Got cravings? Perhaps it’s that time of the day again, or maybe that time of the month, when all you can think about is having chocolate and nothing else will do. If you attribute this to the rise and fall of hormone levels, you may be surprised to learn that reaching for some cocoa could be a sign that your body is low in magnesium. In fact, in my clinical experience I have found that chocolate cravings and PMS symptoms both improve with daily magnesium supplements.
But that’s not all this mineral can help you with. Here are some of the other ways magnesium is important in for bodies.
1. It balances blood sugar levels
Magnesium is involved in more than 300 physiological processes in the body, from the action of the heart muscle and the formation of bones and teeth, to the relaxation of blood vessels and the promotion of proper bowel function. Magnesium also plays an important role in how your body handles and processes carbohydrates. This powerful nutrient can influence the release and activity of insulin, which in turn helps control blood glucose levels, the number on the scale, and the inches that may accumulate around your waistline. It’s a catch-22 because refined sugar (and stress) causes the body to excrete magnesium through the kidneys, which in turn can boost your cravings, continuing the cycle.
Several clinical studies have examined the positive impact that magnesium supplementation can have on type-2 diabetes and blood-sugar levels. In one such study published in Diabetes Care, 63 subjects with below-normal serum magnesium levels received 300 mg elemental magnesium per day, or a placebo. At the end of the 16-week study period, those who received the magnesium supplements had improved control of their diabetes.
Take 200 to 400 mg of magnesium glycinate or magnesium citrate a day. To treat and prevent constipation, increase to 600 to 800 mg per day, up to what your bowels can tolerate.
2. It eases anxiety and stabilizes mood
Individuals with anxiety have been found to have lower levels of magnesium, which may be linked to the fact that a magnesium deficiency causes the release of adrenalin. Magnesium supplements reduce the release and effect of stress hormones on the heart, which is an indirect measure of the mineral’s effect on the brain. A study published in Psychiatry Research found that patients who received magnesium were able to reduce their anti-anxiety medications, and symptoms of anxiety such as bradycardia (heart arrhythmia) disappeared.
A bedtime dose of magnesium may also ensure that you sleep like a baby. In a study of more than 200 patients over a period of 12 months, Dr. W.H Davis of the University of Pretoria tested magnesium as a possible means of combating insomnia. He discovered that patients on magnesium supplementation reported that they fell asleep quickly, and had more luck staying asleep throughout the night. Waking tiredness disappeared, and anxiety and tension diminished during the day. Taking magnesium at bedtime is my favourite starting place for most cases of sleep disruption, in all ages.
3. It reduces muscle cramping
Do you ever get those irritating little twitches in your eyelid? How about painful muscle cramping that wakes you up at night or ruins your workout? These are both possible signs of magnesium deficiency — the mineral is closely involved in proper muscle relaxation and contraction. Start taking your magnesium dose at bedtime instead of in the morning, and you may be surprised at how quickly these symptoms go away.
Leg cramps during pregnancy are also quite common, and respond very well to a healthy dose of magnesium. Researchers from two hospitals in Sweden conducted a double-blind, randomized trial in which 73 women with pregnancy-related leg cramps were randomly assigned to receive oral magnesium (15 mmol) or a placebo daily for three weeks. Serum magnesium levels were measured, and patients recorded the frequency and severity of their leg cramp symptoms before and after treatment. As it turns out, the group receiving the magnesium supplements experienced a dramatic reduction in the severity of the leg cramps.
Athletes can be especially prone to magnesium loss from sweating. I once treated an adventure racer with this exact condition. He used to develop cramps so severe that his teammates would have to carry him during competitions. I fixed his digestive issues and supplemented with minerals, and he was back in action in no time. I recommend a mineral supplement containing magnesium and foods high in the mineral — like seeds, nuts and green leafy veggies — to all of my athlete patients to maintain their performance.
4. It improves blood pressure
Evidence suggests that magnesium may play an important role in regulating blood pressure, due to its natural muscle-relaxing ability. When blood vessels are relaxed, there is less resistance to the flow of blood and as a result, lower blood pressure.
Diets that provide high sources of potassium and magnesium — such as those that are high in fruits and vegetables — are consistently associated with lower blood pressure. The DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) suggested that high blood pressure could be significantly lowered by consuming a diet high in magnesium, potassium and calcium, and low in sodium and fat.
In another study, the effect of various nutritional factors on high blood pressure was examined in over 30,000 U.S. male health professionals. After four years of follow-up, researchers found that a greater magnesium intake was significantly associated with lower risk of hypertension. The evidence is strong enough that the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure recommends maintaining an adequate magnesium intake as a positive lifestyle modification for preventing and managing high blood pressure.
For all the above reasons and many more, magnesium is one of the first — and perhaps most important — minerals to get into your supplement arsenal.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.