Brian St. Pierre, CISSN, CSCS T-Nation
Magnesium is an important mineral for those looking to build a better body.
Now that's one heck of an understatement. It's not unlike saying that the quarterback is an important position on a football team or that Lindsay Lohan isn't an ideal role model for young women.
Magnesium plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, many of which are directly related to muscle function and protein synthesis. Yet most Americans don't get anywhere near enough magnesium, and the problem is amplified in hard training athletes and muscleheads.
To make matters worse, magnesium is slowly disappearing from the modern diet. Industrial agriculture and food processing methods literally strip magnesium and other valuable minerals right from our food supply, making it harder to consume enough nutrients from even a seemingly "healthy," varied diet.
So what can we do about it? First, let's take a closer look at why magnesium is so critically important.
Parathyroid Hormone, Vitamin D...And Atherosclerosis?
As stated, magnesium has many essential roles in human biochemistry. For one, magnesium deficiency is associated with hypoparathyroidism and low vitamin D production.
Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to disrupted bone metabolism. However, in several animal trials, supplementing with magnesium even inhibited the development of atherosclerosis!
Magnesium is known as the mineral of glucose control as it's closely associated with insulin sensitivity, and a low intake has been linked with the development of type-2 diabetes. Furthermore, rat studies have shown that magnesium supplementation can mostly prevent diabetes.
Interestingly, high blood glucose and insulin levels seem to reduce magnesium status even more. It seemingly creates a vicious cycle where low magnesium levels lead to poor glucose control and insulin sensitivity, which again lowers magnesium status.
In healthy volunteers, those following a low-magnesium diet for only four weeks reduced their insulin sensitivity by 25%, suggesting that magnesium deficiency can lead to insulin resistance.
Magnesium supplementation in particular has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant subjects, both diabetics and non-diabetic alike. Let's take a look at a few of these studies.
- A 16-week trial with type 2 diabetics found that magnesium supplementation improved fasting glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, and HbA1c levels (a form of hemoglobin which is measured primarily to identify the average plasma glucose concentration over prolonged periods of time). HbA1c levels were improved by 22%, which is an incredible number. That would take a diabetic with an HbA1c level of 8% (not good) down to 6.2% (very good) in only four months.
- A recent study showed that magnesium supplementation, even when levels are normal, could have positive benefits. Six months of magnesium supplementation in obese people who were insulin sensitive and had normal blood levels of magnesium led to further improved insulin sensitivity, as well as a 7% improvement in fasting glucose levels.
- A study on magnesium supplementation in insulin resistant but non-diabetic volunteers who had low blood levels of magnesium showed incredible results after only 16 weeks. Participants reduced their insulin resistance by 43% and fasting insulin by 32%, suggesting that their magnesium deficiency may have been one of the main reasons why they were insulin resistant in the first place.
- Magnesium supplementation also improved subjects' blood lipids. Total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides were all decreased, while HDL increased. The triglyceride improvement (of 39%!) makes the most sense, as improved glucose control will keep the liver from cranking out more TG's, but the rest of the improvement is remarkable, too.
Recent reviews have concluded that magnesium deficiency can lead to increased LDL levels, endothelial dysfunction, increased inflammation and oxidative stress, and constriction of coronary arteries (decreasing oxygen and nutrients to the heart). Well, that doesn't sound all that appealing.
Magnesium supplementation and repletion has been shown to decrease LDL levels (as well as improve the other blood lipids), restore endothelial dysfunction in people with coronary artery disease, and decrease inflammation.
Enough Already! Where Do I Get Me Some Magnesium?
The best sources of magnesium are fish, nuts, seeds, beans, leafy greens, whole grains, and some fruits and vegetables. In particular, salmon, halibut, spinach, almonds, cashews, potatoes, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, and brown rice are all good whole sources of this precious mineral.
It's important to note that magnesium content is dependent on soil quality, so buying most of these foods from organic or sustainable farms might provide you with greater levels of dietary magnesium. While this argument is still considered speculative, there is no dispute that conventionally grown foods are being raised in depleted soils. You can't expect to grow nutrient-rich food from nutrient-stripped soil, so it might be worth the cost to go organic or sustainable.
It should also be noted that foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are also rich sources of phytic acid. Phytic acid may provide some independent health benefits, but it's also an anti-nutrient that binds to magnesium (among other nutrients), preventing its absorption.
Historically, healthy non-industrial cultures that consumed significant amounts of grains also soaked or fermented them. This process would greatly decrease the phytic acid content while increasing nutrient bioavailability and improving digestibility. They might not have known why it worked; they just knew it did work.
For this reason, I recommend most of your grains be sprouted (like Ezekiel products) to reduce (but not eliminate) phytic acid and other anti-nutrients. It would also be a good idea to soak your beans for at least 24 hours, as well as roasting or buying roasted nuts, as these preparation methods may reduce phytic acid as well.
Finally, a very simple, convenient, not to mention effective option is simply to buy a high quality magnesium supplement like BIOTEST EliteproTM Minerals. One serving of EliteproTM contains 400mg of highly absorbable magnesium glycinate chelate, along with zinc, selenium, chromium, and vanadium, key minerals for blood sugar management, protein synthesis, and hormonal status.
Taking EliteproTM once a day along with choosing as many organic magnesium-rich whole foods as you can comfortably afford would be a near foolproof strategy.
Magnesium is, well, kind of a big deal. It's vital for proper bone metabolism, vitamin D metabolism, parathyroid function, insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance as well as proper blood lipid levels and prevention of atherosclerosis, not to mention cardiovascular disease. It even helps you chill out after a stressful day and sleep like a baby.
But we also know that most Americans don't consume enough magnesium, and that the industrialization of our food production has further decreased levels of this critical mineral. While consuming a diet based on real, whole, minimally processed foods should provide you with adequate levels, a high-quality mineral supplement like BIOTEST EliteproTM Mineral Support makes things a whole lot easier.
Consuming foods rich in magnesium along with proper supplementation will ensure adequate levels and provide you with more health benefits than you could possibly remember.
Or maybe you could? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it was discovered that magnesium assisted in memory and cognitive function.
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