The past 2 months, I feel like I have had more and more people indicate on their intake forms that they are taking magnesium.  It’s not taking magnesium for general health.  It’s often the consumption of magnesium for symptoms like headaches, constipation, hypertension, poor energy, sleep, and restless leg.  Magnesium is being used and consumed like a medicine.

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I know you’ve seen the Hippocrates quote of “Let food by thy medicine and medicine by they food” but I think with a little understanding of magnesium’s role in the body in addition to my favorite hormone, insulin, you will start magnifying magnesium.


Searching the the criteria “magnesium deficiency”[MeSH Terms] OR “magnesium deficiency”[All Fields] in Pubmed elicits over 4,000 references.  Although it’s the least abundant blood electrolyte, it plays critical roles in regulating other processes in the body.  It is extremely important for the metabolism of Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Copper, Iron, Sodium, Lead, Cadmium, Hydrogen chloride, acetylcholine, and nitric oxide (NO).  Magnesium is essential in the production of ATP.  It’s necessary for your methylation processes.

Why are so many deficient?  Other than our poor soil quality, magnesium levels are decreased by excess alcohol, salt, phosphoric acid (sodas) and coffee intake, by profuse sweating, by intense, prolonged stress, by excessive menstruation and vaginal flux, by diuretics and other drugs and by certain parasites (pinworms).

Therefore the range of ailments associated with magnesium deficiency is staggering: hypertension (cardiovascular disease, kidney and liver damage, etc.), peroxynitrite damage (migraine, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.), recurrent bacterial infection due to low levels of nitric oxide in the cavities (sinuses, vagina, middle ear, lungs, throat, etc.), fungal infections due to a depressed immune system, thiamine deactivation (low gastric acid, behavioral disorders, etc.), premenstrual syndrome, calcium deficiency (osteoporosis, hypertension, mood swings, etc.), tooth cavities, hearing loss, diabetes type II, cramps, muscle weakness, impotence (lack of NO), aggression (lack of NO), fibromas, potassium deficiency (arrhythmia, hypertension, some forms of cancer), iron accumulation, etc.

What do many people do to treat these ailments that don’t want to to use pharmaceuticals?  They take more magnesium.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But if you want to magnify magnesium, there’s one physiological process that may have the most impact on how your body utilizes this key nutrient.

[bctt tweet=”I’m exhausted, but I just can’t seem to relax. Maybe it’s more of an insulin problem than adrenals.”]

Insulin Sensitivity:

Many are confused on the concept of insulin sensitivity.  Let me try and put it in context.

When you accuse someone of being insensitive, it’s usually a reaction because that other person was a jerk or showed little to no reaction to something that is upsetting.  I have been accused many times of being insensitive.  In my defense, I don’t think I’m insensitive, I think I’m stoic.  I process circumstances to make sure emotion doesn’t take over.  This lack of emotion is misconstrued.

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The same scenario is similar to your cells.  The more sensitive they are to insulin, the more they listen to what insulin is trying to tell them and the cells react.  When your cells don’t have a high sensitivity to insulin, this means they are more apt to ignore insulin’s request.  In other words, having a high insulin sensitivity is a good thing.  Being insensitive to insulin is synonymous with insulin resistance.

How does insulin and magnesium relate?  We all know insulin has a role of telling our cells to store sugar.  If those cells aren’t listening (low insulin sensitivity), then this sets the stage for insulin resistant problems like obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, auto-immunity, and many cancers.

But insulin doesn’t just store sugar.  Insulin has the role in storing virtually all our nutrients that we consume.  For example, glucose (sugar) and Vitamin C are almost identical in chemical structure.  If the cells don’t want to store sugar, then they are very likely to reject Vitamin C as well.  Or they just compete with each other for space in the cell.  Whatever is more abundant will most likely win.  This is one of the reasons that people get sick from October to April.  That time of year is filled with sugar laden festivities.  I’ve yet to see a citrus and red pepper office party or hear about people going for Vitamin C injections instead of coffee.

From Good Will Hunting

Skylar: Maybe we could go out for coffee sometime?
Will: Great, or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.
Skylar: What?
Will: When you think about it, it’s just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.

Anyway.  If your cells aren’t sensitive to insulin, they aren’t going to be sensitive to magnesium.  Despite an increase in magnesium intake, unless insulin sensitivity is addressed, it’s a hard battle to win.

Think of the potential.  Magnesium has a role in relaxing muscles.  Your blood vessels are a type of muscle. If they can’t relax, they stay constricted and as a result, the diameter of your blood vessels narrow, which increases the pressure of the blood circulating.  If you want more pressure to come out of your garden hose, you pinch the end of it.

Another major role for magnesium is to aid in the production of energy inside your cell (ATP).  Without your cells welcoming magnesium due to rejecting insulin’s signaling, you have the potential for a lack of relaxation in addition to a lack of energy production.  I see this often.  People will say, “I’m exhausted, but I just can’t seem to relax.”  Where most will tackle the adrenals first, I want to assess how sensitive to insulin the person is.

Insulin Equation:

This may sound insensitive but if you have access weight in your butt, gut, and thighs, you are almost guaranteed to have low insulin sensitivity.  The problem is that most doctor’s will assess insulin with a glucose reading alone.  This can be misleading as many factors can affect your fasting glucose.  For one, you may hate needles, which causes a tiny bit of anxiety and your glucose goes up at the reading.

Many doctor’s will also use A1C.  Don’t get me wrong, I love A1C.  It’s a 3-4 month average of your blood sugars. But this sometimes can be very misleading.  You may have ok blood glucose levels and a decent A1C reading but you’re just seeing the garden and ignoring the water hose.  Your pancreas may be pumping out insulin like crazy to make sure your glucose is stored efficiently.

This is why I like to add a fasting insulin reading to the mix. This assesses your water meter to see how much your pancreas is working to try and maintain some sort of regulation in the body.  The higher the reading, the more expensive your power bill will be.  The lower the reading, the more you conserve energy, while still getting the same results.

As your fasting insulin rises, it’s only a matter of time before something breaks or wears out.  It may be early signs like having a normal glucose and A1C value but being exhausted and not being able to relax or you can’t lose weight or chronic leg cramping or constipation.

Fasting Insulin:

The problem with normal.

Lab A might report you have a problem at 8 mIU/L, while Lab B reports “you’re all good” for anything lower than 25 mIU/L. Waiting until your fasting insulin is 25 before taking action is like waiting until you’re 84 years old to start saving for retirement. You need to start praying for miracles.

Values I flag.

For fasting insulin, I want to see a range of 2-5 mIU/L, with 3 ideal. These are the same values recommended by Dr. David Perlmutter, the author of Grain Brain.

Elevated numbers may indicate.

A number >5 mIU/L may indicate you are producing too much insulin, a contributor to obesity and eventually to producing insufficient insulin because your pancreas can’t keep up.

Low to moderate numbers may indicate.

A number below 2 mIU/L is a concern because it indicates either you’ve burned out your pancreas or you may have an auto‑immune condition that doesn’t allow your pancreas to produce enough insulin.

Just remember, being insensitive to insulin won’t just affect your magnifying magnesium ability.  Being insensitive will affect virtually every nutrient you try and consume.  If you need help, you know how to find me.


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