The magnesium in your body (or lack thereof), affects just about how every one of your cells functions — including those that play a role in your fertility.

As the fourth most common mineral in the human body, it is no surprise that magnesium is a critical cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions. It acts as a key regulator in larger-scale actions like muscle contraction down to the intracellular creation of our body’s vital energy source: adenosine triphosphate or ATP.

Magnesium and Your Body

Have I convinced you how essential magnesium is yet? Here are just a few systems where magnesium is the star of the show:

DNA, RNA and protein synthesis (and repair!): helping to create our genetic blueprints and the building blocks for nearly all metabolic functions in the body.

Nerve & muscle impulse regulation: responsible for restoring the physiological concentrations of potassium, sodium, and calcium in and outside of our cells. This regulates our heart rhythm, blood pressure, and nerve innervation to all of our organs and tissues, and allows for controlled muscle contraction and relaxation.

ATP creation: arguably the most important reaction that magnesium is a cofactor in, is the production of cellular energy! The majority of these enzymatic reactions happen in the mitochondria (AKA the powerhouse of the cell) and transform the food we eat into ATP – our main unit of cellular energy.

Bone metabolism & skeletal system: involved in the control of osteoblasts and osteoclasts (bone-builders & bone-busters), parathyroid hormone regulation, and conversion of vitamin D into its metabolically active form – magnesium is a bone balancing guru. Deficient magnesium levels are associated with a lower bone-mineral density and a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Blood glucose: magnesium is integral to both the release of insulin (the hormone responsible for keeping our blood sugars stable) and how effective our cells are at using it. In people diagnosed with insulin resistance, PCOS, or type 2 diabetes, serum magnesium levels tend to be lower, as your body is working harder to manage blood glucose and using it at a more rapid rate.

Antioxidant status & inflammation: magnesium deficiency has been shown to be associated with the prevalence of numerous inflammatory-based chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. Magnesium can be considered an anti-inflammatory superhero, as it is shown to reduce serum inflammatory markers (CRP & IL-6), and is key to the creation of glutathione, an indispensable antioxidant that quenches oxidative damage.

How Magnesium Can Impact Fertility EXACTLY does magnesium fit into fertility?
With magnesium having a hand in countless biological systems, it supports your fertility in multiple ways.

Magnesium & Hormonal regulation

(A) PMS, estrogen + progesterone – a lack of serum magnesium in the luteal phase of women’s cycles (approximately 14 days post-ovulation when progesterone peaks) has been associated with an increased risk of pre-menstrual syndrome in women. Magnesium is hypothesized to work on reducing PMS symptoms through several pathways, one of these being through the normalization of estrogen and progesterone levels, and supporting their action on the central nervous system.

(B) Thyroid – as magnesium is involved in the production of thyroid hormone (our “metabolism master”), it is critical to ensure adequate magnesium intake. To optimize our pre-conception health, we are looking for blood levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to be <2.5 mU/L to reduce the risk of miscarriage and support normal fetal development.

(C) Insulin – in conditions like type 2 diabetes and PCOS, your body has an underlying state of insulin resistance which often co-exists with a lower magnesium level in the blood. Insulin resistance means that your body is creating more insulin than typical to try and combat high blood sugars, which has downstream impacts on ovarian health. Excess insulin stimulates our ovaries to increase testosterone production, stalls healthy follicular growth, and results in an overall increased amount of androgens in the bloodstream. This insulin-testosterone link is the main culprit for delayed ovulation, irregular cycles, and poorer egg quality.

(D) Testosterone – magnesium is linked to both decreasing an over-production of testosterone in women with insulin resistance AND increasing testosterone and sperm motility in men, largely due to its anti-inflammatory and ATP-creating capabilities.

Magnesium & Egg quality support

(A) Blood sugar – as explained above, magnesium is critical to insulin activity and secretion and, when in a state of deficiency, can be a factor in uncontrolled hyperglycemia (higher-than-normal blood sugars). Chronic elevations in blood sugar and insulin increase inflammation and oxidative stress throughout your entire body, and have been shown to decrease both egg and sperm quality.

(B) Antioxidant – through potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-generating effects, magnesium aids your fertility health by helping to cancel out the effects of free radicals and oxidative stressors we accumulate through life (diet, pollution, environmental toxins, etc.).

(C) ATP production – at a very basic level, the more energy available to our cells, the better they perform. As magnesium is a co-factor in multiple steps in converting the food we consume to ATP, having adequate levels of magnesium directly impacts how much energy is accessible to create good-quality eggs and sperm.

(3) Stress – Undergoing fertility treatments is undeniably stressful, and supporting your stress response often gets sidelined when focusing on all the other lifestyle changes, medications, and supplementation. In both emotional and physical stressors, our body mobilizes and excretes intracellular magnesium at an increased rate, to combat the stressful event. When this stressor becomes long-term, it eventually depletes our reservoir of magnesium to call on, leading to hyper-activation of our central nervous system and common symptoms like irritability, fatigue, anxiety, sleep issues, and headaches.

How Magnesium Helps in a Nutshell

  • Magnesium inhibits the firing of excitatory neurotransmitters & promotes the activity of GABA in the brain, signalling our body to chill out – it indirectly reduces the release of cortisol through this inhibitory action
  • Cofactor in 5-HTP pathway and serotonin signals, supporting positive mood balance
  • Scavenges free radicals, oxidative stressors, and inflammation in the brain (and every other tissue!)

How do I know if I’m getting enough magnesium?

Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to test whether your magnesium intake and levels are optimal – or even adequate. The majority of magnesium is located in our skeletal system (~60%) and intra-cellularly (~40% – located in muscle and soft tissue), with less than 1% being found in your serum and red blood cells. When the magnesium concentration in the blood is low, our body compensates by pulling magnesium from inside our cells, tissues, and bones to maintain serum levels within the normal range.

For this reason, simply testing serum magnesium isn’t a reliable marker of total body magnesium content and can mask a moderate or even severe deficiency of magnesium in tissue or bone. A more accurate magnesium audit would be to test for red blood cell (RBC) magnesium levels to assess for sufficient total body magnesium.

Do I need more magnesium?

The approximate recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 300-400mg/day, but depending on factors like age, diet, lifestyle, medications use or concurrent health conditions, your body may be asking for more.

Groups who may require more magnesium:

  • Diet high in calcium, sodium, or protein
  • Inadequate intake of magnesium-rich diet (low intake of nuts/seeds, whole grains, legumes, leafy greens)
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine
  • Medications increasing loss and decreasing absorption: PPI’s, diuretics, certain antibiotics
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic emotional or physical stress
  • Health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, malabsorption disorders, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and insulin resistance

Hypomagnesemia: Deficiencies often go undetected, as symptoms are non-specific and can be brushed off as just “stress”. Early signs of magnesium deficiency are fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, sleep changes, and a general feeling of anxiety. As magnesium deficiency progresses, you can start to experience numbness, tingling, muscle cramping, spasms, and abnormal heart rhythms as magnesium stores are so far depleted that they can’t maintain normal calcium or potassium levels in the body.

Hypermagnesemia: Even though a vital mineral in our health, it is possible to overdo magnesium (as with any supplement or medication!) Toxic levels are more common in individuals with kidney disease as their ability to excrete magnesium through urine is compromised. Symptoms of hypermagnesemia can be hypotension, irregular heartbeat, nausea, facial flushing, and lethargy and can escalate to irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, and cardiac arrest.

How can I get more magnesium through food?

Magnesium naturally occurs in a variety of different foods but is most widely abundant in plant sources – an added bonus when striving for a fertility-friendly diet. A quick guide below can help you reach the RDA for adults, but remember, you may require more or less, depending on your individual needs:

  • Pumpkin seeds – 2 tbsp = 156mg
  • Chia seeds – 2 tbsp = 111mg
  • Almonds – 2 tbsp = 80mg
  • Spinach, boiled – 1 cup = 78mg
  • Cashews – 2 tbsp = 74mg
  • Peanuts – 1/4 cup = 63mg
  • Soymilk – 1 cup = 61mg
  • Black beans, cooked – 1/2 cup = 60mg
  • Edamame, cooked – 1/2 cup = 50mg
  • Peanut butter – 2 tbsp = 49mg
  • Potato, baked (with skin) – 1 medium = 48mg
  • Brown rice, cooked – 1/2 cup =42mg
  • Kidney beans, canned = 35mg
  • Banana – 1 medium = 32mg
  • Salmon – 3oz = 26mg
  • Bread, whole wheat – 1 slice = 23mg
  • Avocado, cubed – 1/2 cup = 22mg
  • Chicken breast, roasted – 3oz = 22mg

Should I be taking a magnesium supplement?

If you’ve ever wandered through the magnesium section of the health food or grocery store, you know just how many forms, brands, doses, and combination products of magnesium there are on the market now. How are you supposed to know which one is right for you?! One thing to know is that magnesium will never come alone – it will always be in compound form, bound to another salt or acid. This is because, on its own, magnesium is a highly reactive element and it requires a “friend” to keep it stable and safe for consumption.

Below I’ve outlined the how-to’s when choosing a magnesium supplement, but just as when starting any new vitamin or mineral regimen, speak with your naturopathic doctor about what is the most effective and safest for you.

There are two main factors to consider when picking out a magnesium supplement:

  • The AMOUNT of elemental magnesium per serving (can be in a capsule, liquid, powder, chewable) – regardless of what magnesium is bound to in a particular supplement type, the amount of elemental magnesium is the portion that has the potential to be taken up by your body
  • The BIOAVAILABILITY of that form of magnesium – this is where the different forms (AKA what the magnesium is bound to like citrate or oxide) need to be considered, as your body’s ability to absorb and actually use the magnesium you’re taking greatly differs from supplement to supplement

*The bioavailability of a magnesium supplement is generally measured by how soluble that form is in liquid – forms that are more easily dissolved are also more easily absorbed in your gut, with an increased ability to be used by your cells!

This criteria divides magnesium into two main categories:

  • Organic magnesium salts (better absorbed + more soluble): citrate, malate, ascorbate
    • citrate: better for constipation – helps to soften stools through osmotic laxative effect
    • malate: better for conditions like muscular pain, fatigue or fibromyalgia
  • Inorganic magnesium salts (poorer absorption + less soluble): oxide, chloride, sulfate, phosphate, carbonate, hydroxide
    • oxide: poorly absorbed vs. citrate – stronger use as a laxative
    • sulfate: used as a soak for muscle soreness (hello Epsom salts!)
    • hydroxide: used in antacid formulas and helps to relieve heartburn

*A 3rd subcategory I’m including for my personal magnesium VIP – magnesium bisglycinate. Although very easily dissolved and absorbed by the body, magnesium is actually bound to the amino acid glycine, (vs. being a salt!). It is one of my very favourites for both stress and sleep support, as the added glycine has calming effects on the brain.

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