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Magnesium, what it is, what it is for and where it is contained

August 27, 2023
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Magnesium, what it is, what it is for and where it is contained

Magnesium is involved in more than 300 different processes in our body and affects mood, sleep, heart and muscle function. Let's see what exactly magnesium is used for, what its deficiency can lead to and how to avoid it

Magnesium is crucial for the well-being of our body. But what exactly is it for? And what can we do to guarantee ourselves an adequate amount of magnesium? Let's try to answer these and other questions about magnesium, also delving into a topic that is gaining ground in recent times, namely the application of products containing magnesium on the skin.

Magnesium, what it is and what it is used for

Magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in the human body and participates in more than 300 different processes. For example, magnesium plays a role in muscle contraction, but also in the activity in neurons, in the release of neurotransmitters and in the regulation of heart rhythm. Not only that, magnesium participates in the transport of potassium and calcium across the cell membrane and intervenes in the processes that lead to the use of energy by the cell, as well as regulating the life cycle of the cell itself (Allen et al, StatPearls, 2023). According to recent studies, magnesium also intervenes in the response of our immune system. In fact, T cells, which are white blood cells of the immune system, need an adequate level of magnesium to be able to activate and detect and eliminate diseased cells, viruses and bacteria. In addition, magnesium participates in the synthesis and distribution of vitamin D, which in turn is involved in the immune response against pathogens (Ashique et al, J Health Popul Nutr, 2023). It is noteworthy that magnesium can increase the action of some anticancer substances, such as vitamin C (Ashique et al, J Health Popul Nutr, 2023).

Magnesium deficiency, causes and consequences

A poor and little varied diet as well as intestinal malabsorption, but also chronic diarrhea, alcohol abuse, the use of drugs such as diuretics, antacids and some antibiotics, and smoking cigarette, can cause a magnesium deficiency. Even the years that pass can lead to a reduction in magnesium, which can reach up to 30% (Schwalfenberg et al, Scientifica, 2017). A magnesium deficiency can result in a feeling of fatigue and weakness, as well as worsen asthma in predisposed people (Allen et al, StatPearls, 2023). Not only that, a magnesium deficiency increases chronic inflammation which in turn weakens the immune system (Ashique et al, J Health Popul Nutr, 2023). A magnesium deficiency is also associated with a worsening of PMS symptoms, while magnesium intake has been shown to reduce these symptoms since magnesium acts by controlling neuromuscular stimulation (Ebrahimi et al, J Caring Sci, 2012). It should not be forgotten that low magnesium values are also associated with headaches and migraines, hypertension and type 2 diabetes, anxiety and insomnia (Groeber et al, Nutrients, 2015).

Magnesium, food sources

The main food sources of magnesium are green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, fish, legumes, dried fruit such as almonds, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts and peanuts, but also whole grains, such as brown rice and millet, and cocoa (Allen et al, StatPearls, 2023). Actions such as boiling magnesium-rich vegetables or processing foods containing this mineral lead to a loss of magnesium. According to recent estimates, a Western-style diet, not very varied and rich in refined foods, does not allow to reach the daily magnesium requirement, which for an adult is 4.5 mg per kilo of weight (Ashique et al, J Health Popul Nutr, 2023).

Magnesium and supplements, risks and warnings

In general, it is always preferable to take magnesium, like other nutrients, through food, which is the safest way and which protects against the risk of overdose. Sometimes, however, it may be necessary to resort to oral supplements, such as in the case of premenstrual syndrome or in the event of a known mineral deficiency or in the elderly with insomnia problems. In fact, studies have observed that taking 500 mg of magnesium, every day for 2 months, improved the quality of sleep and reduced the time required to fall asleep (Abbasi et al, J Res Med Sci, 2012). However, if you choose to resort to supplements, you must pay attention and ask your doctor for advice to evaluate your personal situation and the real need and avoid an overdose. In fact, even an excessive intake of magnesium can be harmful, with consequences such as nausea, vomiting, hypotension, respiratory problems and abdominal pain (Allen et al, StatPearls, 2023). Excessive dosage can be achieved by taking too much of the supplement but also if you have a malfunctioning kidney, which struggles to eliminate excess magnesium which can thus lead to toxicity. For this reason, it is important to always refer to your trusted doctor.

Topical magnesium, just myth or reality?

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about the possibility of taking magnesium in a different way, instead of orally through applications of creams and sprays containing magnesium. According to what has been stated, the use of magnesium-based creams would allow for better absorption of magnesium and fewer side effects than when the mineral is taken in through the diet. In fact, magnesium is able to pass the dermis and reach the lymphatic system and hence the circulatory system, thus increasing the amount of magnesium and bypassing the gastrointestinal tract. However, at present, the use of magnesium topically does not yet have a solid scientific basis. In fact, larger studies are needed to verify its action, efficacy and safety, even over the long term and with higher doses (Groeber et al, Nutrients, 2017 - Kass et al, PLoS One, 2017 - Ledwon et al, Ann Acad Med Siles, 2021). For the moment, there are few studies in this regard that would seem to indicate that it is possible to use this form of magnesium. In particular, a study of a few years ago, which however does not appear to be published in its entirety, shows that the topical application of magnesium rebalances the magnesium values in case of deficiency of this mineral already after 1 month, against 4 months of oral intake (Groeber et al, Nutrients, 2017). Other studies are far too small, involving no more than 20 people, to be able to confidently state that topical magnesium is effective (Groeber et al, Nutrients, 2017). We must therefore wait for the results of larger studies to be published.

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