Ingredient focus: Magnesium

Friday, February 20, 2009
Image: Getty
Whether easing aches and pains, or even stress and bloating, magnesium rates among the finest of multi-taskers.

If your first run-in with magnesium was via the periodical chart in science class, you're not alone. For naturopaths however, this mineral has a long medicinal history.

The word magnesium comes from the Greek city Magnesia, home to large quantities of the mineral, as well as mythical heroes including Achilles. Typically, magnesium is derived from naturally occurring sources including seawater and salt beds. To ensure purity and safety as a supplement, it then undergoes a number of procedures.

Magnesium sulphate, a salt of magnesium otherwise known as Epsom salts, has been used for a smorgasbord of ailments. In the bath, it is often added to ease muscle aches and pains and internally some use it as a laxative. Milk of magnesia, another form of magnesium, has traditionally been used for constipation and also as an antacid. It served as a common prescription in the pharmacies of old.

How does it work?
As well as being intimately involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions, such as those involved in the production of energy and metabolism of food, magnesium also aids bone mineralisation, tooth health, muscle contraction (including the heart muscle), transmission of nerve impulses and regulation of vascular tone. It works closely with a number of other nutrients, primarily calcium. Magnesium relaxes muscles, dilates blood vessels and inhibits blood clotting; whereas calcium stimulates muscles, contracts blood vessels and promotes blood clotting.

What's it good for?
Benefits range from supporting heart health to promoting normal bone growth and preservation. When it comes to the cardiovascular system, magnesium aids energy production within the heart and the dilation of coronary blood vessels, thereby enhancing oxygenation.

Magnesium is also used to treat headaches and alleviate PMS symptoms, specifically mood changes, and prevents muscular cramps and spasms. Painful periods, or dysmenorrhoea, may also be eased by magnesium. It also contributes to the prevention and treatment of bone disorders such as osteoporosis — so it's not just calcium that you need for strong, healthy bones.

Quick magnesium facts

  • Good dietary sources of magnesium include almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, molasses, tofu, soybeans, cocoa, mineral water, hard water, wholegrain cereals and dark green vegetables such as kelp, broccoli, spinach and green beans
  • The average adult houses approximately 20-28g of magnesium, of which about 60 percent is found in the bone, 20 percent in skeletal muscle and the rest in soft tissues and bodily fluids.

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