Magnesium (Mg2+), a dietary mineral, is essential for your body. It’s the fourth most common mineral in the body after sodium, potassium and calcium.
Magnesium is involved in more than 300 metabolic reactions in the body. It is required for energy production, keeping your heart pumping, contracting your muscles, allowing nerve cells to communicate, keeping your immune system strong, and is important in bone health.
With the importance of magnesium in the body, surprisingly, a lot of people, especially in north America, fall short of what the body needs for optimal health.
There are many factors that can contribute to falling short of the optimal levels of magnesium, including:
- Suffering from digestive disorder: celiac disease and chronic diarrhea,
- Quality of the soil, food harvesting and processing: micronutrient-poor foods
- Water purification: low magnesium content
- Bad eating habit: magnesium content is low in processed food
- High consumption of vitamin D and calcium: both nutrients compete with magnesium for absorption
- Excessive sweating: Magnesium is lost in perspiration.
Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, and whole grains are great sources of magnesium and should be included in every diet.
A balanced diet in food rich in magnesium is key for physical and mental health. However, magnesium supplementation can be a great choice to fill in the nutritional gap and ensure adequate levels on a daily basis.
Magnesium in the brain
Magnesium is emerging as one of the key minerals in the maintenance of brain health and wellbeing. Over the last decade, research has looked specifically at the role of magnesium in the brain.
What does a shortage of magnesium in the brain feel like?
- Reduction in cognitive abilities like attention, and concentration,
- lack of energy,
- mood swings,
- depression, and
What does magnesium do in the brain?
Magnesium research is a rapidly evolving field, with a focus on its relationship with cognitive function and performance.
Magnesium can be found in high concentrations in the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, where it is required for the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the energy cells use to do what they need to do.
The brain is 2% of your whole-body weight but accounts for 20% of the energy used. This makes sense, your brain is a super computer that needs most of the bandwidth. It also appears that the neurons consume 75-80% of the energy in the brain, especially when it comes to sending and receiving signals. To put it simply, neurons talking to each other require a lot of energy.
In a healthy human brain, ATP production is highly dynamic. The requirements can dramatically increase especially in times of high cognitive demand, such as multitasking, completing complicated tasks, and performing in stressful situations. Decreases in ATP production are associated with a decline in cognitive performance.
Magnesium is required for ATP production, and the brain requires an adequate amount of this mineral to produce energy. Dynamic changes in energy in the brain are critical not only for cognitive function (your ability to think and process information) but also for brain plasticity.
Magnesium plays a key role in brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to make or modify its connections. In other words, it’s the brain capacity to re-wire itself.
From birth to adulthood, brain plasticity is active and dynamic. The brain interacts with the environment to make and develop new connections.
Brain plasticity is the hallmark of a flexible young brain prepared for optimal learning, memory and cognitive abilities. As you get older, very few mature neurons are formed, plasticity decreases, and it becomes harder to learn new skills and tasks.
Increasing brain magnesium levels can promote brain plasticity. In healthy older adults, cognitive decline can be a huge burden on the quality of life. In adults aged 50-70 with mild cognitive impairment, supplementation with magnesium for 12 weeks showed improvement in memory, brain plasticity and restoration of cognitive abilities.
Adequate amounts of magnesium in the brain appear to be really important for learning and memory, especially as you get older.
Deficiency in magnesium has long been associated with mental health issues. In fact, certain studies show rapid recovery from depression with the use of magnesium glycinate, and taurinate. This mineral is a co-factor to convert the amino acid tryptophan to the neurotransmitter serotonin. The proper balance of this neurotransmitter is a determining factor for mental health and mood.
Another mechanism magnesium can support mental health is through its interaction with the glutamate receptor N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). Recent research has shown that drugs like Ketamine block the NMDA receptor and have rapid antidepressant effects. Magnesium is a natural NMDA blocker and may have antidepressant effects similar to ketamine, especially in a population deficient in magnesium.
Sleep is the elixir of life. Despite the wide range of health benefits that come from getting enough sleep, more that 30% of the population suffers from sleep problems such as insomnia. Lack of sleep or lack of quality of sleep is associated with cognitive deficits, impaired attention, sleepiness, irritability, memory deficit, and the rise in mental health problems such as depression. Quality sleep is extremely important for brain health.
Magnesium has been shown to facilitate sleep in people with insomnia. Studies show that magnesium (magnesium oxide) supplementation can improve sleep time, efficiency, onset latency, and insomnia in elderly people.
Similar to the mechanism of the amino acid, L-theanine, magnesium blocks the NMDA receptor, which promotes the release of the neurotransmitter GABA, which can have a relaxation effect and helps to promote better sleep.
Furthermore, magnesium glycinate, a chelated form of magnesium (which means, in this case, magnesium is stuck to the amino acid glycine), has been shown to promote quality sleep. Glycine can act as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, and has been shown to improve sleep quality, without drowsiness.
In people who struggle with sleep, high quality magnesium glycinate can promote healthy sleep.
Magnesium and stress
Stress is a normal process that triggers the release of catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine) and corticosteroids (cortisol). Stress can come in many forms. Physical stress includes being exposed to heat, cold, trauma or burns, or during physical exercise. Stress can also be emotional such as depression, anxiety, pain and excitement.
In times of stress (both physical and/or emotional), insufficient amounts of magnesium may increase risk of cardiovascular damage, hypertension, and arrhythmias. In times of stress, especially extreme stress, it’s important to have an adequate amount of magnesium.
During physical exercise, magnesium is involved in energy metabolism and maintains normal muscle contraction and relaxation. It’s widely accepted that magnesium deficiency can impair muscle function and exercise performance.
Can supplementation with magnesium increase physical performance?
The scientific data suggest that magnesium supplementation may improve physical performance in people who have low levels of magnesium. In male athletes, there has been some positive data on performance and magnesium supplementation. However, in a healthy young population, this is still up for debate. It’s important to note that many of these studies have not considered baseline concentration of magnesium in participants. Furthermore, the concentrate and type of magnesium is varied across different scientific studies.
In the older, healthy and active population, especially in older women, magnesium supplementation appears to be helpful in increasing physical performance such as grip strength, and lower leg muscle power.
The bottom line is, if your diet lacks adequate magnesium, physical performance can be affected. It’s also important to mention, magnesium can be lost in sweat, so it is important to replenish magnesium after vigorous exercise.
Forms of magnesium supplements
There are many forms of magnesium supplements, a few included:
Magnesium dose and side effects
Magnesium supplements are deemed safe for most people but are often associated with diarrhea, upset stomach and bloating, especially in forms with laxative effects.
Signs of toxicity are rare but can occur especially in people suffering from kidney diseases or who consume a very large amount of magnesium. Symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, lethargy, nausea, and irregular breathing.
In Canada, the recommended daily requirement for magnesium is 300 mg for males and 250 mg for females. The National Institutes of Health recommends 400-420 mg in males and 310-320 mg in females of magnesium daily.
Magnesium in MindGain
MindGain uses the form of magnesium glycinate for these reasons:
- This form of magnesium is very well absorbed, contains high percentage of elemental magnesium, and is gentler on the digestive system compared to other forms.
- When absorbed, the amino acid glycine is separated. This amino acid is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which can be calming on a stressful brain, without sedative effects
- Magnesium glycinate is a well-researched form which is linked to better sleep, as well as relieving symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.
- It’s also believed that glycine can boost tissue levels of glutathione. Glutathione is one of the cell's most powerful antioxidants. Not only does it protect the cells against oxidant damage, its reduction is linked to a plethora of health disorders. Glutathione naturally decreases with age, and supporting glutathione, especially in elderly people with diets low in protein, magnesium glycinate could be of great benefits.
We All Need Magnesium
Your body doesn’t make magnesium, and thus it's really important to get adequate amounts of magnesium in your diet. It is widely accepted that magnesium is necessary for optimal health. More specifically, magnesium has been shown to help with memory, learning, cognition and mood.