MAGNESIUM: The Stress-Challenged Person’s Best Micronutrient Friend

Nutrition can be as affected by fashion as skirt lengths are. Calcium for instance, has current cover girl status and its role in good bone structure seems to warrant this celebrity attention.

The workings of the human body though are not based in a star system, but in the interrelationships of equally significant contributors. While calcium can help build bones, without sufficient magnesium – its key partner in life – those bones will be brittle. Likewise calcium allows muscles to contract, but only with enough magnesium are muscles and their owners able to relax.

Magnesium is responsible for transmitting nerve and muscle impulses. One of the first signs of low levels is hyper-excitable function, often alternating with fatigue. If you routinely jump at sudden noise or movement or have heightened reactions to pain; if you get shaky hands (or tongue – look in a mirror), little twitches or tremors such as those near the eyes or mouth; if you experience cramps or spasms when at rest or unexplained muscle weakness or poor coordination; if your heart sometimes beats irregularly when at rest; if your blood pressure is high, or low and you can feel dizzy if standing suddenly; or if you find it difficult to sleep through the night without interruption: reach for the magnesium.

Just as significant is this mineral’s role with digestion. The process is substantially controlled by nerves and muscles from the initial movement and mixing of food to the elimination of remains. Blood – your nutrient transport system – must be kept alkaline with sufficient alkaline minerals, chiefly: magnesium, calcium and potassium. In contrast, the modern lifestyle encourages acidity especially from stress, soft drinks, coffee, refined sugar and excess animal protein. Prioritising the bloodstream, alkaline minerals are then removed from storage sites – bones, muscles, joints, teeth – but to their peril.

Magnesium performs hundreds of impressive functions. It stands like a security officer at the door of each of your 50 trillion cell membranes and regulates whether minerals such as calcium and potassium are allowed to enter and do their work. It is essential for the release of stored blood sugar for energy. Properties such as these mean that magnesium is of standout importance to the management of stress and vitality levels. Similarly it works busily on the production and deployment of neurotransmitters – the brain’s courier drivers – to deliver supportive messages of happiness and calm. Sufficient magnesium is critical to adrenal health so challenges feel manageable and not overwhelming. It helps maintain blood pressure levels that are neither too high nor too low; and supple rather than rigid blood vessels.

Low levels are thus associated with depression, anxiety, irritability, headache, migraine, osteoporosis, insomnia, IBS, diabetes, PMS, and cardiovascular disease – especially stroke. Magnesium is seriously depleted if you suffer from diarrhea, vomiting or alcoholism. Dairy-keen nations such as Finland that have high calcium but low magnesium intake have far greater risk of both weak bones and cardiovascular disease. To reach for a calcium supplement, due to an oversimplified slogan that ‘everyone needs more calcium to prevent weak bones’ may further worsen its ratio with magnesium and thus encourage this problem. Despite the earnest advertising, milk is only middling on the list of calcium containing foods (see TIPS page for Modern Milk). It is also much lower in magnesium and high in phosphorous: a ratio that lessens the absorption of both calcium and magnesium.

Yummy Foods That Can Lower Stress Levels

Highly refined foods are low in magnesium and few foods are significantly rich sources. Nuts and seeds are ideal contributors. Many of these foods are particularly beneficial to bones, muscles and nerves by being strong in calcium but with even more magnesium. These top performers include almonds, brazils, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, cashews and tofu. In fact, nuts and seeds followed by seaweed and fish, and then dried fruit, are some of the best sources by weight of most minerals. Although molasses charts well, too many people have a sensitivity to such cane sugar products. Leafy greens are modest contributors but particularly alkaline.

So add almonds and dates to breakfast cereal, or hazelnuts and figs to a silken-tofu smoothie. Snack on brazils with fresh or dried fruit. Enjoy a salad for lunch with leafy greens, chickpeas, prunes, sunflower seeds and a tahini (sesame paste) and seaweed dressing (use karengo or wakame fronds, or ripped pieces of nori – sushi sheets; none of these need advance soaking). For dinner simmer fish or squid rings, cashews and vegetables in a peanut sauce.

The adult RDI is 330-400 mg daily. These official allowances though only indicate what is needed to prevent specific diseases, rather than what is optimal for your unique needs. As with all minerals intake is only one factor. Absorption can vary from 5% to 80% and needs supportive team players to function optimally. Poor gastrointestinal health and many medications will limit uptake. Stress; poor sleep; weight, digestive, hormonal, cardiovascular and blood sugar problems can all deplete magnesium. Some substances force magnesium out in urine: highly sweetened beverages, caffeine (including black leaf tea, chocolate), soft drinks, alcohol. If you urinate frequently then too much magnesium is being lost. Emphasise more alkaline foods and drinks, particularly vegetables and fruits –especially when raw; seaweed, herb teas, liquid chlorophyll (see TIPS: Kidneys; also Inflammation).

Rice bran is the surprising highest source of magnesium. It is also high in soluble fibre and B vitamins. Note its many outstanding qualities – for liver and kidney function; blood sugar, hormonal and metabolic efficiency – and how you can easily enjoy it at breakfast (the best time to have it) by checking out the Linseed Cereal recipe in The Shape Diet.

The chart below shows some magnesium top performers. These quantities are dependent on soil levels, season, storage, cooking, and other variables. Although herbs and spices rank well a serving size may be only 2-5 grams, while it is much easier to eat a hundred gram portion of fish, or 50 grams each of nuts and dried fruit. Molasses is not recommended unless you have had an allergy test for cane sugar – it’s the second most common food sensitivity (contact this office for a lab test). Cocoa is a good source but its suitability depends on your tolerance to caffeine, and what you have it with such as acidic sugar. Facts viewed in isolation can obscure their value and meaning, which are more evident in context.

Magnesium Content per 100 Grams of Food

NZ and APJCN Food Composition Tables; USDA Nutrient Database
Dependent on season, soil, variety, style of preparation

Food                                                     Magnesium in milligrams

Rice Bran 780 mg
Seaweed, dried 770-1200 mg
Coriander, Chives to Mint, dried 690-620 mg
Pumpkin Seeds 535 mg
Cocoa Powder 470 mg
Dill, Sage to Basil, dried 450-420 mg
Molasses, from Blackstrap to light 430-50 mg
Soy Flour 430 mg
Peanut Butter 370 mg
Sunflower Seeds 368 mg
Wheat Germ 338 mg
Almonds, Parsley 282 mg
Fish, cooked 280-200
Cashews 260 mg
Soybeans 250 mg
Yeast: Savoury, Flaky or Brewers 230 mg
Buckwheat 230 mg
Seafood 230-200 mg
Peanuts, Brazils 215 mg
Brazils, Hazelnuts; Chillies 180 mg
Sesame, Tahini, Pistachios, Walnuts 150 mg
Millet 162 mg
Rolled Oats, raw 145 mg
Tofu 120 mg
Chocolate, dark (70%) 100 mg
Wholegrain Bread 85 mg
Beans to Lentils, cooked 80-40 mg
Figs, dried 76 mg
Apricots, Dates, Coconut; dried 65 mg
Spinach to Kale & Silverbeet; cooked 60-40 mg
Raisins, Sultanas, Prunes 42 mg
Broccoli, Corn; Banana, Avocado; Rice 30 mg
Meat, cooked 30-15 mg
Milk, Yoghurt, Milk Chocolate 20 mg


Jill Shriber

What is the cause of Rosacea? What diet or supplements do you recommend to control Rosacea?

Maria Middlestead

Jill, please see my articles on Skin, and Auto-immune. Rosacea is an auto-immune disorder and therefore gut related. Do everything possible to lower inflammation and food intolerances.

Leanne Rogerson

I’ve had Diasporal recommended to me by a friend as potential to relieve frequent headaches. This product is available from a ‘practitioner’ only but if I’m going to spend money on that I wanted to make sure it was the appropriate thing to do.

Maria Middlestead

Leanne, Diasporal is just magnesium citrate which is readily available. And that brand contains sugar, and artificial additives. Avoid.

Lyndal Baker

I am having difficulty sourcing rice bran?

Maria Middlestead

Lyndal, this can be difficult. It usually comes from the US. If you are in Auckland then IE Produce often has it.

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