I am going to put up a post in a couple of days that speaks deeply and truthfully about the lack of trust I have in my body. In that post, I talk about anxiety, and being tired, and how so very hard getting through every day has been for me some times.
I want to preempt that post with a caveat, however. I wrote it yesterday afternoon, when I was in one of those desperately tired states. Yesterday evening, I took action that turned my mental state around by 180 degrees. Hell, 1800. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten about how important this action is — I couldn’t believe how long I had gone without it.
I took a magnesium supplement.
I went from being an exhausted, frayed, sad sack of a hot mess to a serene, joyous, social, and fliratious woman (in that order, as the evening wore on. *wink.)
These are symptoms that I was exhibiting with increasing severity over the last several weeks: muscle stiffness, joint pain, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and extreme sensitivity to sound. This last bit is particularly troubling for a woman who lives between a highway with construction on it and a house being built. Color me out of my wits — I was nothing but a panic in all of this. These are all symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and somewhere along the line I just forgot that that might be a part of my problem.
The skinny on magnesium, calcium, hormones, nerves, stress, and more
Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients in our whole bodies. It’s crucial for more than 300 enzyme reactions, and it’s involved in a wide variety of systems, particularly adrenal health, cardiovascular health, brain health, muscle health, bone health, and hormone health. Personally, I think it does great things for my skin, too, possibly because it helps my adrenals calm down.
The primary job that magnesium is responsible for is monitoring the flux of calcium in and out of cells. In a healthy cell, magnesium resides within the cell while calcium remains outside. Calcium is necessary for certain functions such as firing a nerve, contracting a muscle or secreting a hormone. When cells need calcium, magnesium opens up channels in the cell membrane which allows calcium to rush into the cell. Once the cell gets enough calcium in it, it will perform the function that it needed the calcium for. This partly accounts for why calcium has been efficacious for curing PCOS and other hormone imbalances in studies, I have always hypothesized. The calcium gets hormone production up to regular levels in women who are deficient in calcium.
However, the calcium has to be removed from the cell in order to stop contracting a muscle, firing if it’s a nerve, or secreting a hormone if it’s a gland. Magnesium now has two important jobs to do: it has to help the cell synthesize the energy it needs in order to perform this function, and it also has to open the channel and pump the calcium out of the cell. If the calcium can’t get out of the cell, the cell cannot relax. At all. Period. Game over. Magnesium prevents cells from being overloaded with calcium.
What has stress got to do with it?
Stress is any sort of reaction by a cell to stimuli. It’s a rapid change within the body for the purpose of mitigating anxiety or responding to this need. When life is stressed, it needs to move, act, think, worry, decide, tense, choose. This can come from emotional, physical, or chemical stresses of any form. In order to act, calcium comes into cells and facilitates the “fight or flight” part of the stress response. Magnesium opens and closes the channels, and calcium puts the body into action. Nerve cells begin firing, for example. Muscles tense up. Adrenal moves into the bloodstream. Blood vessels contract. Blood pressure rises and heart palpitations (can) ensue.
Remaining in this high-calcium, “keyed up” state isn’t good for anybody. Under normal or ideal circumstances, once the stress has ceased, magnesium helps to push the calcium back outside the cell, allowing the cell to calm down. Adrenaline drops off. Nerves calm down and soften. Muscles become loose again. With plenty of magnesium, you can go undergo stress and come out of it on the other side without batting so much as an eyelash. Without magnesium — and without magneisum properly balancing calcium consistently in your bloodstream — however, you undergo stress and never come out of it. Or, as in my own personal experience, you undergo stress and recover a little bit, but never enough, and then you undergo stress again, and again, and again, each time having less and less magnesium at your service to help you get through the episode. As such, stress gets harder and harder and harder for your cells to bear.
What happens if the cell is chronically deficient in magnesium?
The cell is unable to keep calcium outside, as that operation takes considerable energy. Calcium “leaks” into the cell and causes action as it is designed to do, and the result is one commonly found in stressed individuals. Nerve cells become frayed, chronically firing, tired, high strung.
People who experience magnesium deficiency coupled with stress manifest a variety of symptoms. The one’s I experience are the foremost symptoms: insomnia, anxiety, sensitivity to sound, irritability, sensitivity to all stimuli. Others include ringing in your ears, backaches, muscle tension, joint pain, hypertension, kidney stones, ADHD, depression, heart palpitations, angina, constipation, migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, autism, and asthma. Diabetes and insulin resistance are also associated with magnesium deficiency. Most pressing from my perspective is the mental stress. Depression and anxiety are big factors in this and in all of our lives. We are so sensitive to all of it. Dr Carolyn Dean is the woman who wrote “The Magnesium Miracle” and she says: “I’ve seen it happen that all of a sudden someone is worrying about something when there’s nothing to worry about. That’s why, when someone is living a stressful lifestyle, magnesium is such an extremely important component. Every time they go through stress, the magnesium in the body is depleted more and more.”
The bottom line
Sometimes, a magnesium deficiency will cause these problems. Many other times, stress will cause a magnesium deficiency. Then the two beget each other in a vicious cycle — lower magnesium leads to more stressed states which leads to more stress. It’s nasty business, and one of the only ways out is a magnesium supplement.
It can help boost and regulate hormone production, put you to sleep at night, relax your nerves, and calm the racing thoughts in your brain.
Magnesium doesn’t fix everything, obviously. But it can certainly help. Medical professionals estimate that nearly no one is eating enough magnesium naturally. Paleo dieters might. Lots of leafy greens is the best source of magnesium. Almonds and other nuts and black beans are also on the list. Limited amounts in avocadoes. But there’s no magnesium in meat, hardly any in fruit, not in most vegetables. It’s a difficult nutrient to get, there’s no doubt about it.
I highly recommend taking an “organic” — meaning, in a carbon-based form — supplement for magneisum if you are going to supplement. I take Natural Calm and it works like a charm. High doses when your body isn’t used to it can cause diarrhea, so ease into it slowly. If you are magneisum deficient, just a little bit can help.
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How much magnesium do you take?
I’m not sure. A few times a day I have probably half a teaspoon of natural calm. I am taking it slowly building up how much I take.
What would be a good time of day to take it? Nighttime, before bed?
I like to take it spread throughout the day, personally. It keeps my heart beating appropriately all day, whereas a concentrated dose might leave me a bit off at different times of day.
Great blog. I used to take Natural Calm but I have found that taking Magnesium Glycinate facilitates a better absorption and zero diarrhea. My levels also went up with Glycinate and they didn’t rise with Natural Calms.
I’ve heard that as well. glycinate seems to be all the rage these days 🙂
When you say levels “went up” I hope you are not referring to blood serum levels, for several reasons. If levels do increase much in the blood it can be a sign that the magnesium isn’t as well absorbed into the cells and bone where it is supposed to be stored and is instead staying in circulation (unless levels were already quite low [below 1.5mg/DL]). The body maintains a strict amount of magnesium in the blood, around 1% of the body’s total magnesium. The bones and teeth house around 59% of ones magnesium and the other 40% of magnesium is housed in the cells (muscle and tissue) and is particularly concentrated in heart and brain.
Another point is that blood serum tests for magnesium levels are pretty much the most worthless test to determine healthy magnesium levels in the human body. This of course doesn’t typically stop doctors from administering these all the time, as unfortunately they are in ignorance of this fact.
Like I indicated earlier the body guards roughly 1 percent of the body’s total magnesium in the blood. The body will actually rob magnesium from the bones, teeth and organs before letting magnesium fall too low in the blood as this magnesium is vital to such things as the proper contraction and releasing of the heart itself. Additionally, if one is under stress either physical or mental, your body can pump magnesium out of the cells and into the blood to aid in calming, giving the mistaken appearance of normality, even in cases of severe depletion. One can even get the all-too-common “white-coat syndrome” when one is in a doctor’s office or going to get a blood test and the body counters this source of potential “stress” or nervousness by releasing extra magnesium into the blood to calm the nerves. So some people who actually have very low cellular magnesium level stores are told they have hypermagnesemia and are indicated to avoid all magnesium rich foods and supplements. Then of course their symptoms get much, much worse.
As the actual cells of the body contain almost 40% of the body’s total magnesium, these are the key to measuring magnesium levels. You can look up studies which demonstrate how cellular magnesium is a much more accurate measure of magnesium levels than the antiquated serum magnesium tests. One case in point, a study in childhood asthmatics compared serum magnesium levels to total white blood cell magnesium levels. While serum magnesium became elevated on the first day of an asthma attack, the white blood cell magnesium levels dropped dramatically, indicating the difference between serum and actual magnesium levels. As I noted above, under stress magnesium is released from the cells, depleting them as it floods into the bloodstream. Also in studies for those with post-traumatic headaches, most were found with normal blood serum levels, but due to the stress of bodily injury, they were found to have abnormal cellular magnesium ion concentrations.
A buccal (fancy word for the cheeks or mouth cavity) cell smear test is one way to more accurately measure cellular magnesium. I know an EXA test employs this technology to measure minerals levels within cells, if one was curious to know actual cellular magnesium levels. It takes about a minute to scrape a few cells off the back of the tongue and then a bit of analyzing and measuring in a lab (scanning with an electron microscope with computerized elemental X-ray analysis [EXA]) and taadaa! you’ll have an actual accurate answer.
But back to my point, typically the body would have to be robbed of a good amount of magnesium before it would allow serum levels to fall. So if serum levels have fallen then one is severely magnesium deficient and has been for years (save for certain conditions that can cause hypomagnesemia despite healthy magnesium levels in the rest of the body i.e. drugs/medications, alcohol, metabolic abnormalities, pancreatitis, hydrogen fluoride poisoning,etc). So in my mind serum tests are like a test that will only detect stage IV cancer and not stages I – III.
As an analogy one would not attempt to figure how much gas was in a car by checking the cylinders (where very little gas would be found) one would check the gas tank, where a majority of the gas is stored. Cellular tests are more akin to checking the gas tank.
Funny, I have also just found this supplement again. I had a very stressful incident last week and felt out of control. I decided to try a couple of magnesium pills. It was amazing how calm I became after several minutes. I had used it for muscle pain but never for this. Loved it!!
I’m so glad more people are getting the word about magnesium. I’m working through adrenal issues and started supplementing with magnesium awhile ago. Unfortunately for me, I’ve been so depleted that it’s been challenging to get my levels up high enough without messing up my stomach, but I’ve found a solution. I get a nutritional IV from my ND about once/month that contains a lot of mg. I can tell right after I get it that I feel so much better, and I can also tell when I’m due for one. I supplement with mg every day as well. It has all made such a huge difference!
How much magnesium is effective for managing stress levels? And should the dose be split up during the day or taken all at once?
I’ve been taking 300mg of magnesium right before bed. I often wonder if I should also be taking a little in the morning as well in order to help keep me calm throughout the day.
It works best for me spread throughout the day, and that’s the recommendation I have seen as well. I think 300 mg is a good dose — though of course it varies by individual.
What about foods high in magnesium? Besides bananas and spinach, the rest of the foods I see are distinctly non-paleo (kidney and black beans, brown rice, quinoa, etc). I generally prefer to get my supplements from food. 🙂
Yep, that’s why I listed supplements. There’s not a whole lot in food these days. Magnesium used to be rich in soils, but… well. 🙁
Certain kinds of seaweed are high in magnesium and might work well as a psuedo supplement.
Thank you! Just bought some Natural Calm! Got the original flavor because I’m trying to get off sweeteners/stevia. I’ll just sweeten it with lemon juice. Thanks!
First off, outstanding post on Maggie! You have a delightful gift for gab…
I’m a former hospital exec/consultant (32 yrs), turned Wellness Coach (5 yrs) and “discovered” Magnesium ~2 yrs ago. I was 1st introduced to this magical mineral via Carolyn Dean, MD, ND’s wonderful book, The Magnesium Miracle — highly recommend reading it to all!
I have been soooo inspired by this journey, I have become a “lay expert” and formed the Magnesium Advocacy Group. I would encourage your readers who are interested in learning more take a gander, especially the page devoted to “How to Restore Magnesium,” http://www.gotmag.org/how-to-restore-magnesium/ Unlike most practitioners, I strongly encourage folks to get their Mg status checked, first!
Dosing to be at all effective in reversing the level of chronic decay around is ~650mgs Mg/day. And what I advocate is the “full-court” press: Mg-rich foods, Mg orals (esp. Mg Malate & Mg Glycinate), Mg H2O, MgCl or MgMSM Oil, and regular Epsom Salt baths… The body gets bored and needs variety of intake channels.
Again, superb post and I hope with your permission I may post this excellent article on my MAG FB page…
A votre sante!
Thank you, absolutely, of course, Morley this is a wonderful resource. Thank you so much for your work and insight and everything. 🙂
This makes me think I should try a magnesium supplement. I have a very vocal 5 year old and an 18 month old. Sometimes noise just drives me crazy! (Not in a normal way). Do you know if it is ok to supplement while nursing? I looked at my pre-natal multi vitamin and it only had 22% RDA. Just ate some almond butter though 🙂
I take 1/2 capful of Nano-Ionic magnesium every night and sleep like a baby. It’s 100% bio-available and doesn’t cause loose stools. Much better than the Mag Glycinate I had taken in the past! The liquid is awesome stuff!
I can’t find “The Magnesium Cure” By Dr. Rosanoff. There’s one called “The Magnesium Factor” is that the one?
My bad — here it is: http://www.amazon.com/Magnesium-Miracle-Carolyn-Dean/dp/034549458X
I have been having all these symptoms and tried different things to no avail…I feel like this could be the thing that makes me better!!!! Thank you a million for posting!!
Mineral supplements are supposed to have a calming, relaxation effect, so it’s often recommended to take them before bed to help with sleep issues.
I am so glad you posted this. I felt the exact same way! I had a sample of Calm from my local co-op and I took it one evening, not expecting much in the way of results but HOLY COW I slept. I mean, actually REALLY slept. And before I slept my mind was calm, not going 400 miles per hour. I have a 4 year old with autism and we have some major challenges the leave me exhausted. I cannot believe how much better I felt after taking the supplement. He is now taking magnesium as well and what a difference. I just ran out of Calm a few days ago, so this was a great reminder to get my butt to the co op!
I’ve always heard that Mg could make you itchy. To anyone that is old hand at taking it, can you tell me if that is true?
Thanks so much! I hadn’t realised how important it is for stress. My husband has been following the protocol of Dr Myhill from the UK who uses magnesium (among other things) to treat patients with chronic fatigue (more info here http://drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/Magnesium_-_treating_a_deficiency)
But as well as giving him some I should be taking it myself! Thanks for the info 🙂
Thanks for this post….Whats a safe supplement amount for children? My two sons are aged 7.5 and 4.
I’ve been reading a bit about broths and stocks lately, which are good for obtaining all of the gelatinous-goodness from the rest of the animal, and not just the ubiquitously-consumed muscle meat, and after reading this post, I came to the thought: Bones have tons of magnesium, don’t they? I wonder if a properly made stock with tons of bones (and also magnesium-rich herbs) would yield not only a delicious, but magesiusm-rich concoction?
They take forever to make, especially if you’re saving your meat left-overs over time and not buying the ingredients all at once, but I wonder how it would compare to the other foods and supplements you mentioned.
Love, kozzy poo
You’re the bomb digs, Koz. I think you’re probably right. The reason its not often listed as a magnesium source is that broth is obviously so various and difficult to measure. I definitely personally need lots of magnesium every day, but this is a great paleo way to get it in the diet. A+++ in my book.
This was a great read, thanks.
I was curious Stefani if you also took a calcium supplement?
My natural magnesium powder contains calcium 140mg, but I was recently told that maybe a separate calcium supplement may help with my acne…..
I definitely do not — calcium is antagonistic to my health at this point. This varies by the individual, however, so I couldn’t say for sure for you. My experience is also that the magnesium is really helpful for my skin in this way
I understood that Magnesium can interfere with vitamin D absorbancy. Sorry I don’t have a link or anything to refer to. But that’s why I take it in the evening 15 min before bed time, and only on the rare occasion I know I have a stressful event do I take it earlier in the day.
As an idea, my husband is the really stressy type of guy (he’s a perfectionist, so anything can stress him out). I noticed whenever he goes a bit too far with stress to the point of absurd (asking me 3 times if I closed all the windows, not believing me because I answer too ‘calmly’and then going back home to double check for instance) I give him a Magnesium supplement, (those are the only times he actually accepts a supplement) and in a few minutes he becomes the sweet guy I fell for once more 🙂
SO yeah, Magnesium rocks!
Really great article! So well-written and informative. I independently came to the conclusion that my recent nasty bout with insomnia was caused by some sort of bio-chemical imbalance. Fruther research led me t o discover that my Lisonopril with a diuretic (for high blood pressure) washes out the magnesium, potassium and zinc from your system. Hmmmm. So I started supplementing with Cal-mag-zinc along with a separate potassium pill. Lo and behold! My months’ long insomnia ended–within a day!! Now sleeping great. Before, I’d be awake until 4 in the morning, sleep for a few hours and awake exhausted. My heart was racing, I felt tense, over-excited–for no good reason. I was getting worn down. And I’d tried valerian, melatonin, herbal calming teas and other OTC sleep aids to no avail. A big thank you to magnesium–and a big boo to my doctor who never warned me this could happen. So good to sleep again. And I’ve ordered Dean’s book to learn more.
Everyone else seems to have better results with magnesium, and other minerals and vitamins. Vitamin c seems to be the only effective vitamin for me. What may be wrong with what I’m doing/taking. Right now, I’m taking flaxseed oil, vitamin c, vitamin b (prescription), vitamin d and a daily multivitamin. Please help this old lady.
Interesting post. I have been taking Mg for about 7 years, to help with PMS. My otorhinolaryngologist initially prescribed it to me in high doses (600 mg 3 times a day) for … a tinnitus! It was really effective: the tinnitus was gone the next day. I did have severe diarrhea though 🙂
The ORL had mentioned his wife was using it for PMS so I started fiddling with the doses and eventually found out it worked best for me at a dose of 300 mg per day (in the evening), starting one week before the beginning of the periods, and continuing until the 3rd day or so. At higher doses, I am calmer, but the bloating + loose stools get too much! I have failed to take it on a couple of occasions (ran out of supply, travelling etc.) and the return of full-blown PMS symptoms was most unpleasant!
I started using Natural Calm a year or so ago to help with sleep, anxiety, and migraines. While it does significantly improve the quality of my sleep and seems to help a bit with anxiety, I have found that it doesn’t touch my migraines, which have gotten considerably worse over the past six months for no apparent reason.
Anyway, this week I made some “magnesium oil” by dissolving magnesium chloride flakes into warm water. I’ve been using it throughout the day and planned to use at the first sign of a headache, so I woke up with all the classic signs this morning I immediately sprayed the magnesium oil on my neck, shoulders, and arms. Within a few minutes, the headache was gone! It could be a fluke, but headaches for me are typically a miserable, day-long event. Just thought I’d share since no one else mentioned transdermal magnesium.
I just read an article on magnesium. Sitara Hewitt, Canadian actress tells her story of suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and Natural Calm Magnesium Citrate was the one thing that really helped her! Here is the article if your interested in reading more: http://www.vivamagonline.com/calm-amidst-the-hollywood-storm/
i wish you gave credit where credit is due, i.e. : Dr. Rosanoff : “There are emotional stresses, physical stresses and chemical stresses,” she explained. “Gravity is a stress. Any impact from the environment can be seen as a stress. There are internal stresses; for example, one cell inside your kidney could have a trigger coming from either a hormone or a nerve and that could be called, for that cell, a stress. A stress can be boiled down to something that makes a living thing react. When life is stressed, it needs to move, act, think, worry, tense. At the cellular level, the channels open and the calcium comes in, which fires off a series of reactions that allows the cell to respond to stress. We often call it the fight or flight reaction. If you have plenty of magnesium, you can go through these stressful events and go back down to your calm state and you’ll be in perfect health.”
I love your stuff, and I know this is an old post, but I implore you to go back and re-think having Autism listed as a symptom of magnesium deficiency. IF there is evidence of it lessening the severity of certain aspects of autism in some people, maybe reword it to express that. To simply state that it’s a ‘symptom’ of magnesium deficiency is very misleading. It’s also hurtful to read as a parent of children on the spectrum (who has tried Everthing, believe me). As if all of the hard work, hours and Hours of therapy, overwhelming stress, heartache, and exhaustion could be avoided if they’d just take a supplement. If magnesium was a ‘cure’ for autism, the statics would not be as they are today. x
With 2 teenage girls in the house, I keep Calm on an IV, lol. Do you eat beans with your paleo diet? Do you have an entry about what you usually eat in a day?
Hehe. I have bananas sometimes but not a lot because the potassium doesn’t work great with a kidney problem i have. I think they are great for other people though.
Also, what I eat every day definitely changes by the week or month. I used to eat mostly apples, some eggs and 1/4 pound of ground beef over a bed of vegetables every day. Today, I had two apples and some salmon cooked in olive oil for breakfast, potatoes and a tomato and basil sauce for lunch, and half of a T bone steak with mixed vegetables (broccoli, parsnips, mushrooms) for dinner. I don’t always eat in this three meal a day structure, however. I often wait a few hours after I wake (because I might wake up in the middle of the night and feel hungry and therefore eat), and then have small snacks throughout the day, and then a big meal before bed. I know it’s not “normal” or what anyone would say is “best,” but I also very ardently believe that what is “best” is what is sustainble and happy for YOU