Maritime Wellness: The untold tale of magnesium

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Magnesium is more important than you may realize

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By Emily Reiblein, Director HSSE – Crowley Logistics

There are some vitamins and minerals so important to the human body that without their consumption over time, the body crashes and burns. Lesser known among these essential nutrients is the mineral magnesium. Magnesium is best known by its magical impact on muscle recovery.

Some very smart old wives told a tale that soaking pained muscles and limbs in magnesium sulfate salts would bring relief. Research spanning over 80 years shows far more compelling reasons to understand magnesium intake as chronic deficiencies can cause everything from brain deterioration to a broken heart.

If you have never taken stock of your magnesium intake, you are not alone. Nutritionists and the medical community have largely ignored this mineral’s story since 1937 when it was discovered that low levels of magnesium in the body were a predictor of heart disease. Further studies in the 1950s demonstrated that low magnesium levels were actually a stronger predictor of heart disease than high cholesterol levels. This research fell out of favor due to the focused relationship between high dietary cholesterol intake and heart disease (a relationship that has now been largely dispelled). More recently, research on low magnesium levels has been associated with a higher risk of hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, age-related memory loss, depression, anxiety and lack of sleep.

One of the most impressive bodies of research on magnesium involves its impact on migraine headaches. About 50 million Americans suffer from some form of migraine, where altered neurotransmitter release and vasoconstriction are common. Magnesium appears to impact both conditions and research has shown that migraine sufferers have lower levels of magnesium in serum and tissue than non-sufferers. The American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society concluded that magnesium therapy is “probably effective” for migraine prevention based on multiple studies.


Assessing magnesium deficiency is not an easy task. Most magnesium is trapped inside cells and bones where it helps to generate energy and perform metabolic functions like DNA and RNA synthesis. This means a common blood test is poor at assessing how much magnesium is present to do vital work in the body. Testing magnesium in red blood cells is a more accurate way to determine deficiency and supplementation needs. Tests are available through a medical provider.

Population studies show that three out of four adults are magnesium deficient, resulting in over 300 enzyme systems that will not function optimally. Hence the many studies showing the wide impact of magnesium deficiency on so many functions from broken hearts to tattered brains. Early signs of chronic low levels of magnesium can be loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, numbing/tingling of limbs and nausea. As the intake deficiency gets worse over time, migraines and headaches, cramps, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms and coronary spasms can occur. While low dietary intake of magnesium can be a cause of its deficiency in the body, medications or the downstream effects of disease have impact too. Those with Type 2 diabetes, alcoholism and/or gastrointestinal issues may also find themselves subject to deficiency even though dietary intake may be in a normal range.

The National Institute of Health identifies that the daily recommended dose of magnesium should be a daily amount between 30 mg (a newborn) and 320 mg/420 mg (adult female/male age 31 and above). Plant foods are a primary source of magnesium in adult diets. Nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin, almond and chia, tend to have the highest contents of the mineral. Leafy greens and your morning coffee (coffee and dairy have magnesium in them) can add to the daily tally. Over abundance of magnesium in the diet can also occur, especially if you are supplementing. Regulating overages in supplementation is not hard. Most forms of magnesium cause the body to “speak” if an over abundance occurs. Forms of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate, have a laxative effect on the body, giving you every uncomfortable indication that its time to scale back.

The story of a happy and healthy body includes magnesium. Attention to it can help fill in gaps that may otherwise be overlooked or underlying. It should be noted that magnesium supplementation and common medications could interact poorly. Even magnesium in the most mundane of multivitamins can disrupt the action of common medications, including antibiotics.

Always speak to your doctor or heath care professional about all supplements and medications to determine the best option for doses, timing and possible suspension to avoid interactions.

Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. All medical advice should be sought from a medical professional.

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