We all know stress can wreak serious havoc on our body. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that stress kills over time. Equally dramatic, people are often asked to make some pretty drastic lifestyle changes to address what’s known as a “high stress” diagnosis.
Lifestyle changes to lower your stress and enhance your life are great. But, as a health coach, I know real behavior change takes time – even when your life depends on it. Unfortunately, by the time your body starts to show physical or physiological signs and symptoms of stress, it’s much too late in the game to take a leisurely approach to lifestyle change. This leaves many busy professionals walking around with a high burden of stress for much too long.
The good news? There’s one piece of the stress-lowering prescription puzzle that is often overlooked, and yet much easier to adopt swiftly. It’s all about magnesium.
Magnesium is an essential mineral and a cofactor in literally hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body. It’s actually been nicknamed the “relaxation mineral.” Remember the relationship between cortisol levels and stress increasing? Well, magnesium helps to regulate cortisol levels by reducing its release. How? Your body needs magnesium to convert cortisol to its inactive form called cortisone. Without enough magnesium, your body can't lower levels of cortisol. If you're under high stress at work, you'll likely have high levels of cortisol and thus need more magnesium for the conversion to cortisone at the end of your day when you are decompressing. Sounds exactly what someone experiencing high stress needs!
Despite the importance of magnesium, most of us aren’t getting enough. Severe magnesium deficiency is not common, but borderline deficiency is rampant in the U.S. In fact, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, 2005-2006), more than half of the U.S. population is considered deficient!
Because of the mineral’s complex role in our bodies, there are hundreds and even thousands of symptoms and conditions linked to magnesium deficiency. That’s likely why you may not have considered it before.
If you experience any of these common symptoms, it could very well be magnesium-related:
- Muscle cramps
- Restless sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic thirst
- Numbness or tingling
- High blood pressure
- Kidney stones
- Acid reflux
Also, when it comes to stress, sleep and relaxation are two priorities for helping the body heal. Yet magnesium deficiency can disrupt sleep and make it difficult for all muscles of the body to relax. This combination makes healing from stress overload pretty darn difficult!
So, what’s a stressed professional to do?
Start by adding in some magnesium-rich foods to your daily diet. For example, you could include spinach in your smoothie or bananas in your oatmeal. Here are a few good magnesium-rich foods to consider:
- Swiss chard
- Black beans
- Brown rice
- Kidney beans
- Blackstrap molasses
But keep in mind that magnesium also competes with other minerals for absorption in the gut. One key competitive mineral is calcium. If you think you might be low in magnesium, it may be helpful to eat magnesium-rich foods at a different occasion than high calcium foods like milk, cheese and yogurt.
Lastly, it may be wise to consider adding a magnesium supplement your daily routine. If you currently consume vitamins or minerals on a daily basis, this will be an easy addition for you. There are many forms of magnesium, but the most beneficial are malate, glycinate and citrate. The recommended daily allowance (or RDA) is 300 mg per day, so you could start with taking 100 mg in supplement form and see how you feel. Many people (especially those with high stress) need more than the RDA, but I would suggest you work with your doctor to find the right dosage for you.
So there you have it folks! To summarize, here are my top three tips for using magnesium as your antidote to stress.
- Eat more magnesium-rich foods!
- Skip dairy when you eat magnesium rich foods to maximize absorption.
- Consider taking a high-quality magnesium supplement.
How will you start feeling more calm and relaxed with magnesium this week?
Center for Biotechnology Information. Web. April 1, 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7836621
CNN. Web. April 1, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/31/health/magnesium-deficiency-health/
Dr. Hyman, MD Blog. Web. April 1, 2015. http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/05/20/magnesium-the-most-powerful-relaxation-mineral-available/National
Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute. Web. April 1, 2015. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/magnesium/
Psychology Today. Web. April 1, 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201106/magnesium-and-the-brain-the-original-chill-pill