Stress leads to magnesium deficiency
- which lowers your stress threshold and threatens your health
Stress and magnesium deficiency are widespread problems in the general population. It’s a vicious cycle that increases the risk of fatigue, headaches, constipation, nervousness, insomnia, infections, depression, metabolic syndrome, and a number of physical and mental diseases. In a review article that is published in Nutrients, the authors look closer at magnesium’s key role in the body’s physiological stress response. They also address the fact that stress increases the need for magnesium. Moreover, nutrient-depleted soil, unhealthy diets, too much coffee, alcohol, and calcium plus certain types of medicine, intensive sport, menopause, and ageing increase the need for magnesium even more.
Stress is linked to some of life’s bigger challenges, no matter if they are of a mental or physical nature. The body’s primary stress response, which prepares us to fight optimally, is extremely brief and energy-demanding. But modern life is typically characterized by chronic stress that may eventually disrupt our nervous system, hormone system, and immune system, and this may have deleterious health consequences.
Magnesium is widespread in the general population. Because this mineral is needed to fuel hundreds of fundamental enzyme processes, a deficiency may increase the risk of physical and mental diseases. In their review article, the authors write about how stress and magnesium deficiency may eventually lead to the same symptoms as listed below:
Frequent stress symptoms — Symptoms of magnesium deficiency
Tiredness/fatigue — Tiredness
Irritability or anger — Irritability
Nervousness — Nervousness/anxiety
Weakness — Weak muscles
Upset stomach — Abdominal cramps
Muscle stiffness — Muscle cramps
Headache — Headache
Insomnia — Insomnia
Sadness/depressions — Inner unrest
Stress and magnesium deficiency – a vicious cycle
In the 1990s, the two scientists, Garland and Seelig, saw for the first time the relation between magnesium deficiency and stress and named it the vicious cycle. What they meant more specifically was that stress increases the body’s magnesium loss, and that results in a deficiency. At the same time, lack of magnesium impairs the body’s ability to manage stress. Because stress is so common in our society, the recommended dietary intake guidelines for magnesium should ideally be revised in order to avoid health risks.
Magnesium’s role in stress
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the human body and is involved in hundreds of enzyme processes that are important for our energy turnover, nervous system, blood sugar balance, muscle function, digestion, blood pressure, heart, vitamin D activation, and numerous metabolic processes. In addition, magnesium regulates cellular calcium uptake, which is a very important function to prevent calcium flooding of cells. If too much calcium enters nerve cells or cells in other soft tissues, it stresses the cells and sets the stage for imbalances, inflammation, and cell death. Magnesium also counteracts oxidative stress, which is when uncontrolled free radicals start chain reactions that attack cells and tissues.
Around 50 percent of the body’s magnesium is found in our bones, while only one percent circulates in the blood. The remaining part is found intracellularly in muscles, the brain, and other soft tissues and manages all the different enzyme processes. The magnesium concentration in our spinal fluid is particularly large. The spinal fluid protects the brain and spinal cord. Magnesium is believed to be essential for the health and homeostasis of the brain, including the nervous system’s reaction to stress.
In their review article, the authors look closer at how magnesium helps regulate the long-term stress hormone cortisol and neurotransmitters like serotonin, noradrenalin, glutamate, and GABA. The release of these hormones and their mutual balance is vital for the stress response of the brain and nervous system.
Magnesium sources and causes of widespread deficiencies
Eating a diet with lots of coarse greens, nuts, kernels, legumes, vegetables, and fruit is the best way to get plenty of magnesium, whereas fish, meat, and milk contain less. However, things like nutrient-depleted farmland, pesticides, and food refinement lower the magnesium content in the crops, and overcooking also tends to lower the magnesium content in our diets.
The authors mention that the dietary magnesium intake in the United States and many European countries is way too low. The following shows what factors tends to impair the body’s magnesium uptake or utilization:
Insufficiently balanced diet
Too much protein
Too much salt
Too much calcium from dairy products/supplements
Too much caffeine from coffee, tea, and energy beverages
Intense sport and overtraining
Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality
Proton pump inhibitors for reducing stomach acid
Cisplatin (chemotherapeutic agent)
Type 2 diabetes
Stress is the non-specific factor that is involved in all diseases. In the 1950s, the Hungarian endocrinologist, Hans Seley, as the first person ever, described the body’s biological reaction to different kinds of stress. Seley divided the body’s reaction to stress into the following three phases:
1: The alarm phase: The body’s fight-or-flight reaction and the sympathetic nervous system are activated. Hormones like cortisol and adrenalin are released in the bloodstream, and glucose is sent to our brain and muscles to prepare us for optimal performance.
2: The resistance phase: When your body begins to repair itself and normalize heart rate, blood pressure, etc. After the initial shock of a stressful event, your body enters this recovery phase but remains on high alert for a while.
3: The exhaustion phase: Is when activation in the first two stages continues over time, causing a breakdown in the balance within your body. This is when certain diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease, may begin.
The authors also talk about the more recent stress model named GUTS (General Unsafety Theory of Stress) that was developed by Jos. F. Brosschot in 2016. According to GUTS that is based on more psychological and cognitive aspects, a stress factor as such does not need to be involved.
Chronic stress can occur if a person generally feels unwell, insecure, suppressed, or lonely.
Magnesium requirements and supplementation in the case of stress
According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), men should get 355 mg of magnesium daily and women should get 300 mg. However, as suggested by the current review article, stress can increase the need for magnesium. Studies have been made where magnesium has been given to humans and animals in connection with different mental and physical stress conditions.
It is documented that magnesium supplementation can help manage blood levels of cortisol, improve sleep quality, treat constipation, and mitigate depression and anxiety that often follows in the wake of stress. In the mentioned studies, daily doses of 200-400 mg have been used.
There are different types of organic and inorganic magnesium sources. Once they have been ingested, it is important that they become free magnesium ions (Mg2+), which the small intestine can absorb. It is important to mention that the inorganic magnesium source, magnesium oxide, is not absorbed well in the body. It is primarily intended as a laxative.
Giséle Pickering et al. Magnesium status and stress. The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited. Nutrients 2020
Ming-Hui Chou et al. The Association of Serum and Dietary magnesium with Depressive Symptoms. Nutrients 2023
Ligia J Dominguez et al. The Role of Magnesium in the Pathogenesis of Metabolic Disorders. Nutrients 2022
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