Magnesium for Menstrual Health
Magnesium is an extremely important nutrient in the body that is involved in more than 300 known interactions. Among the many health problems magnesium plays a role in curing are menstrual cramps and some symptoms of PMS.
Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is extremely common in the United States. Studies by the National Institutes of Health have indicated that at least 68% of adults may be magnesium deficient, while other experts believe the level may be as high as 80%. Although the symptoms of magnesium deficiency remain rare, the concern is that few Americans consume enough dietary magnesium to maintain optimal levels of magnesium in bones and teeth, which are used as magnesium reservoirs in case of insufficient dietary intake.
How Magnesium Helps Women
Studies have shown significant reductions in a number of common menstrual complaints in women who increased dietary magnesium consumption or were given magnesium supplements. Low levels of magnesium are also common in women who experience menstrual problems.
One of magnesium's many roles is as a muscle relaxant. This is especially important for women who suffer from menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) because cramps are caused by excessively strong contractions of the uterus. Magnesium helps the powerful uterine muscles relax, reducing cramping.
Magnesium's muscle-relaxing powers also help relieve the PMS or menstrual headaches many women experience.
Menstrual fatigue is another common complaint of women that magnesium can help relieve, though the exact mechanism is uncertain.
Magnesium also reduces other symptoms of PMS, including constipation, water retention and bloating, breast tenderness, and many mood problems, including depression, irritability, and anxiety.
Other Benefits of Magnesium
Magnesium is also is or is suspected to be beneficial to people who have or at high risk for: diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatique syndrome, ADHD, preeclampsia, kidney stones, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety disorders, restless leg syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines, muscle cramps, constipation, high blood pressure, and more.
Dietary Sources of Magnesium
The best sources of magnesium include:
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds, including almonds, peanuts, cashews,and pumpkin seeds
- leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and swiss chard
- beans and legumes, such as black beans
- sea vegetables, such as kelp
- herbs, such as basil
- certain types of fish, especially halibut
- "hard" water
Soy products contain high levels of magnesium. However, phytic acids in some actually block magnesium absorption, so consume soy in limited or moderate quantities, and use primarily traditional, fermented varieties such as miso, which have lower lovels of phytic acids.
Avoiding Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is absorbed through the intestines. Only about one third to one half of dietary magnesium is typically absorbed. It is absorbed best in slightly acidic conditions, with healthy gut flora. Fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir with live cultures and sourdough bread can help with this.
Magnesium levels are highest in foods grown in soils rich in organic matter. There must be magnesium in the soil for there to be magnesium in the food. Unfortunately, many conventional crops are grown on depleted soil, and chemical fertilizers do not typically include magnesium. Organic or conventional farms that use compost as fertilizer are a better bet for magnesium rich foods, or you can grow your own!
A balanced and varied diet of healthful foods, low in processed foods, is the best way to ensure sufficient dietary magnesium intake. Processing may strip magnesium content entirely, as happens with white flours, or introduce other nutrients that interfere with normal magnesium absorption and functioning. For example, magnesium is an important factor in regulating insulin levels, so consuming foods high in sugar reduces the ability of the body to use magnesium in other ways.
Another interesting interaction is calcium. Magnesium is required for the body to utilize calcium, but excessive levels of calcium in the body can lead to magnesium deficiency and poor utilization of calcium. The ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium consumption is about 2:1. The ratio in an average glass of milk is about 8:1, so high dairy consumption can worsen magnesium deficiency and, contrary to dairy industry propaganda, actually decrease calcium levels in the body. Moderate to low dairy consumption, in combination with plenty of magnesium-rich plant foods, is a better way to ensure adequate levels of both magnesium and calcium in the body.
Magnesium levels may also be low in people who regularly drink coffee or alcohol. A number of common medications interefere with its absorption, as can certain gastrointensinal diseases such as Crohn's Disease or chronic diarrhea.
What About Supplements?
In general, increasing dietary magnesium is preferable, because it is much harder to overdose. The signs of excess magnesium include diarrhea, confusion, and nausea.
However, supplements are often recommended for the following groups:
- people with chronic malabsorptive problems such as Crohn's disease, gluten sensitive enteropathy, and regional enteritis
- people taking certain medications, including diuretics and antibiotics
Consult your doctor before starting any supplements.
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