Magnesium is an essential mineral found in foods like dark leafy vegetables, nuts and whole grains that's needed for your body to function. Though not nearly as discussed or praised as other essential minerals like calcium and potassium, magnesium's effect on the body is powerful -- as the the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, it is responsible for more than 300 enzymatic reactions and a number of physiological functions like muscular health and function. (1)
While 99 percent of the magnesium in the body is located in bone, muscular tissue and soft tissues, its occurrence is also found within cells, where it helps stabilize enzymes responsible for vital functions like muscle contraction, glucose utilization and the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids (1). Its wide range of benefits to the body makes it one of the most important minerals to consume, yet it is rarely talked about as an essential nutrient. Why is this the case?
Many people overlook magnesium because of an assumption that we consume enough of it through food. Though magnesium is found in leafy green vegetables, seeds, tree nuts and grains, our digestive tracts don't always fully absorb it, especially if you have a bacterial gut imbalance or digestive problems. Therefore, many Americans live with a deficiency they're not even aware of. (1)
Recent scientific research has pointed towards the many positive benefits of magnesium in supplement form in correlation with medical conditions that have negative or painful side effects. Could magnesium have the potential to help sufferers of hypertension, chronic migraines, anxiety, fatigue and more?
Under Pressure: Magnesium and Hypertension
Some studies in the medical field indicate that magnesium supplements could lower blood pressure levels for patients with mild to moderate blood pressure. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91 middle-aged and elderly women with mild to moderate hypertension who were not taking antihypertensive medication were randomly assigned to a treatment of 20 mg of magnesium per day or a placebo for six months (2). The dosage was well received, and not associated with diarrhea, a common side effect of magnesium supplementation. Interestingly, by the end of the study, systolic blood pressure had dropped 2.7 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure had fallen 3.4 mmHg more in the magnesium group than the placebo one (2). The findings in the study suggested that oral supplementation with magnesium could potentially lower blood pressure for patients with mild to moderate hypertension (2).
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted on healthy individuals without hypertension in Japan, similar effects were found when magnesium was introduced to patients. During this study, 33 patients were placed either in a placebo group or were administered oral magnesium supplementation for four weeks (3). The study concluded that "the systolic and diastolic blood pressure values decreased significantly in the [magnesium] group, but not in the placebo group," also finding that the total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio decreased significantly during the final two weeks of magnesium supplementation that did not occur with the placebo group (3).
Magnesium's effects on hypertensive patients with a blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher was also considered -- sixty untreated and treated patients were assigned to an eight week magnesium supplementation period or a control period (4). Blood pressure readings were taken in the control period, office and home, and all of the blood pressure readings were significantly lower in the magnesium supplementation period than in the control period (4).
Could Magnesium Be Essential For Migraines?
Those who suffer from chronic migraines could also potentially seek relief through magnesium supplementation. In a study published in Cephalalgia: An International Journal of Headache, researchers studied the effect of magnesium on 81 patients aged 18-65 deemed chronic migraine sufferers (5). After a baseline period of four weeks, patients either received 600 mg of magnesium daily for 12 weeks or were placed in a placebo group. By the ninth through twelfth week, the attack frequency was reduced by a staggering 41.6 percent in the magnesium group. In addition, patients in the magnesium group reported that the number of days in which they had migraines lessened (5).
Further looking at the relationship between magnesium supplements and migraines, a study conducted in 2008 by researchers in the Neurology Department at Erciyes University in Turkey looked at 30 patients aged 20-55 who had two to five migraine attacks per month and compared them to a placebo group. By the end of their three-month treatment period, migraine sufferers reported a decrease in attack frequency and severity as compared to the control group. (6)
Magnesium: The Original "Chill Pill"
In relation to anxiety, magnesium supplements have indicated signs of being a plausible treatment method when combined with other dietary supplements. One study took into consideration the anxiety levels associated with premenstrual symptoms and investigated both the single and combined effect of 200 mg of magnesium with 50 mg of Vitamin B6. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study using a crossover design, 44 women with an average age of 32 was assigned randomly to take consecutively one of the following treatments daily for one menstrual cycle: 200 mg magnesium; 50 mg Vitamin B6; 200 mg magnesium and 50 mg Vitamin B6; or a placebo (7). Throughout the month, patients were required to keep a daily record of symptoms categorized as "anxiety, craving, depression, hydration, other and total (7)." The study concluded that there was a significant effect on reducing anxiety-related symptoms such as nervous tension, irritability, mood swings, and general anxiety with a treatment of 200 mg magnesium and 50 mg of Vitamin B6. (7)
In a second study, researchers examined the combination of magnesium with English hawthorn and California poppy in subjects experiencing mild to moderate anxiety disorders and also found a small but notable decrease in patient-rated levels of anxiety (8). A total of 264 patients with generalized anxiety disorders were considered for this double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled study (8). 130 patients received the combination of magnesium with English hawthorn and California poppy while the remaining 134 were placed in a placebo group for three months. By the end of the study, those placed in the magnesium supplement group noted a bigger decrease in anxiety symptoms than in the placebo group (8). While further research is needed before making these supplement combinations a recommendation for the treatment of anxiety, the studies point to a fascinating and potential link. (8)
Magnesium: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Sufferers' New Best Friend?
One of the most interesting areas of study involving magnesium supplementation is in relation to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a complicated disorder that has puzzled the medical community for decades. The cause of CFS is not entirely clear and is difficult to explain by any one or two underlying medical conditions, making its treatment quite difficult. One study took on this interesting angle by examining the relationship between CFS patients and low levels of magnesium in red blood cells, a common characteristic of CFS (9). Researchers wanted to know if magnesium supplementation would improve the symptoms of these patients and matched them with 20 healthy control subjects. In the trial, CFS patients were either allocated intramuscular magnesium injections every week for six weeks or to a placebo (9). Those treated with magnesium reported improved energy levels, better emotional state and less pain and 80 percent of them said they had benefited from treatment in some way (9). By contrast, only 17 percent of those in the control group said they felt better, showing that magnesium may have a positive effect on CFS sufferers (9).
One study conducted by the Department of Internal Medicine at the University Hospital in Antwerp, Belgium approached magnesium supplementation in a different way, first testing how many CFS sufferers were magnesium deficient before supplementing them. In the 97 patients with CFS that were considered in this study, 44 were proven to be magnesium deficient before any supplementation. After supplementation in 24 patients, the study showed that there was a significant decrease in magnesium retention (10). Though this study was small, it could help pave the way for future research related to chronic fatigue syndrome and its root causes.
What's The Takeaway on Magnesium?
There's still a long way to go in better understanding the role of magnesium in treating medical conditions like migraines and chronic fatigue syndrome. While these studies seem promising, in no way are they definitive in their conclusions. That being said, significant strides have been made to better understand the role of magnesium and its therapeutic effect on a number of medical conditions, making more effective treatments a likely potential.
If you are considering starting a regimen of magnesium supplements, check your magnesium levels with your physician prior to taking any additional supplements. If you have irritable bowel syndrome or other inflammatory bowel diseases, avoid magnesium supplements as they could exacerbate indigestion and cause diarrhea.
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