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How to optimize your magnesium intake for better sleep and mood

By Sayuri Barritt RD, 6/17/22

Did you know that magnesium is a key micronutrient for better sleep and mood? Although, sadly, almost half of America does not consume enough magnesium daily.

Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in our bodies, helping to facilitate more than 300 biochemical processes from muscle function to energy production, to better sleep and mood[1]. Because this nutrient is mainly stored in your bones and muscles, it is challenging to determine your actual magnesium level and potential deficiency[1].

Since magnesium is involved in so many life-sustaining functions, it is not surprising that this mineral can be depleted easily.

So, how does magnesium improve your sleep and mood?

Magnesium supports your sleep and mood by binding to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, which then releases the neurotransmitter, called GABA, that blocks and prevents certain negative chemical signals which trigger anxiety, fear, etc in the central nervous system. This, in turn, pumps the brakes on brain activity and promotes relaxation and sleep[2].

Unfortunately, a Standard American Diet (SAD) lacks foods high in magnesium. In particular, those with diabetes, impaired GI function, and other chronic diseases have an increased risk of magnesium deficiency[3]. In addition, perimenopause and menopause also affect a woman's ability to maintain their magnesium level due to a decreased estrogen level, which leads to bone and muscle loss. (recall that magnesium is stored in your bones and muscles) This is why, magnesium intake from diet and supplements becomes more important with age.

What types of foods are high in magnesium? Think about fiber-rich plant foods including:

  • Whole grains - brown rice, oats, whole wheat cereal, and quinoa

  • Dark leafy greens - spinach, kale, swiss chard, and bok choy

  • Legumes and pulses - lentils, chickpeas, white and black beans, lima beans, and soybeans

  • Nuts and seeds - chia, flax, pumpkin, hemp, almonds, cashew, Brazilian, and peanuts

But, how do you determine that you are consuming enough magnesium daily?

When consuming magnesium-rich foods, realize your body doesn't necessarily absorb 100% of it. Many factors affect the body's ability to absorb magnesium, such as GI conditions (i.e. celiac disease and irritable bowl disease), aging, inflammation, and medications. Therefore, optimizing your magnesium intake as well as supporting the body's ability to absorb nutrients becomes crucial.

Here are some helpful tips in ensuring magnesium intake and absorption:

Tip #1 - Focus on unprocessed, plant-based foods

Although magnesium is mainly found in plant foods, it doesn't mean that you need to become a vegan or vegetarian. This simply means that increasing your intake of plant based foods, especially the ones described above, at each meal helps optimize your magnesium level. Here are some magnesium-rich meal and snack ideas that you can try today:

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries and chia seeds, topped with milk

  • AM snack: Cashew nuts with a small apple

  • Lunch: Spinach salad with tomatoes, avocado, boiled egg, and pumpkin seeds

  • PM snack: Half of a whole grain English muffin with nut butter and banana slices

  • Dinner: Almond-crusted grilled halibut with brown rice and vegetables

Tip #2 - Spread out magnesium-rich food intake throughout the day

Research shows that magnesium absorption by the intestine increases when magnesium-rich food intake is spread out over a day, rather than a single mega dose of the nutrient[4]. This is due to the intestinal cell's tightly-controlled mechanism to absorb the nutrient based on the nutrient concentration in the intestine. In addition, drinking mineral water with food increases the amount of magnesium absorbed from the water and food. This is because the meal composition ends up moving slower through the intestine, allowing magnesium-rich food and beverage to be maximally absorbed by the intestine[4].

Tip #3 - Keep your gut in shape

Magnesium is absorbed by cells in the small intestine. Therefore, the intestinal cells need to be in good shape for optimal nutrient absorption. This can be achieved by feeding your gut bacteria that protect the intestinal cells, and reducing GI inflammation. An unbalanced diet high in sodium, saturated fat, added sugars, and additives and chemicals can have a negative affect on the intestinal integrity, which can lead to nutrient malabsorption. Chronic GI conditions such as diarrhea, constipation, celiac disease and IBD can also cause inflammation of the intestine and decrease nutrient absorption. In addition, common medications such as proton pump inhibitors, diuretics, and oral contraceptives interfere with the body's ability to absorb magnesium[5].

The good news is that magnesium-rich foods are naturally high in dietary fiber and other antioxidants, which can promote your gut health to help optimize nutrient absorption. Add probiotic-rich foods to your diet, such as yogurt, kimchi, and miso, which can further support the gut health.

Tip #4 - Increase your calcium and vitamin D intake

Calcium and vitamin D promote bone health, which is especially important for women with perimenopause and menopause due to an increased risk of bone mass loss, known as osteoporosis. As aforementioned, magnesium is mainly stored in your bones, and therefore, it is important to maintain and increase your bone mass and strength by consuming more calcium and vitamin D rich foods along with daily exercising. Vitamin D helps the body absorb dietary calcium more efficiently. Food sources with these nutrients include dairy, soy beans and tofu, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, fortified cereals, and fish.

Tip #5 - Choose magnesium supplements wisely

There is a variety of magnesium supplements available with different formulations for various health benefits. They are especially recommended for those who practice a standard American diet, or who have chronic conditions. When selecting magnesium supplements, it is important for you to understand the health advantages of each magnesium supplement, so it works for your specific symptoms as described below.

Here are the 5 most common magnesium supplements (for specific symptoms)[6]:

  • Magnesium Glycinate: The most common type and has the highest bioavailability. Recommended for those with sleep issues such as insomnia. More gentle to the intestine and without laxative effect.

  • Magnesium Citrate: effective in treating GI symptoms such as constipation, but long-term use is not recommended due to its laxative effect and potential burden on the intestine.

  • Magnesium Oxide: helps reduce upper GI symptoms such as indigestion and heartburn. It's recommended to consume dietary magnesium in addition to this supplement due to poor bioavailability.

  • Magnesium Chloride: helps neutralize stomach acid and maintains bone and muscle health. Recommended for those with a high risk of osteoporosis.

  • Magnesium Malate: essential in energy production facilitated by mitochondria, our body's energy powerhouse. Ideal for those with chronic fatigue or a need for improved sports performance.

Magnesium plays an important role in more than 300 vital body functions including promotion of relaxation and good sleep. Therefore, it is essential for you to consume sufficient magnesium through a diet and supplements, especially if you have chronic health conditions and impaired GI function.

If you are interested in improving your sleep quality and mood through your diet and lifestyle, we can develop a customized nutrition plan through a nutrition assessment and/or micronutrient testing. Feel free to contact us with any questions about our nutrition services!



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