On April 3rd of 2017, I was having as good a day as one could hope for. The Crossfit Open Competition had ended a week prior, and I was returning to my old schedule of two-a-day training sessions of Olympic Weightlifting and Crossfit Workouts. After about an hour of technical work on the Clean and Jerk, I decided that as a mental-toughness exercise, I’d go ahead and hit the saunas. Little did I know, that one decision would change my entire life.
I felt spent, and I knew that using the sauna was not going to be helpful to my physical training. That said, I never could have guessed that my body would crash and I’d be having a panic attack within the hour which would lead me to the emergency room and render me confused and afraid for the rest of the night.
Worse still, the next morning I would experience chronic anxiety for the first time in my life, and this would mark the beginning of physical and mental symptoms that would last for months and even years onward.
I hope you’re wondering how the heck any of this has to do with magnesium. Well, unlike many of the other supplements I write about, magnesium is near and dear to my heart for the simple reason that it stopped my panic attacks, and was the first true relief I had after crashing my body.
You see, magnesium is an essential mineral. It is involved in a proven 300 enzymatic processes in our bodies, and it is estimated to be involved in 700 or more processes in total. Despite this, for all it’s importance, most people are deficient in this essential mineral, and deficiency can contribute to panic attacks, heart problems, and even psychosis.
Magnesium is involved in almost everything our body does, so why are we deficient? Dr. Carolyn Dean has written extensively on the subject, and I suggest everyone take the time to read her book: The Magnesium Miracle, where she discusses these factors when it comes to deficiency:
- Low Content Food Sources: We used to get most of our magnesium from plant consumption, but now a days, most of the vegetables we eat are low in magnesium if they contain it at all. This is in part due to the massive over-use of pesticides and fertilizers which leach magnesium from the soil and prevent its absorption into plants. In 2004, a study by Dr. Donald Davis showed that nutrient content in crops had declined up to 40% since the 1950s. This, combined with low nutrient absorption in many people due to gut health problems means that food sources alone are not enough to maintain healthy magnesium levels in most people.
- Over-consumption of Calcium: I’m sure many of you are aware of the presence of extra calcium in many of our food products. We all grew up hearing “drink your milk, get calcium to make your bones stronger.” What we didn’t hear is that calcium is only good for you when it is working synergistically with magnesium. In our bodies, we are supposed to have a ratio of roughly 2:1 calcium to magnesium. Plus, not only do we have many foods that are fortified with calcium, but our bodies hold on to calcium much more tightly than magnesium. You see, calcium is normally more rare in nature and food sources, so our bodies developed systems for storing calcium. On the flip side, magnesium is supposed to be abundant in our environment, so our bodies don’t store it or hold onto it as well. This factor, mixed with over-consumption of dairy products, creates a situation where our bodies are over-calcified. Calcium has even been implicated in heart disease, and build up of arterial plaques. I don’t believe this is because calcium is bad for us, but it is damaging if we don’t have enough magnesium to pair it with.
- We Don’t Test Properly for Magnesium: I know I know, everything I’ve said sounds like so much fire and brimstone, but if magnesium is really such a big deal, how come doctors aren’t discovering magnesium deficiency on our standard blood tests? If you talk to many doctors, they may tell you it isn’t even worth testing for magnesium because it is at adequate levels in most people. Here’s the issue, magnesium levels are maintained in the blood despite low levels in the body, and serum magnesium only represents 1% of all the magnesium in the body. Magnesium is so incredibly important for heart function, that your body will leach magnesium from your cells, your tissues, your organs, your bones, and your brain to make sure there is enough in your blood to keep your heart working. By the time your blood serum levels of magnesium begin to decline, you will likely be dealing with severe symptoms of magnesium deficiency and may be in danger of heart attack or stroke. It’s not like there isn’t a way to test properly for magnesium, it just isn’t widely used. There is a blood test called an RBC Magnesium Test which involves looking at magnesium levels inside a dissected cell, rather than simply measuring the content floating in our blood. This test is far more accurate than the serum magnesium test. If your doctor will not order you an RBC magnesium test, get a new doctor. Also, order it yourself! You can actually order your own blood testing through companies like direct labs, or genova, and the RBC magnesium test is only $60 most of the time.
There are other factors involved in magnesium deficiency, such as diuretics, caffeine consumption, exercise (we lose some magnesium in our sweat,) and toxin exposure, but more importantly than why we are deficient is how we can address it. Magnesium is an electrolyte, and it is affected by the levels of other electrolytes in your body. Because of this, it is possible technically to imbalance your other electrolytes by taking magnesium.
With that in mind, it is best to get blood testing regularly before and during supplementation of magnesium to correct a deficiency. To start, get a full electrolyte panel WITH the RBC Magnesium Test. Remember, a serum blood test is basically worthless. Optimal results on the RBC blood test for magnesium are 6.0 to 6.5 mg/dL.
Once you have confirmed low magnesium levels, now we need to raise them. When it comes to magnesium supplementation, the kind of magnesium you take matters. Most magnesium products use a form of magnesium called magnesium oxide, but it is barely absorbed and really doesn’t help raise your levels. Instead, you’ll want to use one of the many forms of absorbable magnesium. I’ve listed some of my personal favorites below:
- Magnesium Citrate: Magnesium citrate is magnesium paired with vitamin C and is one of the most popular forms of absorbable magnesium. Magnesium citrate is a great option if you are worried about taking too much magnesium, due to the fact that your body will offload excess magnesium rather than absorbing it. By offloading, I mean that when you take too much, you get loose stool. The most popular brand is Natural Calm citrate powder, which may be found at many local health grocers as well as online.
- Magnesium Glycinate/Malate: Magnesium glycinate is magnesium paired to the amino acid glycinate which has a calming effect on the nervous system. It is also well tolerated and many people who cannot take high amounts of magnesium citrate can take high amounts of magnesium glycinate. Malate is a salt that increases absorbability, and my favorite brand of magnesium so far is Vital Nutrients Magnesium Glycinate/Malate
- ReMag Picometer Ionic: ReMag is Dr. Carolyn Dean’s solution for those with severe magnesium deficiency that also have difficulty tolerating other forms of magnesium. ReMag is a form of magnesium that gets into the cells of the body directly, do to its small unit size, and can be a great tool for those correcting severe magnesium deficiencies. The only caution I have with ReMag is to take it slow, as it is a very powerful product. That said, it comes with well written instructions for usage. When I have used ReMag in the past, I’ve been sure to combine it with ReMyte so as to get enough of my other electrolytes as well. Both products can be found on amazon.
- Magnesium Chloride Oil or Lotion: Magnesium chloride is found in topical magnesium products, aka skin products. Dr. Mark Sircus has written extensively on the subject of using topical magnesium to replenish levels due to it’s high absorption and calming effects. The first magnesium product I ever used was a topical magnesium, and it calmed down my feeling of panic as well as my heavy heartbeat the first day I used it. I personally enjoy the magnesium oil by Ancient Minerals, as well as their bath flakes, which are both here on Amazon. A great tactic for increasing magnesium and simultaneously removing stress is to use the bath flakes to do a nightly epsom salt bath. You could also kill another bird with that stone by doing float tank therapy, as the salts used in float tanks are a magnesium source as well.
Look, in truth, I could write about magnesium all day, but then I’d be asking you to read a book and not an article. Thankfully, if you are interested in more information, there is already a great book written by a much better author that I mentioned earlier: The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Carolyn Dean. I believe everyone should read it in order to educate themselves, but here’s who really needs it:
- Anyone Dealing With Health Problems of Any Kind: Remember, correcting magnesium deficiency has even reversed the symptoms of psychosis in some individuals. It is involved in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body, so if you have health problems, look into your magnesium.
- Migraine Sufferers: Magnesium deficiency is very often the culprit of migraines, both ocular and regular. I don’t suffer from migraines, but throughout the time I was reading about magnesium, I couldn’t help but notice how many miraculous success stories existed for migraine sufferers.
- Hard Charging Athletes: This one cuts close to my chest. I believe that magnesium deficiency may be the primary reason that my mind and body crashed. Athletes deplete magnesium faster than normal individuals, especially when we also make heavy use of saunas, drink high amounts of caffeine, and don’t spend enough time recovering. Exercise puts stress on the kidneys which results in an increase in loss of magnesium.
- Everyone else: There, I’ll say it again, magnesium is so important that I honestly believe everyone should look into their levels and supplement as necessary. The fact is, magnesium is a cheap supplement, and due to the factors I’ve already written about, the odds are that if you haven’t tested, you’re deficient. Supplementing magnesium to correct your levels isn’t just about staying healthy, it can also be the performance boost you need to get a promotion, launch a business, and have a better quality of life. Even if you don’t “feel” the effects of good magnesium levels, you are taking one of the best steps towards a healthy life.
Resources and Links
- The Magnesium Miracle Book by Dr. Carolyn Dean
- Direct Labs Blood Tests
- Natural Calm Magnesium Citrate Powder
- Vital Nutrients Magnesium Glycinate/Malate
- ReMag Picometer Ionic Magnesium Formula
- ReMyte Picometer Ionic Electrolyte Formula
- Ancient Minerals Magnesium Oil
- Ancient Minerals Bath Flakes
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