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You know the drill. You wake up in the morning with a stiff back. Sitting up hurts. Walking makes you feel like you’re ninety. And you gimp across the kitchen to the coffee pot because with all these aches and pains, you’re just not sleeping like you used to.
You might assume you’re just getting older. Stiff, aching muscles are simply part of the aging process. However, muscle pain isn’t something to ignore. It can actually be a sign of underlying physiological imbalances which are dangerous to your health.
Magnesium Deficiency: The Underdiagnosed Epidemic
Muscle tension is a common complaint. But for as many people as it afflicts, it’s too often ignored or dismissed. If anything, your doctor might hand over a prescription for pain pills, physical therapy or maybe a massage if you’re lucky, alongside some vague advice to “stretch more.”
Few medical professionals address a surprisingly common mineral deficit in their aging patients. This mineral, in addition to affecting muscle pain and tension, plays a critical role in cardiovascular health, mood and sleep quality.
What is this magical mineral of which I speak?
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Magnesium deficiency is rampant. While caloric consumption is up, the nutrient content of our food is declining, making us overfed but nutritionally undernourished.
Even worse, magnesium deficiency can be difficult to test accurately. As a result, it’s drastically under-diagnosed.
In fact, according to cardiovascular research scientist and author Dr. James J. DiNicolantonio, magnesium deficiency is so dangerous that it should be considered a public health crisis.
Magnesium and Aging: Why Deficiency Shouldn’t Be Ignored
Magnesium is a naturally occurring mineral found in soil, plants, water, and animals — including us humans.
Your body requires magnesium to complete more than 300 different biochemical reactions — everything from building DNA to protein synthesis, energy creation, skeletal muscle contractions and nervous system regulation.
A deficiency in magnesium can do more than make your muscles stiff and sore. Studies suggest that magnesium deficiency promotes cellular deterioration and causes apoptosis — cell death — in cardiovascular tissue.
In short, not having enough magnesium in your body accelerates the aging process by making it harder for your body to repair itself.
However, increasing magnesium levels in your body is a simple and inexpensive way to combat this biological deterioration.
How Magnesium Alleviates Muscle Stiffness and Pain
While it’s true that your body undergoes biochemical changes with age, certain lifestyle interventions can impact muscle stiffness and pain.
Your muscles rely on a balance of calcium and magnesium to regulate muscle contractions. Two proteins — actin and myosin — in your muscle tissue shorten when a muscle contracts, and then lengthen when it relaxes. Calcium is the fuel that powers the contraction, while magnesium is the key that unlocks it once finished.
Basically, if your body is deficient in magnesium, it’s physiologically impossible for your muscles to relax.
Stretching, foam rolling and massage may give you temporary relief, but they have no effect on your body chemistry. Your muscles will remain tight until they get sufficient quantities of magnesium required for relaxation.
This is probably why people assume that muscle pain and stiffness are part and parcel with aging. Little benefit is seen from typical muscle relaxation practices, and so we all shrug and assume it’s an unavoidable aspect of getting older.
In addition to its muscle relaxing powers, magnesium is also anti-inflammatory. Aging, exposure to stress, free radicals, processed foods and environmental toxins can all increase inflammation in the body. Magnesium has been shown in animal studies to play an extensive role in inflammatory processes.
Even moderate magnesium deficiency over a long period can markedly increase inflammatory stress. Chronic inflammation causes muscle stiffness and joint pain as well as increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other autoimmune disorders.
Magnesium Helps Soothe The Nervous System and Calm Stress
Stress and magnesium deficiency are deeply correlated. Heightened stress actually causes your body to dump your magnesium reserves, excreting everything out through the urine.
Your body burns through magnesium faster than a ‘57 Chevy in stop and go traffic.
The reason stress results in magnesium wasting is due to the mineral’s critical role in brain function. When you’re in a survival situation, it’s important to have neurons firing on all cylinders. Usually life and death situations are fleeting, but in today’s world stress is often unrelenting.
This daily assault on your nervous system causes you to tear through your stores of magnesium rapidly. And since the typical modern diet supplies insufficient magnesium to replenish your body, your deficiency compounds over time.
According to board-certified neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, magnesium also boosts the function of GABA — a calming neurotransmitter — in your brain. Increased GABA helps you to handle stress more effectively with less of a negative impact on your health.
How to Get More Magnesium into Your Body
Since dietary magnesium is generally insufficient to raise your body’s levels to high normal, supplementation can be useful. However, it can be a little confusing.
Not only are there different types of magnesium, but there are also two different ways to get magnesium into your body.
Here’s what you need to know:
First, while magnesium is magnesium is magnesium, in order to stabilize it for consumption, it has to be bound to a carrier molecule, forming salts. That’s why you see all the different names for magnesium — glycinate, malate, citrate, etc. Those second words are the molecules to which the magnesium has been bound, and that molecule can affect absorption.
Second, you’ll notice that you can either take magnesium orally or rub it on your skin.
Oral supplements are generally capsules that you swallow, while topical magnesium comes in the form of a spray, gel, or lotion. You can also add magnesium salts to bathwater and absorb it that way.
Both have their pros and cons. Oral supplements can quickly boost deficient magnesium levels, but digestive issues such as IBS, celiac disease, leaky gut, SIBO or other digestive disorders can decrease absorption. Magnesium is also a natural laxative, so it can be hard on your gut.
This is why I’m a fan of topical or transdermal magnesium. Applying it to your skin bypasses any gut absorption issues. Plus, you can spot treat any stiff, sore muscles by rubbing it directly onto the area that hurts.
Over time, topical application of magnesium will still boost your body’s magnesium levels and you’ll reap all of the same benefits as oral supplementation without the negative digestive impact.
Stiff muscles and aching joints may be a common symptom amongst older people, but that doesn’t mean you should just put up with the pain. Your body may be trying to tell you that you are deficient in magnesium — a surprisingly common condition.
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. It’s also critical for cardiovascular health, optimal brain function, mood, and sleep.
There are two different ways to get more magnesium into your body. Oral supplementation delivers large quantities of the nutrient, but absorption can be impacted by poor digestive health.
Topical or transdermal magnesium boosts magnesium levels while bypassing gut absorption issues and is an excellent way to spot treat sore muscles.
For more help with easing muscle pain and tension, click here to download my free guide No More Tight Muscles >>1