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Magnesium: The Relaxation Mineral

As physical therapists, muscles and soft tissue are often the focus in treatment. Nutrition directly impacts muscle and soft tissue health so it is important to consider nutrition as part of treatment in order to manage the tightness in these tissues. Chronic muscle tightness can accompany other symptoms like muscle soreness, eye twitching, leg cramps, or constipation. Often these symptoms appear unrelated but according to health experts like Dr. Aviva Romm, MD, there could be a connection to minerals like magnesium. Addressing deficiencies in magnesium could help to alleviate symptoms of tightness and optimize treatment outcomes.

Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body. It is a cofactor activating over 600 enzymes in the body responsible for things like energy production in mitochondria, protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, and regulation of BP and blood sugar. It supports bone formation and strength. Magnesium is crucial for producing glutathione, an important antioxidant in the body as well as for support in liver detoxification. When low in magnesium, the body can experience symptoms such as muscles cramping in the calves, painful period cramps, deviations in normal heart rhythm, eye twitching, constipation and even sleep disturbance. Even chocolate cravings can indicate the need for magnesium.

When considering physical therapy treatment, it's important to know that while calcium is important for muscle tension, magnesium is responsible for muscle relaxation. It helps to control the transmission of impulses from nerves to muscles managing the inflow of calcium so that nerve excitability is kept in check. If there is excessive calcium in the muscle, the muscle can no longer fully relax often leading to symptoms like painful cramps. Deficiencies in magnesium can also lead to decreased mitochondrial efficiency or energy production in our cells contributing to fatigue or tiredness which can further lead to muscle cramps particularly at night. Because magnesium levels are lower at night, lack of magnesium (Mg) can manifest with toe, calf or foot cramps or even restless leg syndrome. Another rather critical muscle impacted by magnesium is the heart. Heart palpitations, arrhythmias, and high blood pressure can also be related to Mg deficiency.

Who is at risk for low magnesium?

  • athletes

  • women on birth control

  • the elderly

  • pregnant and breastfeeding women

  • those with Celiac or Crohn's disease

  • those who are dehydrated from sweating, urinating, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • those who take meds that have dehydrating side effects like diuretics

  • those on chemotherapy

  • individuals with diabetes

  • persons with HIV, cancer, liver or pancreatic conditions

Do you have enough magnesium?

The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends a daily allowance of magnesium of 300-400 mg depending on age and gender. How does one check to determine adequate levels of magnesium? An RBC (red blood cell) test is viewed as more accurate compared to a serum test. This is because a deficiency will be detected earlier in the cells than in the serum. If you are experiencing symptoms like those listed above, ask your doctor what type of magnesium testing would be most beneficial for you and if you could benefit from supplementation in addition to what you are getting in your diet.

Signs of magnesium deficiency

  • loss of appetite

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • fatigue

  • weakness

  • muscle cramping, contractions

  • numbness

  • tingling

  • abnormal heart rhythms

  • coronary spasms

  • seizures

Sources of dietary magnesium: (btw 1 ounce = approximately a handful)

28 almonds - has 80 mg of magnesium (20% of recommended levels of elemental magnesium)

1/2 cup of steamed spinach - 78 mg

1/2 cup of cooked black beans - 60 mg

standard portion of salmon - 53 mg

pumpkin seeds - 168 mg (1 ounce)

cashews - 83 mg (1 ounce)

brown rice - 84 mg (1 cup cooked)

Dark chocolate 60-69% cacoa - (1 ounce) 50 mg

banana - medium 35 mg

Other foods that can be high in fiber such as whole grains (not processed grains) can be good sources of magnesium. Still some others though lower in content include avocado, potatoes, kidney beans, cocoa powder, halibut, chicken breast, broccoli, apples and carrots.

Caution with Magnesium

Magnesium can add to a blood pressure lowering effect in the body so if you are taking blood pressure medications or medications that regulate your heart rhythm, consult your doctor first. If you have kidney disease, again check with your doctor before taking magnesium. Magnesium is generally safe to take in a low dose range if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is also in your prenatal vitamin but check with your midwife or doctor as well in this case. Too much magnesium can induce diarrhea so it's best to consult with your health care provider to discuss ranges and types of magnesium as certain brands and types of magnesium are better absorbed than others.

If you experience moderate muscular tightness or any of the symptoms listed above, consider discussing supplemental magnesium with your health care provider in addition to adding dietary forms throughout your day. You may see improvement not only in muscle function, but in energy levels and even sleep!



The information provided by Blend PT about personal health is provided exclusively for your information. It is not a substitute for consultation or examination by a health care provider. This information does not and may not be used for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Contact your medical provider to discuss your specific needs.

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