What are the benefits of magnesium? And should you consider taking magnesium supplements? These are important questions to consider since magnesium deficiency is very widespread in North America and magnesium is crucial for so many bodily functions.
Magnesium is the ninth most abundant element in the universe and the eleventh most abundant in the human body. In your body, magnesium is required for calcium, potassium, and sodium homeostasis. It is a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions and is required for the storage, transfer, and utilization of ATP, the energy currency of life. This last point is especially important to remember when dealing with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), since AFS is a condition where your body is depleted of the nutrients and energy you need to lead a normal life. The simple fact is without magnesium, your adrenal fatigue could worsen.
Adrenal fatigue arises when you are dealing with chronic stress, whether physical or psychological. Your adrenal glands are part of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response’s hormonal circuit, and they are your body’s first line of defense against the negative effects of stress. They produce your main anti-stress hormone, cortisol.
In the beginning stages of AFS, your adrenals produce more cortisol than average in order to try to neutralize the effects of the growing stress. But after a while, they become exhausted and their cortisol output drops below average. In those advanced stages, AFS symptoms are much more visible and difficult to manage.
Symptoms of AFS include fatigue, easily gaining weight and difficulty losing it, insomnia, hair loss, low libido, PMS, infertility, brain fog, anxiety, mild depression, heart palpitations, hypoglycemia, and more.
There are several factors that play a role in triggering and aggravating the symptom of fatigue, in particular.
The first is that energy production has been hampered due to a depletion of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients within the cells. This includes a lack of sufficient magnesium. Without the proper nutrients, cells are unable to produce the energy needed. The second is that the glucose you are getting through food is not being utilized properly by your system, either due to impaired glucose metabolism or insulin resistance.
And finally, when the adrenal glands have slowed down, another part of the hormonal circuit also slows down – the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is responsible for the basal metabolic rate of your body, and when it slows down, your metabolism also slows down. Of course, all of these different factors affect each other, and so improving one can help improve the rest. But, without the benefits of magnesium, none of them will function properly.
What are the Benefits of Magnesium?
Your cells contain tiny organelles called mitochondria. You can think of mitochondria as the energy factories of your cells, and they produce around 90% of your body’s energy. They do that by using oxygen and breaking down carbohydrates and fatty acids to produce ATP. The more ATP your cells produce the more energy you have.
To have more energy, you would need to either increase the number of mitochondria you have or increase the efficiency of the mitochondria in your cells. To make new mitochondria, you need magnesium, and to increase the efficiency of your mitochondria, you need magnesium as a cofactor.
Without the benefits of magnesium, your mitochondria’s ability to produce ATP is compromised, and your body won’t be able to create new mitochondria, and so there is less energy for your body to function. As you can imagine, affects every area of your health.
Glucose metabolism is also affected by magnesium levels. Your pancreas produces insulin, the hormone that transfers glucose from the bloodstream to the cells where it is needed for ATP production.
Insulin resistance, which is common in North American adults due to the nature of the standard American diet, is where your cells are not responding properly to the function of insulin, and so glucose metabolism is impaired and blood sugar levels stay high. Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes and the many health issues that come with that.
Insulin resistance and the impairment of glucose metabolism are huge physical stressors. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels put a lot of pressure on the body, and the adrenal glands have to produce cortisol to deal with its consequences. In fact, one of the main functions of cortisol is the regulation of blood sugar levels.
Further, if the root causes of this insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism are not addressed, the adrenals will become overworked, and that can lead to AFS. One such root cause is magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is required to activate the enzyme tyrosine kinase, which plays a role in the functioning of insulin receptors.
In short, the lower the levels of magnesium, the more energy is depleted in the system. The more energy is depleted in the system, the worse the symptoms of adrenal fatigue become. And the benefits of magnesium encompass more than just a mere energy boost; they also include rebalancing metabolism and recovering adrenal function.
Signs and Causes of Magnesium Deficiency
Estimates of magnesium deficiency range from 56% to 75% of the American adult population. This is alarming since the damage magnesium deficiency can cause is quite serious. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Poor appetite
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle spasms, tics or tremors
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle weakness
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- High blood pressure
- Bipolar disorder
- Noise and pain sensitivity
- Insulin resistance
How to tell if you have a magnesium deficiency? Other than the symptoms listed above, magnesium deficiency can aggravate other issues, so you might find yourself starting to develop the following conditions, or if they’re preexisting conditions, you might find them worsening:
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome – Other than having an effect on ATP production, magnesium is crucial for helping the body to relax and lowering its stress levels. Cortisol regulation requires adequate magnesium, and so a deficiency can disrupt those levels.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – In a study published in the Lancet, participants with chronic fatigue saw improvements in their symptoms after being given injections of 580 mg magnesium.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Studies have shown that those with OCD tend to have lower magnesium levels than those who don’t have OCD.
Depression and Anxiety – Though these two conditions are common in those with the above conditions, they can also be present in those without them and still be related to magnesium deficiency. That’s because magnesium helps calm the excitatory NMDA receptors in the brain, and low magnesium levels can leave these receptors open to more frequent activation by calcium and glutamate, causing or aggravating depression and anxiety.
ADHD – More specifically, the hyperactivity part of ADHD seems to improve in children given a magnesium supplement more so than those not given a supplement. Once again, magnesium plays such an important role in the health of the brain and nervous system that a deficiency can trigger or worsen different neuropsychiatric conditions.
Other conditions that can point to a magnesium deficiency include inflammation, low thyroid hormone, insomnia, skin allergies, memory loss, premature aging, and different types of headaches.
As you can see, magnesium deficiency is not to be taken lightly. And one of the benefits of magnesium supplementation is to help correct or ward off these issues, at least until your diet and digestion are optimized for optimal magnesium absorption.
But what are the causes of magnesium deficiency in the first place? The following are the three most common causes of magnesium deficiency, so take note to avoid or correct them in order to regain the benefits of magnesium.
#1 Insufficient Intake from Diet
To get the full benefits of magnesium, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is between 300 and 400 mg per day. A hundred years ago, people were getting around 500 mg of magnesium per day through their diets, while now, the estimates are at 175 to 225 mg per day for women and 220 to 260 mg per day for men. What happened?
First of all, the soil has been depleted, and so the fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes, and grains that are supposed to provide us with the vitamins and minerals we need are also depleted. But the real problem isn’t that we’re not getting enough magnesium in the whole foods we’re eating – it’s that we’re not eating whole foods anymore.
The refining process that wheat, sugar, grains, and other foods go through strips them from their nutrients. And the amount of processed foods that we are eating has skyrocketed in the last few decades. The standard American diet is also full of animal products and saturated fat, while being low on fiber, fresh produce, and whole foods.
Actually, this kind of eating is also a major factor in adrenal fatigue and the dysregulation of the NEM stress response, since it is very inflammatory, promotes an imbalance in the gut’s microbiome, and adds to the toxic load on the system.
Malabsorption, which is actually another issue that is commonly concurrent with AFS, is when the ability to absorb nutrients from the food being digested is compromised. This is also mainly due to eating a bad diet. With magnesium specifically, two common culprits that inhibit absorption are soft drinks and the high calcium-to-magnesium ratio in the standard American diet.
Soft drinks contain a lot of phosphoric acid, which combines with magnesium to produce magnesium phosphate. This is an insoluble compound that can’t be absorbed by the small intestine and so is eliminated from the body in excrement. This same process also happens with the phosphates in baking powders.
Nowadays, foods are fortified with calcium, for example cereals, milk, and processed foods. The high calcium content of the standard diet is around four times as much as that of magnesium, and this imbalance in the ratio of the two minerals along with the high fat content of this diet can lead to a suppression in the absorption of magnesium.
#3 Loss of Magnesium Through Urine
Although the kidneys are capable of recovering and recycling magnesium, there are several factors that inhibit this ability and so lead to the loss of magnesium through urine. These include the high consumption of alcohol, sugar, sodium, calcium, and animal proteins, as well as the presence of cortisol and adrenaline.
The Benefits of Magnesium for the Cardionomic Circuit
The NEM is composed of six circuits of organs and systems working together to combat stress. We’ve already touched upon the hormonal circuit, which is composed of the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, and the female ovaries and male testes. We saw that the increase in adrenal hormones, such as cortisol, can deplete magnesium in the body. This is also the case with estrogen. And actually, estrogen dominance is a very common issue for those with adrenal fatigue, and many likely also deal with magnesium deficiency.
The other circuits of the NEM include the bioenergetics circuit (which is linked to ATP production in cells), the neuroaffect circuit, the inflammation circuit, the detoxification circuit, and the hormone circuit. Although all of these circuits are directly affected by the level of magnesium in the body, the cardionomic circuit carries some of the biggest risks.
The cardionomic circuit is composed of the lungs, heart, and blood vessels. It is what gets the body ready with oxygenated blood during the “fight or flight” response, and it is part of the cardionomic triad of the cardiovascular system, the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and the adrenals. This triad becomes engaged as soon as stress arrives.
When you are suffering from chronic stress, and your adrenals have become overworked, the rest of the NEM begins to compensate by engaging other organs and systems in the fight against stress even more. When the stress is severe and your body no longer has the support of cortisol, you can experience cardionomic circuit dysfunction (CCD).
Symptoms of CCD include rapid heart rate, cardiac arrhythmias, anxiety, exercise intolerance, pounding heart, POTS-like symptoms, PVCs, atrial fibrillation, supraventricular tachycardia, unstable blood pressure, postural hypotension, panic attacks, severe insomnia, and adrenaline rushes.
So how does magnesium play into the cardionomic circuit and its dysregulation? First, it’s important to understand what roles magnesium is responsible for in the cardiovascular system.
Magnesium, as a natural relaxant, is crucial for the modulation of myocardial contraction, neuronal excitation, and intracardiac conduction. It does this by regulating ion transporters, such as calcium and potassium channels. It also helps regulate vascular tone, vascular calcification, atherogenesis, thrombosis, and the proliferation and migration of the vascular and endothelial cells.
Also, the fact that low magnesium reduces ATP production means that the heart is not getting the amount of energy required to function optimally. Different studies have shown time and again a link between low dietary intake of magnesium and coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, increased atherosclerosis, and heart failure.
The Benefits of Magnesium for Adrenal Fatigue
Supporting the adrenal glands will not only help with the rebalancing of the Cardionomic circuit, it will improve your health overall and also give you some relief from the frequently debilitating adrenal fatigue symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and brain fog. Magnesium can and should be part of your AFS recovery toolbox as it can give a boost to so many of your vital systems.
For example, as it begins to calm your body and stress levels, you may find yourself sleeping better, which is one of the most important steps in recovery. Sleeping and resting will give your body the chance to repair and allow your energy and nutrition reserves time to replenish.
And because magnesium has the ability to relax your muscles, including the muscles of your digestive tract, it can aid with some of the gastrointestinal issues that people with AFS commonly experience, such as constipation. This can make taking up the all-important adrenal fatigue diet easier and more pleasant, speeding up your recovery even more.
Should You Supplement?
Before resorting to supplements, the first and best step is to attempt to get more magnesium in your diet. Then, you may want to ask your doctor to test for magnesium deficiency, although not all these tests give clear results. Then you can consider supplementation.
Getting Magnesium from Your Diet
In order to get the benefits of magnesium from your diet, you’ll need to get at least 2000 calories per day and focus on eating foods that are rich in magnesium. These include:
- Green leafy vegetables, like kale and spinach
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains, like oats and brown rice
- Beans and legumes, like black beans and chickpeas
- Seafood, like salmon and mackerel
- Dark chocolate and raw cacao
- Vegetables like peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and asparagus
- Chlorella powder
You’ll need to eat as much of these foods in organic and whole forms as possible. The adrenal fatigue diet is actually very magnesium-rich and supports adrenal function and the rebalancing of the NEM’s circuits, including the cardionomic circuit.
But if your magnesium deficiency is severe, you may need to consider supplementing in order to get the full therapeutic benefits of magnesium. But before you pick up a magnesium supplement, you first need to understand some subtleties regarding magnesium testing.
Testing for Magnesium Deficiency
A serum (blood) magnesium test will not tell you whether you are deficient inside the cells, where magnesium is most needed for ATP production and other important chemical and biological processes. For example, total magnesium levels might decrease up to 20% during a fast while there is no change in blood levels of magnesium. So, if you get a serum test and it shows your levels are fine, you may still be deficient. What you need, then, is an intracellular magnesium level test.
Magnesium supplements are part of the primary adrenal fatigue supplements toolbox we recommend to our clients. Some of the benefits of magnesium we have seen include helping with issues such as insulin resistance, cardionomic circuit dysfunction, fatigue, mood disturbances, insomnia, energy levels, and PMS, to name just a few.
For healthy individuals, the RDA for magnesium is anywhere between 400 and 1000 mg per day, depending on the need. The duration of supplementation is not specified, and usually, the marker for stopping is when the clinical symptom of diarrhea begins. Once this marker shows up, magnesium intake can be reduced.
Although the diarrhea experienced with supplementation is a welcome relief from the constipation that usually accompanies AFS, there are those with AFS who suffer from borderline diarrhea. This may be due to IBS and other gastrointestinal issues concomitant with AFS. In these cases, magnesium supplements may make things worse.
One of the benefits of magnesium is that it’s a natural muscle relaxant, but for those with AFS, paradoxical reactions when taking supplements do occur. In this case, the opposite of what the supplement is supposed to do is what you might end up with. With magnesium, you might see more irritation, anxiety, constipation, and fatigue. Some delivery systems, such as transdermal, are particularly prone to this.
If you would like to get the full benefits of magnesium for adrenal fatigue, cardionomic circuit dysfunction, and overall wellbeing, our suggestion is to first consult with an experienced health professional. There are many forms, delivery systems, and dosage variations. Everyone is different and what works for one may not work for another. Some forms are centrally acting, while others are more effective in the peripheral nervous system. The weaker a person, the high the chances of variability in reactions. If you really want to try it out by yourself, then start with smaller doses and see what happens, then increase systematically until you reach your target dose. Reduce when you feel any paradoxical symptoms or if you get diarrhea.
© Copyright 2015-2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
What Are the Benefits of Magnesium?
It’s one of the most important minerals for your bodily functions – from ATP production to glucose metabolism to heart health. That’s why you need to understand the benefits of magnesium and how to use them to recover from adrenal fatigue, cardiovascular issues, and for overall health.