Magnesium: The Nerve End Mineral
Magnesium:  The Nerve End Mineral  by Carrie Pepper
March/April 2008
For Washington Running Report  Link Publication

I had been preparing for my upcoming interview for several days. I really wanted this job. That is when the stabbing pains began. It literally felt as if someone was jabbing an ice pick through my head! My scalp was so tender I could barely brush my hair. I swallowed every conceivable thing I could think of from aspirin to codeine. Nothing fazed it. An interview in this condition would surely be disastrous. Finally, after nearly a week of this unbearable pain, I sought help. I contacted Dr. Wayne Garland, N.D/Ph.D., and a leading expert in the field of naturopathic healing. His words left me puzzled.

"You are seriously deficient in magnesium." Magnesium? How could the lack of one mineral cause such pains? Dr. Garland explained: Magnesium is known as "the tranquility mineral" as it relaxes all nerves. It relaxes the heart in contra-action to potassium, which shrinks the heart. This is the creation of a heartbeat. When applied to skin or scalp, it relaxes the nerve ends to bring about relief. This sounded exactly right- especially the tender scalp.

I began reading about magnesium, but more importantly, I began taking it. I also rubbed liquid magnesium into my scalp. Within a few days, the pains vanished. I learned that a deficit of magnesium is linked to a plethora of ailments from fatigue to muscle cramps, feelings of irritability or lethargy, twitches or tremors, pre-menstrual bloating, mood swings, depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, and yes, migraine headaches. Bingo!

Magnesium: The Basics:

Pure magnesium (Mg) is a silvery-white metal, which burns with dazzling brilliance (remember any chemistry experiments from high school?) It is the ninth most abundant element in the universe by mass and the third most abundant element dissolved in seawater. Magnesium is the key mineral to trigger the heart to beat. If it can make a heart beat, imagine what else it can do!

What Does Mg Do and Why Do Our Bodies Need It?

Magnesium is needed for more than 325 enzymatic reactions, including those involved in the synthesis of fat, protein, and nucleic acids, neurological activity, muscular contraction and relaxation, cardiac activity, and bone metabolism. Even more important is magnesium's pivotal role in both anaerobic and aerobic energy production, particularly in the metabolism of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the "energy currency" of the body. Strenuous exercise depletes ATP at a phenomenal rate, and the average human cannot store large amounts. "The body is a giant balancing act, orchestrated by minerals and trace minerals," says Dr. Garland. "ATP needs to be continually replenished, the critical nutrient being magnesium, as it in turn triggers energy, cellular health, and ATP creation."

When my quest for "magnesium knowledge" reached Randall March, D.A.C.N.B., a chiropractor/kinesiologist who had supplied me with a wealth of relief as well as nutritional advice over the years, his story astounded me.

"For a long time I have known that soon after consuming certain foods, my heart beat really fast. It was so predictable that, while I was in Chiropractic College, I demonstrated this to my fellow students so they could hear what it sounded like with a stethoscope." He thought the cause might be linked to his love and consumption of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups! As time went on, though, the rapid beat would start on its own, sometimes due to stress or strenuous exercise. When it began to occur at night, the uncomfortable feeling would cause him to awaken. Finally, when this rapid beat would not stop, he had to check himself into the emergency room, where he was officially diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (rapid heart beat above the ventricles). Now, it was time to begin studying why this was happening. "Mind you, I was taking nutritional supplements all along and didn't really think this was a problem. Nevertheless, what could it hurt to try some of the unusual nutritional cures?" he said. Plus, his regular supplements contained some magnesium, so he was not convinced, yet. He then added an additional magnesium supplement (200 mg twice daily). "The first day on the extra magnesium was good, with no problems. Since I did not have the 'attacks' every day, I waited for a while before thinking I had cured myself. Nothing happened. A week went by and no spells occurred. That was about two years ago and I am continuing with magnesium every day. I have only had a few spells that were of short duration in that time. It still amazes me that a small dose of a mineral could make so much difference in my life."

If you were asked to name some key minerals for performance nutrition, which ones would you come up with? Calcium? Iron? Zinc? Chromium? Would magnesium be on that list? Despite its pivotal role in energy production, many coaches and athletes still are unaware of its critical importance. Dr. Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. adds, "Magnesium allows the body to burn fuel and create energy in an efficient cycle during exercise that does not lead to lactic acid production and buildup." (Dr. Dean's most recent book, "The Magnesium Miracle" is now available. See Dr. Garland calls magnesium "Mother Nature's cure-all." It is also a key factor in muscle strength, power output, and performance.

The fact that there is a lot that we-even trainers-do not know, became clear to me just this week during a circuit training class. The instructor asked if anyone had an upset stomach from lactic acid build-up due to the strenuous pace of the class. He then suggested that they could "take a TUMS" before class to resolve the issue. I asked whether he knew about the correlation between magnesium and lactic acid clearance. He did not, not to mention the fact that TUMS contains buffering aluminum (one of the chief ingredients linked to Alzheimer's disease).

Diet vs. Supplementation

Even if we eat "a healthy diet," chances are we still need magnesium supplementation. Our not-so-healthy western diets contain alcohol, coffee, high sugar use, salt, and soft drinks. These all help to deplete our bodies of magnesium. Foods highest in this key mineral are unrefined whole grain cereals, whole grain bread, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, peas, beans, and lentils. Since magnesium is a fairly soluble mineral, boiling vegetables significantly reduces the content.

Our bodies work to balance out our supply of minerals. So, if our level of magnesium is low, this also triggers low potassium and calcium levels. The body loses these minerals in an attempt to offset the spasm-resulting effect of low magnesium levels. Most sports drinks contain potassium, calcium, and sodium but the magnesium is the key regulator for the electrolytes.

What Kind of Magnesium and How Much?

Magnesium comes in several forms. Rule of thumb: Listen to your body to know which suits you best as some will cause more of a "laxative effect." How much to take, again, depends on your individual needs. Some doctors recommend higher dosages, but the amount that is absorbed is the key. Dr. Dean says, "It's so difficult to give numbers because all but the liquid magnesium, which is 100% absorbed, are only absorbed a maximum of about 15%." So the actual amount that get into the blood, and eventually into the cells, is very low. You can take:

Magnesium citrate powder;

Chelated magnesium, or dimagnesium malate. (This form has less of a laxative effect and offers better solubility);

Magnesium liquid, which is 100% absorbed;

Magnesium oil. This is a super-saturated magnesium chloride in distilled water. It can be applied to the skin where it is absorbed and relieves symptoms. This also has no laxative effect and helps local muscle and joint pain.

The amount you need depends on your individual needs and symptoms. Again, listen to your body! So, here you have a brief rundown on magnesium- what it is, what it does for our bodies, and what can happen if we do not get enough. For now, it is important to remember that shortfalls in magnesium can seriously impair athletic performance, and since magnesium supplements are inexpensive, taking them is good insurance indeed.

I had suffered from those knife-sharp pains in my head since I was a little girl. I also had experienced leg and knee aches most of my life. Magnesium is indeed a miracle mineral.

P.S. I landed that job!

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