6 Ways to Stress Less, Sleep Better and Tame Pain with Magical Magnesium

The formula for good health is like a good stew recipe – it’s the combination of ingredients that makes the meal. By now, you should appreciate that a whole foods diet, plenty of daily movement, restorative sleep, relaxation and stress reduction come together to ensure your body will function well for a long, long time. What else to add to your good health stew? Magnesium. Its long list of beneficial effects makes this multi-tasking miracle mineral one of my favorite recommendations. Here’s why and how to get more of this essential, health-booster into your life:

Magnesium matters, head-to-toe.

Magnesium is a naturally occurring mineral found in your blood, bones, tissues and organs. It plays a big role in controlling over 300 complex chemical reactions in the body, helping to regulate blood pressure and metabolic function, strengthen muscles and bones, and keep the immune system strong.

Big picture and long-term, magnesium helps support cardiac and brain function, while also offering protection against heart disease, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes, migraines, insomnia and depression. Safe to say, magnesium ticks off a multitude of health boxes.

But perhaps the most exciting news about magnesium is that it may have the power to help fight certain infections and even cancer. According to a team of Swiss researchers, the presence of magnesium may help boost the cancer-killing power of the immune system’s all-important ‘killer T-cells’. Low magnesium levels have been associated with poor cancer outcomes, paving the way for future studies looking at the other side of the coin -- how higher levels may help increase positive outcomes. There’s a strong case to be made that this mineral may be the disease-fighting ‘killer app’ that medical researchers are always in search of.

Magnesium is good for what ails you.

Magnesium is also great at helping to relieve more immediate everyday concerns. For all-too-common health complaints like poor sleep, stress and constipation, magnesium is an effective, inexpensive and good-for-you remedy. While most docs are all too happy to write you a prescription for any or all of these ills – even when they work at cross-purposes and cause even more problems, counterproductive to say the least! Instead, bypass the prescription pad and try treating them with magnesium, whose benefits can be applied in so many ways:

  • Magnesium works as a natural stress-busting ‘chill pill,’ helpful in taming the stress response, suppressing the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol
  • By suppressing adrenaline and cortisol release, magnesium also provides an easy, healthy way to fall asleep faster and enjoy more sound, restorative sleep
  • Magnesium citrate or oxide is great for easing constipation, encouraging more effortless elimination by relaxing the bowels, pulling water into the bowels and softening the stools so they can exit the body more easily
  • In addition, magnesium’s effects are gentler on the body, especially when compared to harsh and unpredictable over-the-counter laxatives – which can disrupt your gut microbiome’s bacterial diversity, triggering gut problems and inflammation
  • Instead of OTC pain relievers, make magnesium your go-to for relieving aches, pains and sore muscles, with a soak in an Epsom’s salt bath (aka magnesium sulfate), or a topical application, both of which soothe by introducing the mineral into the blood stream quickly through the skin
  • If anxiety and low mood have got you down, magnesium can help ease the severity of mood disorders and improve mental clarity and focus

Not enough magnesium torpedoes health.

While it’s highly unlikely that your diet could provide too much magnesium, low magnesium levels can have a big, negative impact on your health. Extreme low levels can lead to heart arrythmias, arterial spasms and even sudden death so, as they say, don’t go there. Even a more routine shortfall is serious business. Low magnesium can interfere with or reduce the function of the major systems in your body that need to run smoothly 24/7. We’re talking the biggies, like the cardiac, neurological, musculoskeletal, digestive and circulatory systems. And, with roughly 50% of us being deficient in this powerful stuff, supplementing with magnesium is a no-brainer to keep good health humming.

Too little magnesium makes itself known.

What drains you of magnesium? The usual suspects, like a poor diet high in sugar and processed foods, alcohol use, certain meds, and for some people, genetics. Another big drainer? Stress. Left unmanaged or unrelieved, stress will cause magnesium levels to drop, and that drop will escalate the stress response, leading to fatigue and energy loss.

How to know if you’re not getting enough? Though magnesium is one of the most abundant essential minerals in the body, blood levels only represent roughly 1 - 2% of your body’s total stash (the rest is tucked away in your bones and cells). So, when getting magnesium levels checked, ask for a RBC magnesium level, the amount of magnesium in red blood cells, rather than the traditionally measured magnesium in blood serum. RBC magnesium is a more accurate indicator of magnesium deficiency, as when your body needs magnesium, it takes it from cells.

Low magnesium may make itself known in a number of subtle but uncomfortable, even life-altering, ways. Think, muscle cramps, PMS (including  premenstrual mood swings), mood issues, memory problems, poor appetite and nausea, heart irregularities, asthma, allergies, unstable blood sugar levels and diabetes.

Wrestling with debilitating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) symptoms? Not enough magnesium in your system can inhibit the conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP which, in turn, can reduce mood-stabilizing serotonin and melatonin production.

Another painful clue that you need a magnesium boost is migraine headaches. Research shows that migraine sufferers tend to have lower levels of magnesium than non-sufferers, the thought being that magnesium plays a role in blocking the release of certain chemicals that trigger the headache pain. Low levels may also contribute to the constriction of blood vessels in the brain, which may contribute to migraine episodes.

Troubled by frequent non-migraine, tension headaches? Not enough magnesium may be a factor there too.

Maximize your magnesium.

So, if you want to sleep better, relax more easily, keep digestion moving and protect yourself from many more problems down the road, you’ll need to top off your tank on the regular. I recommend a two-pronged approach, including eating a magnesium-rich diet and taking a magnesium supplement. To up your edible dose, check out these magnesium superstars, which are also loaded with lots of fantastic phytonutrients. Among the heavy hitters on your plate at every opportunity:

  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Black beans
  • Cashews
  • Dark chocolate – the darker the better; 75% cacao or higher
  • Flaxseeds
  • Leafy greens – spinach, broccoli, kale, and chard top the greens list
  • Pacific Halibut, wild-caught
  • Pumpkin squash seeds
  • Powdered greens drinks (which are particularly handy if you’re not a seed fan or salad enthusiast)
  • Sea vegetables
  • Walnuts

Take your magnesium.

Supplementing with magnesium provides an additional boost, but do manage your dose, as too much of a good thing can result in, shall we say, an overly enthusiastic bowel response (especially with magnesium oxide and citrate). To keep things on an even keel, try the following approach:

  • Opt for a high-quality magnesium brand, like my personal favorites, Orthomolecular, Allergy Research Group, Designs for Health or Metagenics.
  • Keep in mind, there are several types of supplemental magnesium, but generally, I recommend magnesium glycinate, which tends to be the most well tolerated and doesn’t loosen the stools quite as aggressively as magnesium citrate and oxide.
  • To calm the nervous system and encourage more restful sleep, try taking 300-600mg magnesium glycinate or threonate at bedtime.  
  • To relieve constipation, try taking 500 -1000 mg magnesium citrate or oxide at bedtime to gently get things moving in the morning.