I’ve talked before about how I recommend using topical magnesium oil as a better method of supporting the body’s magnesium needs (see the “Start Here” link under “Home” in the menu bar). But let me break down my recommendations again:
- Rub an almond-sized dollop of topical MAGNESIUM OIL on yourself every night about half an hour before bedtime. Magnesium oil makes your skin a bit itchy, like how you feel after getting out of an intensely salty sea. I rub the oil on my stomach and the leftover on my legs. After half an hour, if the itchiness is still irritating me – I wipe it off. All the magnesium should have been absorbed through my skin by that time.
- Take epsom salt baths. There are other kinds of salt baths – like Dead Sea Salts, Brittany Fine Sea Salts, Himalayan Salts etc. All of these are great, and I love to alternate. But if it’s magnesium you are after, epsom salts have the most. Epsom salts are also by far the least expensive. I buy huge tubs of it at Whole Foods in the bulk section for about $2.
- Consider taking a magnesium supplement, especially if you are prone to constipation, arteriosclerosis or kidney stones. Magnesium chlorate might be best for you, possibly in powder form – but others are also good. But skip magnesium oxide – it doesn’t absorb very well at all. This should be taken ideally in the morning and then again at bedtime. You need to pace it out. The problem with oral magnesium is that if you take too much, you can get diarrhea. So at least you always have an easy and relatively harmless way of knowing if you have taken too much. The topical magnesium oil above bypasses the digestive system, so will never give you diarrhea. Hooray for that.
A TELLING EXPERIMENT
Take an ounce of water. You know: a shot glass. Now crush up a calcium pill and try to dissolve that in the water. You will see that it doesn’t dissolve very well and leaves some chalky bits suspended in the water. Now crush up a magnesium pill and add that to the same glass. Suddenly the calcium starts disappearing. The magnesium helps keep the calcium dissolved in solution.
/END OF EXPERIMENT
When you take calcium or even just get a lot of it from your diet – without enough magnesium – this is what can happen to calcium in your body: Calcium will precipitate out of solution and form nasty things like kidney stones, stiff cell walls and arterial plaques.
So first of all, never, ever, ever take calcium supplements on their own. I don’t want you to take them at all, not for any reason. But if you absolutely must because of some deep belief or fear – then please, please take a calcium/magnesium combo. And of course make sure you are also taking Vitamin K2, which also directs calcium to your bones and teeth and away from soft tissues. Please see my book review of “K2 and the Calcium Paradox” under the “Books” tab in the “Home” menu above. (I will provide a direct link below.)
Magnesium won’t reverse arterial calcification on its own; only Vitamin K2 can do that. However to reap the full benefits of Vitamin K2 (and A and D), you will need magnesium for the maximum vitamin metabolism.
THE MAGNESIUM MIRACLE
I learned about this easy-to-visualize experiment from a book by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND called “The Magnesium Miracle”. If you want to get hot and heavy on magnesium, this is a great place to start. She promotes a very specific pico-ionic magnesium which is apparently absorbed “100% at the cellular level”! So maybe if you are not seeing profound enough effects with the above recommendations after 3 months, these crazy blue bottles are the way to go. I will link to the product at the bottom of this post, though I haven’t used it.
FOODS THAT ARE HIGH IN MAGNESIUM
- Wild nettles
- Brazil nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sea salt
I am going to skip right over grains. That’s because although grains have incredibly high levels of magnesium, the magnesium is bound up with the grain’s high phytic acid content – so it is unavailable. Furthermore, the phytic acid can bind with the magnesium in your body and further deplete you. It is a total misunderstanding and marketing ploy to indicate that you can get magnesium from modern grain products. A caveat: if you soak your grains (at least overnight in an acidic solution), you can reduce the phytic acid content and make the magnesium more bioavailable. This is the case with traditional, whole grain sourdough bread. But come on people, we’ve come so far… Just skip the grains altogether!
Likewise legumes, which have the same phytic acid business going on.
BACK UP. REMIND ME ABOUT THIS PHYTIC ACID BUSINESS AGAIN?
Okay listen up. Phytic acid is a storage form of phosphorous which is bound up with grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to prevent them from sprouting. This is why you can store grains, legumes, nuts and seeds for so long without them growing into plants or rotting. Phytic acid does this by “locking down” these minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc (and others). Locked up means you can’t get them! Not for you!
So if you want to source fresh organic wheat berries grown on magnesium-rich soil, stone-grind them at home for freshness and to prevent oxidizing the fatty acids, then soak the ground flour overnight in a solution of water and apple cider vinegar or whey, and then pour off the phytic acid-rich water and make a sourdough with an extended rise over a couple of days – like, go for it. You can probably get a good dose of minerals from this effort.
What I do is split the difference. I buy raw, organic almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds – which are all rich in phytic acid – and I soak them overnight with a little bit of apple cider vinegar. In the morning, I rinse them all and then put them in a dehydrator at 105F to keep the seeds “alive”. You can also use a low oven setting (ideally 140F or less) for a day or so. If you don’t dry out the nuts, they will go rancid pretty quickly.
Alternatively, you can do the super Ayurvedic thing and soak just 10 almonds overnight, and maybe 2 Brazil nuts, and then eat them “wet” the next day.
Nuts and seeds have more nutritional density and less effect on insulin than grains and legumes.
MORE BORING PROBLEMS: OXALATES
Green leafy vegetables are also rich in magnesium (and other minerals), BUT WAIT! They are also high in oxalic acid, which works just like phytic acid to bind minerals and make them unavailable to you.
Now of course there is a bit of natural buffering going on, but essentially what this means is that if you are trying to do yourself a favor by eating a lot of raw spinach, Swiss chard, and even kale to a lesser extent – you are inadvertently depleting your body of minerals. Which is pretty ironic because spinach, Swiss chard and kale are pretty packed with minerals.
SO HOW DO YOU WIN AT THIS INFURIATING GAME?
This part is easy. COOK your dark leafy greens. Swiss chard, which is particularly rich in oxalic acid, should be boiled, for a long time (!), and then drained of its oxalic acid-rich water.
I know there is a big movement afoot to eat raw vegetables for all of their fabulous enzymes. But the fact is that minerals trump enzymes. Why? Because enzyme action is driven by minerals. Not enough minerals? No enzyme action. Minerals are the chicken that comes before the enzyme egg.
So you should eat the majority of your vegetables (ALL VEGETABLES) cooked. It’s not my fault that we evolved this way.
SOME RAW IS PERFECTLY FINE!
Oxalic acid is not all bad. It’s also a fine antioxidant. So don’t freak out so much.
QUICK SAMPLE LIST OF MAGNESIUM-DEFICIENT SYMPTOMS
- migraines, pain and insomnia
- strokes, brain problems
- cholesterol and hypertension, heart disease
- obesity and diabetes
- Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia
- PMS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- infertility, pregnancy, preeclampsia, cerebral palsy
- osteoporosis, kidney stones and tooth decay
- anxiety and depression
- chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, asthma
WHY DID I EVOLVE TO NEED THIS MUCH MAGNESIUM BUT I’M NOT GETTING IT NOW?
It’s our industrialized food system, stupid! Growing food on depleted soil means no minerals. That’s why they add fertilizers like Potash, which is essentially a cheap potassium solution. Potassium is great! But it pushes out the magnesium. Now it’s not available in your crops! Those cheap crops are fed to your “protein sources” like factory-farmed cows, chickens and farmed fish. Are you getting it? What you’re not getting is magnesium.
OTHER THAN SUPPLEMENTING, WHAT CAN I DO?
Buy your vegetables from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or farmers’ market, and check in on their farming practices. You’re looking for some biodynamics going on – crops fertilized with cow and chicken manure either from the same farm or a local neighbor. You’re looking for naturally mineral-rich soils, or soils that are supplemented with balanced minerals (like Redmond Clay).
Eat pastured meats (grass-fed, grass-finished) like lamb and beef, and true free-range poultry – animals that can absorb the minerals from the soil in the grasses they eat. Use these mineral-rich bones to make stock!
Eat brains and hearts! Brains and hearts are super concentrated with magnesium. Choose young lamb brains and hearts from a butcher you trust.
THE MAGIC OF ROCKS
Did you know that having rocks in a field used to signify mineral-rich and fertile soil? But now we think rocks in a field means the farmer is too poor to remove them and buy himself a tractor. That’s because rocks mess up tractors – from tilling to seeding to harvesting, so we have developed a bias against them. Industrial farmers have to remove the rocks from their fields. But the rocks were the sweet naturally slow-releasing mineral depositories. Now they have to replace those lost (free) minerals with purchased fertilizers and nutrients. That’s an expensive proposition, and besides, a lot of the fertilizers just get leached away when it rains… Which then accumulate in wetlands and create salty, acidic, life-averse environments. So on every front: bummer.
The CSA I buy my vegetables from uses horses to plow their fields. I’m serious! There are rocks everywhere!
THE VERY BOTTOM LINE
Magnesium is deficient in almost everyone. The Recommended Dietary Allowance is between 300 – 400 mg for adults. Any overdose is self-correcting (you will get diarrhea if you ever take too much). It improves the body’s ability to metabolize other minerals and vitamins. There’s not much magnesium doesn’t help with, and it doesn’t cause any harm.
“The Magnesium Miracle” by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND
ReMag Pico-Ionic Magnesium drops
Ancient Minerals Magnesium oil, available at Smith’s Pharmacy on Yonge Street in Toronto
My book review of “K2 and the Calcium Paradox”
Arteriosclerosis linked to magnesium deficiency.
Migraines and magnesium
Diabetes and magnesium
Plowshare Organic Farm CSA outside of Toronto that uses Sally and Milly, two fine work horses to plow