Last updated by Dr Sarah Brewer on
‘I take magnesium to prevent cramps.’ Greg Rutherford
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for long-term good health. Magnesium is essential for almost all metabolic processes from the production of energy to making hormones, proteins and genetic material. Yet lack of magnesium is one of the most common mineral deficiencies and is associated with symptoms such as constipation, sleep difficulties, fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, restless legs, migraine, PMS and even palpitations. Lack of magnesium can also contribute to high blood pressure and thinning bones.
You obtain dietary magnesium from beans, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, seafood, and dark green leaves. Drinking water can provide useful amounts of magnesium in hard water areas, and dark chocolate is also a good source (hooray!).
Unfortunately, food processing strips out many minerals, including magnesium. As a result, national surveys show that average intakes in Europe and the US are around 323 mg for males and 228mg for females. This is less than the estimated requirement of 375mg (EU) to 400mg (US) magnesium needed per day for optimum health.
While diet should always come first, magnesium supplements are available to help boost intakes and overcome deficiency symptoms. You can also absorb magnesium through the skin, so that magnesium skin oil and magnesium bath flakes are increasingly popular and are especially useful if you experience laxative side effects when taking oral magnesium supplements.
Here are my recommendations for top-quality magnesium supplements. I take my magnesium at night to take advantage of its muscle relaxation and sleep inducing qualities. If it’s not too much information, this also helps to promote a welcome ‘magnesium moment’ in the bathroom next morning!
Review: Oral magnesium supplements
Magnesium oxide is the most cost-effective form of magnesium available in supplements. While it is often dismissed as having low bioavailability, this is compensated by the fact that magnesium oxide provides a high amount of elemental magnesium (as much as 600mg magnesium per 1g magnesium oxide).
While magnesium citrate is better absorbed, it provides around five times less elemental magnesium on a weight for weight basis (113 mg magnesium per gram) because citrate is a relatively heavy molecule. Similarly, magnesium gluconate only supplies 58mg magnesium per gram which is why it is described as ‘gentle’ and less likely to cause laxative side effects.
Your body is good at absorbing what it needs from the gut. If you are lacking in magnesium, you will absorb between 50% and 67% of the magnesium you consume in whichever form of magnesium supplement you take.
Review: Magnesium skin oil and creams
While most people tolerate magnesium supplements supplying up to 400mg per day, some people are sensitive to their laxative effects. If this is the case, magnesium skin oil is an excellent alternative. Useful amounts of magnesium are absorbed through the pores of the skin via a magnesium oil, which is best used at night to aid muscle relaxation and a good night’s sleep.
Despite its name, magnesium oil is not really an oil, but a concentrated solution of magnesium chloride dissolved in water, which produces a silky, oily texture that is readily absorbed. Some oils include other natural ingredients such as aromatherapy essential oils to help promote sleep even more.
A pilot study of transdermal magnesium found that applying a magnesium chloride skin spray helped to improve symptoms of tiredness, muscle aches and sleep problems within 2 to 4 weeks.
Magnesium ‘oil’ can also be combined with ingredients such as shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil to create a rich, moisturising skin cream. A recent study showed that applying a magnesium cream leads to good absorption with significantly increased blood levels of magnesium.
Review: Magnesium bath flakes
Whenever I bathe at night, I add a good amount of magnesium flakes. These dissolve into the water to give a lovely silky soft texture that also relieves dry skin, and can improve eczema and psoriasis.
As magnesium also has a muscle relaxant effect, this makes a warm bath the ideal way to help you get a good night’s sleep when you are tired and aching.
Soaking in magnesium-enriched mineral water can also improve joint pains, and is worth trying if arthritis keeps you awake at night.
I also like Dead Sea Salt flakes. Click here for more information about the health benefits of Dead Sea Salt products.
Image credits: ikluft/wikimedia