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Magnesium: Understanding it's Role and Use in Addiction

Magnesium: Understanding its Role and Use in Addiction

Quick Summary

  • I had no care about what I put in my body back then, and this caused me to be significantly deficient in a pretty important mineral, magnesium.
  • Magnesium (Mg) is an essential mineral in our body that serves as a co-factor for over 300 enzymatic reactions, the list is absolutely endless.
  • One key thing we need Mg for is our nervous system, having an important role in establishing healthy nerve communication, and preventing excessive glutamate in the cell (Kirkland et al.

I still look back and wonder how I got into the world of nutrition and holistic health. Of course, there’s a story behind it, but it still shocks and amazes me when I look back at where I came from.

I say this because, the truth is, I use to be a big dude.

Most of what I ate consisted of massive amounts of take-out, fried chips; Doritos smothered in cheese, and of course, copious amounts of alcohol.

I had no care about what I put in my body back then, and this caused me to be significantly deficient in a pretty important mineral, magnesium.

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium (Mg) is an essential mineral in our body that serves as a co-factor for over 300 enzymatic reactions, the list is absolutely endless.

One key thing we need Mg for is our nervous system, having an important role in establishing healthy nerve communication, and preventing excessive glutamate in the cell (Kirkland et al., 2018), which often results in cell death.

Generally, in a post-substance abuse state, our glutamate levels are extremely high, and Magnesium is a fantastic tool for modulating this.

Why are glutamate levels high after drinking? Read this article about the The Seesaw Effect of Glutamate and GABA,

High glutamate also means high oxidative stress, and this often translates into overexcitation, agitation, high anxiety, and from a biochemical standpoint, neuronal cell death.

Putting addiction aside for a moment, what roles does magnesium have in the body?

The Role of Magnesium in the Body

Magnesium serves many purposes in the body, from protein synthesis to muscle contraction, they list is endless.

One key role is its requirement for ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) production, which is the main biological source of energy that our body uses.

On top of this, we also need magnesium for:

  • Protein Synthesis: Magnesium acts as a cofactor for RNA and DNA polymerases, enzymes essential for synthesizing proteins.
  • Muscle Contraction and Relaxation: Magnesium competes with calcium, which is necessary for muscle contraction, and by doing so, helps muscles relax after contraction.
  • Control of Neurons and Nerve Function: Magnesium regulates neurotransmitter release, playing a crucial role in maintaining normal nerve function.
  • Controlling Blood Glucose: Magnesium aids in the regulation of insulin action and glucose metabolism, essential for maintaining normal blood sugar levels.
  • Blood Pressure Regulation: Magnesium acts as a natural calcium channel blocker, helping to dilate blood vessels and thereby regulate blood pressure.
  • Hormone Receptor Binding: Magnesium is vital for the structural integrity of hormone receptors, ensuring proper hormonal signaling.
  • Gating of Calcium Channels (Critical in Cell Signaling): Magnesium blocks calcium channels in cell membranes, which is essential for controlling cell signaling and function.
  • Supporting your DNA: Magnesium stabilizes the structure of DNA and is involved in DNA repair and replication processes.
  • Glycolysis (Breaking down of glucose for energy): Magnesium acts as a cofactor for several enzymes in the glycolysis pathway, facilitating the efficient breakdown of glucose to produce energy.

The list can go on, but here’s a pretty large bulk of what Magnesium does in the body. This means magnesium is kind of a big deal, and it becomes even more important when we deplete it through years of chronic alcohol abuse.

How Does Alcohol Addiction Lead to Magnesium Deficiency?

Alcohol can lead to Magnesium deficiency through many direct and indirect mechanisms, but some of the primary ones include impaired absorption, increased loss and overall poor dietary habits.

The Direct Impact of Alcohol on Magnesium Absorption

Alcohol has a direct effect on the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to inflammation and damage to the stomach and intestines, impairing the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, including magnesium. Magnesium is primarily absorbed in the small intestine, and when these tissues are compromised, the efficiency of magnesium absorption drastically diminishes.

Diuretic Effect Leading to Magnesium Loss

Alcohol acts as a diuretic, increasing urine production in the kidneys. This diuretic action not only causes dehydration but also leads to the increased excretion of minerals and electrolytes, including magnesium. Consistent and excessive alcohol intake can therefore lead to chronic magnesium loss.

Poor Dietary Habits

Individuals struggling with alcohol addiction often have poor dietary habits. Alcohol can act as an appetite suppressant, and those with alcohol dependence might replace meals with drinks, leading to inadequate intake of magnesium-rich foods. Furthermore, alcohol can impair judgment and decision-making, contributing to unhealthy food choices that lack essential nutrients.

Impacts on Liver Function and Alcohol-induced Hormonal Changes can also impair the body’s ability to regulate magnesium levels and further exacerbate magnesium depletion.

How Do I know If I’m Deficien in Magnesium?

We store Magnesium in bone and muscle, and only 1% circulates in our blood, making a deficiency pretty hard to determine through a regular blood test.

Fun fact: Did you know a staggering 61-71% of young Australian individuals are deficient in Magnesium? (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015). That number is a little concerning, considering the amount of processes it’s involved in the body.

That being said, we do have other testing measures that can give us a more accurate read of magnesium levels in the body, such as a urine or hair mineral test. I won’t go into further detail here, but tests such as a Comprehensive Metabolic Profile or Hair Mineral Analysis are good options.

We can also use a range of other indicators to confirm deficiency and pair up common factors that are most likely to increase our risk of it.

Some Common factors that can potentially lead to a magnesium deficiency include

  • Excessive use of diuretics (Caffeine, stimulants, etc): Increases urinary excretion, leading to loss of magnesium.
  • Alcohol: Impairs absorption and increases excretion of magnesium.
  • Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid): Reduces magnesium absorption efficiency.
  • Antacids: Bind to and reduce absorption of magnesium.
  • Vitamin D (due to its role in Calcium absorption): Alters calcium and magnesium balance, potentially decreasing magnesium levels.
  • Coeliac disease: Damages intestinal lining, hindering magnesium absorption.
  • Chronic stress (emotional or psychological – overactive sympathetic nervous system): Elevates stress hormones, increasing magnesium excretion.
  • Crohn’s disease: Causes malabsorption of nutrients including magnesium.
  • Type 1 and 2 Diabetes: Increases urinary loss of magnesium.
  • Diarrhoea / Laxatives: Leads to rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes, including magnesium.
  • Diets high in sugar: Requires more magnesium for processing, depleting body stores.
  • Excessive menstruation: Can lead to increased loss of magnesium.
  • High phosphorus in the diet (inorganic phosphates found in inactive processed food ingredients): Competes with and reduces magnesium absorption.
  • Insulin resistance: Linked to lower magnesium levels in the body.
  • Low salt intake: May affect magnesium levels due to interconnected balance of electrolytes.
  • Low selenium intake: Selenium deficiency can affect magnesium status and metabolism.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency: Essential for magnesium absorption and utilization in the body.

Potential Signs of Magnesium deficiency

The evidence of unexplained hypokalemia (low potassium) and hypocalcemia (low calcium) may be an indicator for significant magnesium depletion, in addition to a common neurological side effect known as Trousseau sign (Pokan, 2006).

Other signs of magnesium deficiency include:

Less severe signsMore severe signs
Anxiety Aggression Cramps Disorientation Muscular weakness Irritability Neuromuscular irritability Tremors Tinnitus Fasciculations (Brief spontaneous movement of muscle fibres, often seen as a flicker or twitch under the skin)  Arrhythmias Calcifications (soft tissue) Cataracts Convulsions Coronary Artery Disease Depression Hearing loss Heart failure Osteoporosis Psychotic behaviour Tachycardia Hypertension  

Choosing the correct Magnesium supplement

Okay, so we’ve covered the basics of how important magnesium is, especially after years of substance abuse, and even more so in sobriety.

We know some of the testing options, and signs, but the next question is, what magnesium supplement do you take in the sea of supplements?

It’s a great question, and not all magnesium supplements are created equal.

Now, you may be thinking, well if it’s got magnesium slapped on the label, I should be getting adequate magnesium as intended right? Not quite.

When products are listed through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), claims are generally only made regarding the evidence of the nutrient as a whole, not particularly on the form of nutrient used (E.g.: Magnesium Citrate vs Magnesium Oxide).

What this means in a nutshell, is the form of magnesium, or on a slightly more technical level, what the magnesium is bound to in the supplement must be considered.

To help you understand this further, I’m going to list all the common forms you find in most supplements, and why you should care about them.

Forms of Magnesium Supplementation

So let’s break down the different types of forms of Magnesium you can find in various supplements. Feel free to bookmark this article so you can use this as a reference point when selecting your next Magnesium supplement.

Magnesium Glycinate (Sleep / Correct Deficiency) – Best for people trying to correct a deficiency or support sleep, the highest level of absorption/bioavailability (Schuette et al., 1994). Bound to glycine, which is a calming amino acid, confirming Magnesium Glycinate’s role in sleep support (YAMADERA et al., 2007).

Magnesium Oxide (Constipation) – Best for constipation, not the most absorbable form at all (Less than 10% roughly is absorbed) (Schuchardt & Hahn, 2017). Most of the time, you end up excreting a lot of it, making it great for constipation, although too much may send you to the loo.

Magnesium Citrate (Relaxation / Laxative) – Best for relaxation and laxative properties, helps with muscle cramping (Supakatisant & Phupong, 2012) and again, may send you to the toilet if you’re not careful.

Magnesium Chloride / (Topical Application) – Best for people who have poor digestion, most importantly stomach acid, and are trying to correct a magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium Malate (Energy / Muscle Pain) – Best for promoting cellular energy (Scheibe, 2004), and soothing sore muscles. Bound to malic acid.

Magnesium Taurate (Calming / Heart Function) – Best for creating a calming effect to the body and mind, bound to amino acid taurine, which may also assist the heart to function better (Zulli, 2011).

Magnesium Threonate (Brain Protection) – Best for learning, memory retention and reducing cognitive decline (Wu & Zhuo, 2009). It’s highly absorbable by the brain (Li et al., 2014), which may be due to its ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane.

Magnesium Sulfate (Muscle Relaxation / Detox) – Also known as Epsom salts. Best added to baths to soothe muscle soreness, promote relaxation and draw out toxins from the body. Not recommended for internal consumption.

Magnesium Orotate (Cardiovascular Protection & Performance) – Best for cardiovascular health, protection and improving the potential of exercise output or capacity (Pokan, 2006).

Magnesium Carbonate (Antacid) – Best for its antacid/high acid neutralizing capacity (Krishna et al., 2007). The lowest form of absorbability and may have a laxative effect.

Least desirable forms of Magnesium

Magnesium Hydroxide – Most commercial preparations have sodium hypochlorite added (bleach), very poorly absorbed.

Magnesium Aspartate (Aspartame) – Bound with Aspartic Acid, which has shown to be neurotoxic (Gillessen et al., 2013), found commonly in ZMA sports supplements.

Magnesium Pidolate – Bound to glutamic acid, again like aspartic acid, too much can be neurotoxic (Gillessen et al., 2013).

Food Source Forms of Magnesium

Of course, we should always be getting Magnesium from food sources, all if possible, but sometimes it can be difficult in the modern climate.

While I do recommend supplementation to correct a magnesium deficiency, it’s always best to ensure you’re getting a good serving of Magnesium in your diet.

Based on a 100g serving, some good dietary sources include:

  • Pumpkin Seeds – 535mg
  • Raw Cacao – 507mg (Cacao nibs anyone?)
  • Flax Seeds – 392mg
  • Brazil Nuts – 350mg (also super high in selenium)
  • Sesame Seeds – 340mg
  • Chia Seeds – 335mg
  • Almonds – 260mg
  • Cashews – 250mg
  • Buckwheat – 221mg
  • Peanuts – 160mg
  • Walnuts – 150mg
  • Dark Chocolate (70%+) – 120mg (The darker the higher the Magnesium content)
  • Tofu – 74mg
  • Spinach – 74mg
  • Sardines– 39mg
  • Kale – 33mg
  • Avocado – 27mg
  • Whole Oats – 24mg

Keep in mind some foods are high in a particular antioxidant compound known as Phytates or Phytic Acid. Magnesium can bind to this molecule and reduce the amount absorbed in the body, something to be mindful of.

Correct Dosing for Magnesium Deficiency

If your magnesium levels are normal – The average daily supplementation of elemental magnesium is roughly 400-600 mg daily.

If looking to correct magnesium deficiency – I would get them tested to ensure you have a true Magnesium deficiency before using this protocol. Supplementation will depend on weight, with the optimal daily intake being 7 – 10mg of elemental magnesium per kilogram of body weight across a four–month period (DiNicolantonio et al., 2018).

Women who are ovulating – May want to slightly increase their elemental magnesium intake by 150-200mg on top of the daily recommendation.

Women who are pregnant – May want to stick to a maximum of 600mg of elemental magnesium to be on the safer side.

Note on elemental magnesium – You may notice I’ve mentioned elemental magnesium a few times. This is the true dose of Magnesium per serve, and should be indicated on the supplement label.

Recommended Magnesium Products

There are literally hundreds on the market, and I could list a mountain that will serve as viable options.

For Tablets or Capsules

For Powder

The Takeaway

Magnesium is a critical component in any healthy person, and even more so in individuals exiting a life of substance abuse.

While it can be hard to determine a deficiency at first, it can be easy to correct it, ensuring you’re using the right supplement and dose ratio.

Do you have a good magnesium supplement that you use? Struggling to dial in the correct nutrients in your sober journey? Reach out and we’ll help you.


References

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