Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


An Antidote to Stress

Improve Your Sleep, Mood, And Energy Level

Stressed? Anxious? Depressed? These are big problems, often with complicated solutions that involve a lot of lifestyle change. Which can be daunting, and tends to make a person feel rather...um, stressed.

Well, here's at least one easy thing you can do.

Get some magnesium into your system, girl.

It sounds too easy to be true, but surprisingly, this may be a remedy for a lot of what ails our modern lives.

Magnesium is a very powerful mineral. In conventional medicine it's used as during cardiac arrest emergencies, pre-eclampsia & seizures in pregnancy, and to entirely clean out bowels prior to colonoscopy. So, really, although magnesium sounds like something you'd pick up at a health food store, it's a pretty conventional (and highly effective) medicine.

Still, that said, there is woefully little research and attention paid to the issue of magnesium deficiency in the general population. One problem? It's very tricky to measure. 

Blood tests for magnesium levels are not terribly sensitive (most of our magnesium is stored in our bones, the rest is inside our cells, and a very small amount circulates in our blood). But it's pretty clear that we get less magnesium in our modern diet than we should. Municipal water treatment removes magnesium from water sources and most processed foods are rather deplete in the magnesium department (not to mention other nutrients!). We also know that stress causes our bodies to eliminate extra magnesium, through urine or sweat.

There's a long list of symptoms associated with magnesium deficiency: muscle cramps or twitches, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, constipation, headaches, to name a few. (But bear in mind: those symptoms are common to a large number of issues and conditions, and are far from diagnostic for magnesium deficiency.)

Research has recently begun to examine the use of magnesium as a therapy for depression, anxiety and other chronic illnesses. Mark Hyman, MD, makes a very compelling case in his HuffPo blog post on magnesium, and goes as far as calling it one of his secret weapons against illness.

So let's say you want to increase your magnesium intake. Here's where you start: with your diet.

There are plenty of good (and yummy) food sources of magnesium. In general, rich sources are: leafy greens, nuts, and beans. The National Institutes of Health has a list of food sources.

But what of supplements? Many experts say it's difficult to get sufficient amounts of magnesium through diet alone, so they advocate supplements. Real Age (the website of Dr. Oz & Dr. Roizen) recommends a multivite with at least 100 mg of magnesium. Other MDs (like Dr. Mark Sircus) are a little more aggressive than that, even outspoken about the widespread problem of magnesium deficiency. My take? I think many of us could benefit from supplements, especially when we're super-stressed, because this is when magnesium need increases. And motherhood definitely fits the criteria for a stressful phase of life. Plus, let's be honest, our eating habits are not always the best (as it turns out, discarded sandwich crusts from our kids' lunches are not a rich source of magnesium).

If you're considering the supplement route, you should talk to your doctor first. Also, be aware that you can overdo it. Side effects include diarrhea and abdominal cramping. If you have kidney disease or heart disease, you should be especially careful with magnesium supplementation.

Magnesium comes in a confusing array of formulations. Dr. Mark Hyman describes the optimal supplements to look for, at the end of his blog post here.

Or...how about this: take a bath, with Epsom salts. Believe it or not, magnesium can be absorbed through the skin. And, although it's possible to buy magnesium oil and other transdermal formulations...Epsom salt is, in fact, magnesium sulfate.

So. A hot bath as a stress antidote. What will they think of next?