordingly with a physicians involvement.  

One important caution is that someone with kidney disease 
would probably not be able to excrete excess magnesium and thus should not attempt to self-medicate with a supplement.  Also some forms of magnesium table supplements might tend to cause diarrhea.

The best bet is always to get our RDA of magnesium through spinach and other dark leafy greens, nuts, fish and other whole foods with good Mg content but if it’s hard to get those greens down and you hate fish then a typical 250 mg table supplement may be in order. 

However, if that 250 mg table is based on magnesium oxide, remember that the bioavailability is such that a good portion of the Mg in that pill will not be absorbed. 

It is always good practice to take mineral supplements with a meal as well so they have more time to hang around the small intestine and not zip right through before maximum absorption can occur.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that for most people, even if they are in that 68% that don't get enough Mg, supplementing a stand alone magnesium table is not necessary.  The best recommendation would be to look for a good multivitamin and mineral supplement that has magnesium in it. 

Be sure it is based on standardized hydroponic plant technology and not a cheap formulation of synthetics.  The Mg content will be quite low compared to the RDA but if it is sourced from red algae or something similar, chances are it will all be absorbed.

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