Cramps, And How Magnesium May Help You!
A muscle cramp is a sudden, involuntary contraction of a single muscle or a muscle group. It’s usually harmless and goes away in seconds. But it can be a lot more severe, causing pain so strong it can persist for days, interfering with daily activities.
The reasons for cramps are numerous, for example, overusing a muscle, dehydration or nutrition issues.
BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO BUY MAGNESIUM
Before you make the decision to spend money on magnesium, I’d like you to make sure you really need it. If your cramps are caused by dehydration, excessive use of a certain muscle or insufficient stretching, supplementing won’t help much, and you will only waste you hardly earned money.
- Do you stretch and cool down?
- Insufficient stretching and cooling down at the end of a workout can lead to blood pooling and muscle stiffness, even cramps.
- Do you focus on one muscle group a little too much?
- Consecutively working out one muscle group over and over again, thinking that “more work yields more results”, might actually have a completely opposite effect. Putting too much pressure on a muscle leads to the muscle not being able to repair itself sufficiently over time. Check out my post about overtraining.
- How’s your nutrition?
- Do you eat enough food containing Magnesium?
- Some examples are:
- Nuts & Seeds
- Whole grains (try switching to whole grain bread)
- Green leafy vegetables – spinach, kale
- Potato skin
WHY DO WE NEED MAGNESIUM, ANYWAY?
Magnesium is important for more than 300 enzyme reactions in human body.It’s involved in muscle, brain and nerve functions. Also blood pressure and immune system.
Most of the body’s magnesium stores are in bones, the rest is in muscles and bodily fluids in the form of electrolytes (minerals carrying an electrical charge aiding hydration), energy production and muscle contraction, just to name a few.
The most important benefit of magnesium is its role in bone strength.
However, we’ve always been told to stock up on calcium in our diets, not magnesium. Especially when we were young. “Eat your yoghurt and drink milk, they will make your bones strong.” Sounds familiar?
This is obviously true, but eating a lot of calcium-rich food won’t do the trick on its own. We need sufficient amounts of magnesium in order to be able to store the calcium in the first place.
This doesn’t only apply to children, bones still need both calcium and magnesium to stay healthy after they’ve finished growing, so that we are protected from fractures and osteoporosis. Especially women should make sure their calcium and magnesium intake is adequate, due to women’s susceptibility to osteoporosis.
Another important role of magnesium is that it aids Vitamin D absorption. The main way to get Vitamin D is sun exposure, but it’s also in oily fish, egg yolks, liver and red meat. These sources are often avoided by people leading a healthy lifestyle or a plant based diet, so the only reliable way to get Vitamin D is through sun exposure or supplementation.
If we do supplement with Vitamin D, or if we are exposed to sun a lot, our demands for magnesium rise too.
Keep this connection between vitamins and minerals in mind while supplementing. Many others work similarly, for example Vitamin C aids the absorption of Iron. But that’s’ for another time.
Magnesium is linked to many other benefits, for example:
- May reduce anxiety.
- Helps with PMS.
- Could help with migraines or chronic headaches due to its role in nervous system.
- Cardiovascular system improvements (blood pressure, heart health).
DID MAGNESIUM HELP ME?
I can only speak from my own experience and, as a regular gym-goer and a fitness enthusiast, I found magnesium supplementation helpful.
I’ve gone through a few studies, but couldn’t find one that would prove a direct link between magnesium and cramps.
I, personally, have suffered from foot cramps followed by persistent pain during the rest of the day. Especially on a leg day – after squatting or hip-thrusting a heavy weight.
After researching this particular issue for my Nutrition Diploma which had a decent chapter about strength athletes in particula, I have decided to give magnesium a try. Especially when it’s such a cheap supplement to buy.
I bought little sachets from Amazon and kept them in my gym bag, just in case cramps pin me down again. I used two sachets every time I got a cramp and have to say that they went away much quicker, and didn’t cause me any persistent pain for the rest of the day.
After a few weeks, I’ve noticed the foot cramps were getting less severe, so I bought a supplement to take daily, as a precaution. I have been on and off magnesium for the past few years, depending on my needs, and I no longer suffer from cramps.
I have also had trouble sleeping recently, which could be pinned on anything. It could be the long and never ending lockdown combined with financial worries, but I have started to take magnesium on a regular basis again. Which brings me to my next paragraph.
MAGNESIUM AND ITS ABILITY TO IMPROVE SLEEP
My sleep has recently become very disturbed without any obvious explanation. Yes, we are under another national lockdown here in the UK (at the time of writing this article), but I have been furloughed since April last year, so I don’t suppose much changed in the past year.
I was aware of magnesium being linked to better sleep, among other vitamins and minerals, so I decided to give it a little search. I do have the time after all!
I managed to locate a study at US National Library of Medicine which conducted a thorough research on 1487 participants (couldn’t have round it up to 1500? I know) over the course of 5 years – between 2002 and 2007.
There was an interesting result.
“There was a decrease in sleep duration (mean = 0.36 h/day) on average over five years in the study population with an increased sleep duration among short sleepers and a decreased sleep duration among long sleepers.”
There are also interesting sections buried deep in the long text, which I’d like to mention in a simpler form:
- Magnesium may reduce night-time wakefulness and maintain normal sleep structure – possible due to helping to ease night cramps, which obviously wakes the individual up.
- Magnesium supplementation increased melatonin levels and reduced the levels of stress hormone cortisol.
- In animal studies, removing magnesium from the diet lead to anxiety and depression in subjects. Anxiety and depression affect sleep massively, as we are all aware.
- There’s a distinct association between magnesium and falling asleep in women ONLY. It’s suggested that this gender-related difference is caused by women being more prone to depression and magnesium supplement has shown effective reduction in depressive symptoms.
Since magnesium is involved in a lot of brain chemical reactions, it’s definitely worth considering if you suffer from cramps at night. It’s a very common occurrence, they are harmless and short annoyance, but can be disturbing your sleep significantly.
They can last anything from a few seconds to 10+ minutes, in which case they can cause persistent pain in the muscle for a few days after the cramp. I used to be no stranger to them, they used to get my calf quite often and lasted good few minutes, resulting in an awful lingering muscle pain the next day.
This was another reason for me to give magnesium a try.
These nocturnal leg cramps apparently bother up to 60% of adults, according to Patient.info.
CAN I “OVERDOSE” ON MAGNESIUM?
According to Medical News Today, overdose is extremely unlikely in healthy people.
However, it’s advised to consult your doctor about magnesium supplementation if you suffer from any of these conditions:
- Kidney disease or issues – kidneys clear excessive magnesium from the body. If their function is impaired, the body absorbs too much magnesium.
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), Addison’s Disease (insufficient amount of cortisol in the body due to improper function of adrenal glands)
- Gastrointestinal disorders – digestive issues (too much magnesium can cause upset stomach and make these conditions worse)
Some medications contain magnesium, for example, laxatives. But since laxatives help the body with emptying, the excess magnesium is usually expelled this way, anyway.
Other medications you might want to keep an eye on are migraine pills and heartburn/indigestion tablets.
If you take these on a regular basis, it might be a good idea to consult your GP about magnesium supplement suitability.
Magnesium overdose is extremely rare and would most likely include symptoms like upset stomach and diarrhea.
Magnesium deficiency, on the other hand, is a lot more common and research suggests that up to 30% of the population is low in this mineral.
So, here you go, if you suffer from sleep disturbances, muscle cramps, or, worst of all, nocturnal muscle cramps, I suggest giving magnesium supplement a go.
As I said, it’s one of the cheaper mineral supplements out there and it’s tied to many functions inside the body, ranging from proper function of the nervous system all the way to aiding absorption of other essential vitamins and minerals.
The recommended dosage is as follows (NHS):
- Male – 300 mg/d
- Female – 270 mg/d
Check the labels before buying and make sure the supplement you chose has enough magnesium. I have included a few links throughout the content of this post, but I’ll attach them down here with some extra information for your convenience.
- Amazon – magnesium sachets – 30 sachets with 300 mg magnesium + potassium. Available on Prime
- My Vitamins – I use this brand to get my vitamins – very affordable – 300 mg tablets – frequent sales
Let me know your experience with magnesium as a supplement by leaving a comment down below.