Magnesium (Mg) enables over 600 cellular reactions in the body such as those involved in DNA and RNA formation, heart rhythm maintenance, immunity, energy production, and most other biological process . It is the 4th most abundant essential mineral found in the human body .
In this article, you will learn what magnesium does in the body, as well as how it enables brain function, heart rhythm, muscle contractions, cellular energy, protein synthesis, DNA repair and synthesis, vitamin D use, bone density, and immune response.
- What Magnesium Does In The Body
- Brain Function
- Heart Rhythm
- Muscle Contractions
- Cellular Energy
- Protein Synthesis
- DNA Synthesis
- Vitamin D Metabolism
- Bone Density
- Immune Response
- Dietary Sources
What Magnesium Does In The Body
Inside the body, magnesium interacts with a wide variety of receptors to enable the occurrence of more than 600 life sustaining cellular reactions.
Maintains Brain Function
Magnesium plays a role in nerve signaling between the brain and body helps protect cells from excitotoxicity, and improves cerebral blood flow.
Magnesium inhibits the actions of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, too much of which can lead to glutamate toxicity, brain cell damage and cell death.
In healthy adults, when brain cells are at rest, magnesium acts as a gatekeeper for the calcium channel of specific glutamate receptors known as N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors.
By sitting inside of calcium channels and physically preventing calcium from entering them, magnesium prevents the NMDA receptors from being stimulated by weak signals that may trigger your nerve cells unnecessarily.
An influx of calcium and glutamate into the brain is considered to be a major contributor to brain cell damage and cell death .
In addition to its nerve signaling activities, magnesium also relaxes vascular smooth muscle. This results in the dilation of blood vessels which decreases blood pressure and increases blood flow to the brain .
Maintains Heart Rhythm
Magnesium plays an important role in healthy heart beat and magnesium deficiency has been linked to heart rhythm changes .
As they do in the brain, magnesium and calcium naturally compete with each other in heart cells to produce heart contractions.
Upon entering heart muscle cells, calcium stimulates the muscle fibers to contract. In response, magnesium counters this contraction by providing a tiny positive charge that repels calcium and pushes it to the opposite side of the cell . This leads the cells to relax. Thus creating healthy heart rhythm.
Hence, whereas a shortage of calcium is likely to cause a weakened heartbeat, a shortage of magnesium may lead calcium to overstimulate heart muscle cells. One common symptom of calcium overstimulation is rapid or irregular heart beat which could be life threatening .
Regulates Muscle Contractions
Magnesium is critical to relaxing muscle contractions. Its major effect in muscles is to act as a calcium blocker at receptor sites that bind magnesium and calcium competitively. This helps muscles relax.
Calcium binds to muscle proteins such as troponin, parvalbumin, and myosin. In doing so it changes the shape of these proteins, which generates a muscle contraction.
Just as it does in cells of the brain and heart, magnesium competes with calcium to counteract its excitatory effects in muscle cells. In a relaxed muscle these calcium magnesium receptor sites are essentially saturated with magnesium .
If magnesium levels are low and there is not enough magnesium to compete with calcium, muscles may contract excessively causing spasms or cramps.
Creates Cellular Energy
Magnesium is a cofactor for enzymes that produce cellular energy .
A cofactor is a metallic ion (like magnesium) or non-protein chemical compound that is needed for an enzyme’s activity as a catalyst. Enzymes speed up or catalyze chemical reactions in our body.
Magnesium activates these energy producing enzymes which create metabolic pathways that convert inputs like glucose sugars into smaller molecules called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.
ATP is the body’s main unit of cellular energy. It is responsible for storing and shuttling energy. Every cell manufactures and uses ATP.
When cells want to carry out functions like cellular division or moving molecules across cell membranes they use ATP bound to a magnesium ion. When it is used, ATP is broken down into ADP. ADP is then recycled back into ATP inside of cells’ mitochondria.
The process of changing ADP back into ATP is magnesium dependent. An average ATP molecule in the human body is recycled thousands of times a day .
Cells and therefore organisms cannot survive without ATP and fueling continuous ATP production requires a continuous magnesium supply.
Enables Protein Synthesis
Stringing together amino acids to make proteins requires magnesium .
Magnesium is a cofactor for most of the critical enzymes that make protein synthesis possible.
Magnesium is also critical to the proper activity of ribosomes . Ribosomes, while not technically enzymes are the most important catalysts for stitching together amino acids to form proteins.
Makes And Repairs DNA
Magnesium is an essential cofactor for the enzyme DNA polymerase .
DNA polymerase repairs and replicates DNA strands using spare nucleotides from the cell's nucleus. DNA polymerase activity is necessary for repair, growth, and the formation of sperm and egg cells.
DNA polymerase has two magnesium binding sites and cannot work without magnesium.
Every day hundreds of billions of cell divisions occur in our body. Each cell division requires the cell to copy an identical set of DNA strands. Magnesium makes this possible by binding to DNA polymerase enzymes.
Magnesium bound DNA polymerase enzymes attach to strands of DNA and travel down the sequence of nucleotides. As they travel, magnesium ions bound to the DNA polymerase help open up the nucleotide side, drawing the spare nucleotides into position.
Reportedly, DNA polymerase is pretty accurate at copying DNA. However, even if copies are perfect, mistakes in DNA sequencing do occur. DNA damage can occur as a result of various triggers including viruses, temperature changes, radiation, or in response to reactive toxic chemicals.
Our bodies have a series of processes to identify and repair damaged DNA. The enzymes behind these processes cut away the damaged nucleotides and replace them with fresh nucleotides. Magnesium is a cofactor for most of these enzymes .
Allows Your Body To Use Vitamin D
Vitamin D has dominated this year’s news cycle because studies linked vitamin D deficiency to poor Covid-19 outcomes. In order to be used by the body, however, vitamin D needs magnesium to metabolize it. Otherwise, vitamin D just sits around inactive waiting for magnesium to come around and put it to work .
Builds Bone Density
Magnesium is an important bone building nutrient and bout 60% of the body’s magnesium is stored in our bones.
Magnesium affect bones directly by altering bone crystal structure and by acting on bone cells, as well as indirectly by impacting pathways related to inflammation, endothelial function, parathyroid hormone, and vitamin D .
Research suggests that magnesium plays a crucial role in reducing bone fracture risk as we age showing that higher intakes are associated with lower bone fracture rates.
Fuels Immune Response
Since it is involved in the most basic cellular processes it is unsurprising that evidence shows magnesium plays a key role in the immune response .
Magnesium is a cofactor for immunoglobulin synthesis (i.e. antibody formation). Immunoglobulins are antibodies, or plasma produced Y shaped proteins with antigen specific binding sites.
Antigens are any foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria, fungi, tumor cells, or allergens that we don’t want inside of our bodies.
Antibodies are made in response to specific invaders, so a flu antibody cannot go attach itself to the coronavirus protein. At the top of each Y protein antibodies have 2 foreign invader specific binding sites that they use to attach themselves to particles that need eliminating.
When antibodies bind to foreign invaders they neutralize them. This prevents the foreign particles from interacting with healthy cells, consequent cellular damage and invasion.
Since antibodies are proteins, each one needs some magnesium to be created.
Magnesium is also a cofactor for antibody-dependent cytolysis, or the killing of foreign invaders once they have been caught by antibodies.
These are just 2 of the many ways that magnesium is involved in strong immune response. Others include being a cofactor for C’3 convertase, immune cell adherence, lgM lymphocyte binding, macrophage response to lymphokines and T helper-B cell adherence .
Magnesium is involved in and critical to everything that happens inside of our bodies. As such, healthy levels of magnesium will aid every system and process in the body. So if you are magnesium deficient and you are wondering whether adding magnesium to your diet will help improve any condition, the answer is most likely yes.
Dietary Sources of Magnesium
Magnesium is found in many delicious foods. However, soil depleting farming practices and over-processing within our food supply chain have resulted in a shortage of magnesium from our daily dietary intake.
Magnesium is abundant in the chlorophyll of plants, so a good rule of thumb is: the greener a plant is, the more magnesium it's likely to contain.
The recommended daily intake of magnesium is 400-420 mg for men and 310-320 mg for women . For men, that’s the equivalent of eating about 100 apples or around 3 cups of boiled spinach daily. However, bone expert Dr. Susan Brown, Ph.D, recommends that adults consume 600 mg of magnesium each day .
The amount of magnesium your body actually needs to thrive and repair itself each day depends on how strenuous your days are, your genetic ability (or lack thereof) to absorb magnesium, and a variety of other factors.
Alcohol consumption, smoking, certain medications, and certain diseases can also affect your magnesium absorption and excretion.
If you exercise or even think more than average, you will need more than the average recommended amount of daily magnesium to complete all of the additional cellular processes your body is performing. Every extra muscle contraction, heartbeat and neuronal signal counts.
If your body has a shortage of magnesium, it will have to make potentially costly decisions. You don’t want to be in a position where the magnesium ions needed for 10 extra steps and 30 extra heartbeats are limiting the magnesium ions available for DNA repair or immune cell production.
|Food||Milligrams (mg) per serving||RDI (based on 420 mg/day)|
|Pumpkin seeds, roasted, 1 ounce (28 grams)||156||37%|
|Almonds, roasted, 1 ounce (28 grams)||80||19%|
Spinach, boiled, 1/2 cup (113) grams
|Dark chocolate, 1 ounce (28 grams)||64||15%|
|Quinoa, cooked, 1/2 cup (90 grams)||59||14%|
|Arugula, raw, 5 cups (100 grams)||47||11%|
|Potato, baked with skin, 3.5 ounces (100 grams)||43||10%|
|Avocado, sliced, 1 cup (146 grams)||42||10%|
|Tofu, 1/2 cup (124 grams)||37||
|Egg noodles, cooked, 1 cup (160 grams)||34||8%|
|Banana, 1 medium (100 grams)||27||
|Salmon, cooked, 3 ounces (85 grams)||26||
|Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice (25 grams)||21||
|Romaine lettuce, 3 ounces (85 grams)||12||
|Apple, 1 medium (100 grams)||5||
Many of us, including myself, struggle to get the daily magnesium we need through food alone. As you can see in this chart, it can be somewhat challenging to consume 300 mg of magnesium let alone the 600 mg recommended by Dr. Brown.
How much magnesium we actually absorb from the foods we eat can vary based on our bodies and the other components of our meals. Fat and calcium, for instance, can both affect magnesium absorption.
Supplements can help you maintain healthy and balanced magnesium levels throughout the day. You can even add them to your salad!
Chelated magnesium is in a form that is bound to amino acids. Supplements with chelated magnesium offer superior bioavailability and stability, which allows for more nutrients to be available for use by the body.
Magnesium gluconate, magnesium L-threonate, and magnesium citrate are three forms of highly functional and easily absorbable magnesium supplement.
Ned's chelated Magnesium Superblend features these three forms of magnesium, GABA, L-Theanine, and trace minerals. Check out The Secret's In The Superblend and learn why these ingredients are key to brain, gut, blood, bone and muscle health.
The Bottom Line
Magnesium is an essential mineral critical to cell life.
It is needed for hundreds of cellular reactions, enzyme activation, and cell signaling.
Without magnesium all of our cells would die.
Despite this, few people meet the recommended daily intake of 310-320 mg for women and 400-420 mg for men.
If your body is magnesium deficient, it will have to decide which cellular processes get the limited amount that is available. Things will start to go haywire. You may begin to notice odd eye twitches, calf cramps, headaches, sadness, or fatigue.
To increase your dietary intake of magnesium, eat more green vegetables like spinach and arugula, nuts, quinoa and dark chocolate.
Magnesium supplements, like Mellö, our magnesium superblend, can also help. Make sure the supplement you choose has high bioavailability so that it can be efficiently absorbed and used by the body.
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