Your cells depend entirely on magnesium. It enables thousands of biochemical processes, provides energy through the construction of ATP, helps maintain healthy DNA and RNA, and regulates the cellular balance of other minerals. It is a nutrient on which the success of virtually every metabolic operation depends. The balance between calcium and magnesium
is one of the absolute keys to optimal health. These minerals work in tandem in many metabolic operations. For example, calcium causes muscle contractions while magnesium permits muscles to relax. Calcium helps blood to clot while magnesium keeps it from clotting to extremes. Calcium excites nerves, while magnesium calm them down. Just as calcium strengthens bone density, magnesium adds flexibility. Aside from its balancing effects on calcium, magnesium serves countless functions on its own. Neither ATP (the body’s energy molecule) nor your most important antioxidant, L-Glutathione, can be without it. It is essential in detoxification processes and helps blood vessels to relax. It is, in short, a master nutrient, yet only one in five Americans gets the government’s recommended Daily Value from foods.
As the old saying goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” For many years, the United States has suffered one of the world’s highest rates of osteoporosis. Knowing that calcium was essential for strong bones, doctors and nutritionists jumped on the calcium bandwagon that the dairy industry had pushed, recommending calcium, calcium, and more calcium. As modern research emerges, we’re learning that what we need, not just for bone health but health as a whole, is the right balance between calcium and magnesium. The most frequently recommended ratio for these minerals is two mg of calcium for each mg of magnesium (2:1). This ratio evolved from a complete misrepresentation of the work of Dr. Jean Durlach, President of The International Society for the Development of Research on Magnesium. Dr. Durlach never recommended this ratio. He said, instead, that the 2:1 ratio is the absolute maximum the body can handle, and that much lower ratios are better. Dr. Carolyn Dean, Director of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association, calls for reversing this ratio, (twice as much magnesium as calcium). Unfortunately, getting twice as much magnesium as calcium is extremely difficult given the status of American farmlands. For this reason, millions of Americans are turning to magnesium supplements.
Magnesium & STRESS
Normally, calcium resides outside of cells, and magnesium remains inside. When stress occurs, calcium pours into cells. This excites neurons and causes muscle tension. At this point, magnesium needs to push the calcium back out to permit the cells to relax. Of course, if you don’t have enough cellular magnesium, this can’t happen, and you’ll feel “stressed out.”
Magnesium & CRAMPS
Two proteins (Actin and Myosin) help regulate the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Calcium causes these proteins to “shorten,” or contract. Magnesium then relaxes them so that they can lengthen again. As this occurs, muscles return to a resting state. A high ratio of calcium to magnesium makes for strong contractions and weak relaxation, and may therefore contribute to cramps.
SIGNS OF MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY
- Fatigue, lack of energy
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Irritability, aggravation
- Poor sleep patterns
- Muscle weakness, tension, spasms, twitches, cramps
- Irregular or abnormal heartbeat
- Menstrual issues
- Hormonal imbalances
- Weak bones
- Headaches, migraines
Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics