Years ago I read about the potential unpredictability of oral magnesium, that the body may not absorb it as well, that transdermal (topical) magnesium is more effective. I believed those sources and have used topical magnesium effectively for leg cramps (Restless Leg Syndrome) for years.
However, many months ago I read sources that discussed that oral magnesium can be more effective (source), that certain excellent formulations can better address peripheral issues: insomnia, constipation, depression, menopause and perimenopause. (source) I have Hashimoto’s, a low-functioning thyroid autoimmune disease. Intermittent insomnia and constipation used to be constant battles for me.
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I have found several helpful remedies for these symptoms over the last two years, but ultimately putting Hashimoto’s into remission is my broader goal. I started oral magnesium to help aid this process and found my sleep improved, as did my daily bowels.
I learned that magnesium alone is hard to absorb. The oral supplements that work do so because the manufacturer has combined the mineral with a compound that helps to dictate its role and to make it bio-available.
I read personal accounts and double blind studies which focused on (compounded) oral magnesium’s effect on depression, menopause and perimenopause, as well as constipation and insomnia. Let’s look at the studies, and you may find that oral magnesium will help you as well. Many of them show a correlation between magnesium deficiency and additional health crises: alcoholism, asthma (see this study), calcium stones, heart disease, heart arrhythmias, migraines, premenstrual syndrome… (source) These conditions and more may all be caused by or relieved through the lack of or administration of magnesium.
Why is Magnesium Important?
Let’s briefly cover, in case you aren’t already supplementing with magnesium, why you probably should be:
- Our soils are mineral deficient, so we don’t get magnesium from our food, as we once did. This is due largely to the way we now farm and the irreparable damage we’ve done with mechanized farming as well as the use of pesticides and herbicides.
- Those of us with compromised health do not assimilate nutrients well. What little we may get from our food is likely not reaching our cells. (Increasing our stomach’s ph is one solution. Supplement HCl with gentian bitters at every meal that contains protein.)
- Medications, flouride, phytates, oxalates and insoluble fiber in our foods bind with magnesium, making it inaccessible by our bodies.
- Magnesium is used by our heart, lungs, and kidneys. It affects our teeth and bones and calcium absorption, our nervous system, our muscles. Magnesium aids our blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Magnesium is required for detoxification! (source)
- Slight disturbances in our health’s equilibrium drain magnesium, as it’s used by every system in the human body. So hormone changes, a bout of the flu, too much caffeine or sugar, stress, and, of course more serious health conditions, all deplete this essential mineral. (source)
Does insomnia ultimately trace back to a magnesium deficiency? Multiple studies showed that magnesium supplementation improved sleep time and quality among the elderly. (source, source and source) Magnesium reduces electrical conduction between brain cells, in much the same way that it calms the muscular activity in leg muscles when restless leg syndrome presents.
Serum magnesium levels have been measured in infants. Magnesium levels are indeed higher when a baby is enjoying deep/quiet sleep. In active sleep the body has increased body movement. (source) A similar study was done on rats, with the same findings. (source)
Ultimately, magnesium, like a dark room, affects the central nervous system, decreasing movement and increasing quiet and calm. Conversely, melatonin consumption actually decreases the body’s magnesium levels, which may account for its limited effectiveness. (source)
Interestingly, stress lowers the body’s magnesium levels and increases sleeplessness as a result. (source) Chronic insomnia also lowers the body’s magnesium levels, compounding insomnia.
Because magnesium and calcium work together, it’s important to get enough bioavailable calcium in one’s diet as well. (source) Zinc supplementation may also be helpful; and it, as an added bonus, aids the immune system.
In conclusion, while skeptics of oral magnesium say that looser stools reflect poor absorption, it’s hard to argue with improved sleep! If oral magnesium helps me to sleep through the night and topical magnesium never did, I think we have some good evidence (in addition to all the clinical studies) that oral magnesium is indeed absorbing well and being utilized by the body.
There are four compounded varieties of magnesium. Those who are affected by constipation (and insomnia) will find more relief from magnesium citrate. Those whose bowels are steady and regular but still have issues of insomnia may prefer to choose magnesium glycinate. Magnesium aspartate and malate are both good for those who struggle with low-energy. They are also reputed to help with muscle cramps and many additional functions. (source)
Regarding constipation, magnesium citrate works to improve or relieve symptoms by attracting water. Extra water in the colon helps bowel movements to pass more easily. Magnesium also relaxes the colon muscles. Up to 600 mg. can be taken nightly to relieve constipation. But it’s ideal to start with less. Many will find relief with just 1-2 capsules: 150-300 mg. Too much means diarrhea. Finding one’s dosage can take some adjusting. You may start with less and increase over time to find the right balance. (source) 100-300 mg. may be used for kids.
The first study on magnesium as it relates to depression was conduction 100 years ago. Since that time numerous studies have been conducted, also measuring its safety.
Postpartum depression, or PPD, is predicted by 2020 to be the most prevalent health problem after heart disease by the World Health Organization. In a study done on Iranian women with PPD, magnesium showed a marked improvement in symptoms. (source) This study suggests that magnesium deficiency causes or contributes to depression! Pregnant women, consider supplementing!
Another PubMed study shows relief of depression within 1 week of supplementing, using 125-300 mg (as glycinate and taurinate). (source) The same study links IQ loss and addiction to magnesium deficiency.
During a woman’s 30s and 40s she goes through a stage of pre-menopause, called perimenopause, characterized by surges of estrogen and a deficiency of progesterone. Her body is getting ready for menopause when she will no longer be able to get pregnant, therefore no longer be ovulating. Progesterone begins to decline in preparation for this. However, we need progesterone to balance our estrogen! I personally supplement with progesterone cream during my luteal phase each month.
But I also support my body’s process by taking magnesium. Magnesium is used by the body to boost progesterone. In practical terms this means it helps to reduce hot flashes and the sleep disturbances that come with perimenopause. (source)
Magnesium is often recommended by practitioners for the autoimmune disease characterized by an under-active thyroid. Magnesium helps to activate T4 and T3, the hormones created by the thyroid that play a role in regulating energy levels in our bodies. Many patients notice a significant improvement in their symptoms through magnesium supplementation. (Untreated hypothyroidism in pregnant women can affect the babies’ brain development and growth, making supplementation that much more critical.) (source and source)
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
In addition to relieving the above conditions, magnesium may help if you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, all of which point to a magnesium deficiency:
- Feeling of dehydration, excessive thirst
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Agitation and anxiety
- Spotty or irregular vision
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle spasm and weakness
- Poor nail growth
- Migraine headaches
Ultimately, using both oral and topical magnesium can be helpful. Compounded oral magnesium, as mentioned above, is suited to specific roles in the body. I still use this topical magnesium (not sticky!) on my calves at night before going to sleep, as it best prevents my potential leg spasms. And magnesium baths can be helpful for detoxification as well as for aiding in a good night’s sleep or for reducing stress. But for significant health issues, oral magnesium is more effective.