Frequent muscle cramps making your life miserable? Painful muscle contractions interfering in your sleep or exercise regimen? While there could be many reasons why you are suffering from night-time leg cramps, sometimes it could be as simple as low levels of magnesium. In that case, getting rid of muscle cramps and Charlie horses can be easily prevented by taking magnesium supplements.
Muscle cramps are sudden and sharp contractions that may last a few seconds or several minutes. These spasms can hit you at night-time or even during the day when you are exercising, causing your muscle to stiffen or tighten. While generally harmless, cramps can be very upsetting, leaving you sleepless, restless and in lot of pain. Poor sleep accompanied by pain create a vicious cycle that leads to more fatigue, pain and stress.
To understand how you can keep muscle cramps or Charlie horses at bay, it is important to understand why you are experiencing these sustained contractions.
Muscle cramps happen for several reasons. Older adults, athletes and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to muscle cramps. For others, some common causes include dehydration, long periods of exercise, poor blood circulation, fatigue or a stressful day at work. Painful cramps are also triggered by certain prescription drugs and medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, peripheral artery disease, arthritis and thyroid disorders.
Experts believe magnesium deficiency can also cause muscle cramps. In fact, muscle fatigue, sudden tightness in your muscles, twitches and cramps are key signs that your body may be low in this important mineral that is responsible for hundreds of bio-chemical reactions in the body.
While you know how minerals like calcium and iron are absolutely important for your health, there is a good chance that magnesium may not have made it to this list. Most of us are unaware of how this trace mineral governs so many aspects of our health and is required for a well-functioning body and mind. This lack of knowledge is even more alarming as magnesium deficiency not only causes muscle cramps but also contributes to many other serious health problems such as atherosclerosis, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, excessive PMS, and increased risk of fracture in the elderly.
Studies show that improving magnesium levels in the body may help reduce the risk of metabolic disorders, halts the progression of pre-diabetes into diabetes, reduces asthma symptoms and supports heart health in many ways.
Magnesium supplements in muscle cramps?
Magnesium is primarily stored in your bones, teeth and muscles. With poor levels of magnesium, your body will be forced to pull it from these sites, causing problems like twitching, muscle cramps and restless legs.
Magnesium supplements may help in reducing the occurrence and severity of muscle cramps. This may be because magnesium prevents calcium from accumulating within the muscle cells and reduces the risk of sustained contractions that excess calcium can trigger. Magnesium also appears to help in pain and sleep, which muscle cramps are typically associated with. Let’s look at all the possible ways magnesium might help in preventing muscle cramps.
Magnesium regulates calcium levels
Magnesium plays some very important roles in the body. And one of them is to regulate the levels of other minerals such as calcium and potassium. Calcium is mostly known for its role in the development of healthy bones. However, its role in your health and well-being goes far beyond just this aspect. You also need calcium for healthy muscle contraction, blood clotting, transmission of nerve impulses and hormone secretion. For example, calcium regulates your heart rate and rhythm as it is involved in making your heart muscle contract. That is, calcium goes into the muscle cells and enables the contractions.
Magnesium allows calcium and potassium to go in the cells when required (for example, to cause contraction, release hormones and signal nerve cells). It also escorts out calcium, when the latter is done performing its functions. This helps the cells relax. So, you need the right ratio of magnesium and calcium to help your cells contract and relax at the correct rate and rhythm.
What happens when your body is deficient in magnesium? Calcium enters the cells unrestricted, causing muscles to undergo sustained contractions. This leads to leg cramps, tightening of muscles, tension headaches and migraine, asthma and painful cramps in the abdomen during periods. What does this chaos mean for your heart? Unregulated entry of calcium within the cells also causes irregular contraction of the heart muscle. This can cause heart palpitations and angina pain.
Magnesium helps you relax
Magnesium not only regulates calcium levels but also modulates glutamate receptors. Glutamate is one of the neurotransmitters in your body that transmits signals between neurons. It binds and activates N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors that are present in the nerve cells. The stimulation of NMDA receptors plays an important role in cognitive functions such as learning and memory. Both calcium and glutamate are hormones that cause excitement in the nervous system.
Abnormal activation of NMDA receptors may lead to dysfunctional and overexcited nerves, associated with stiffening and tightening in muscles, recurrent twitches, anxiety and mood disorders. So, you need to keep NDMA activation within a healthy range to prevent an hyperexcitable nervous system. This is where magnesium helps as it binds to NMDA receptors and blocks their activation.
In addition to this, magnesium plays an important role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA and melatonin. Serotonin is a hormone responsible for regulating mood, sleep and how your body responds to stress. GABA is a neurotransmitter that is inhibitory in nature and calms down the activity of the nervous system. Research suggests that low serotonin and GABA levels in the body can cause insomnia, depression and anxiety. To know more about the role of magnesium in stress, anxiety and depression , read our blog.
Magnesium relieves pain
Magnesium is effective in relieving pain in migraines, PMS, fibromyalgia and muscle cramps. As previously discussed, magnesium prevents calcium build-up within muscles, which is one of the ways in which magnesium prevents or reduces painful muscle contractions. Magnesium also relaxes blood vessels, which works towards restoring blood flow to the muscles. Another significant way magnesium helps is by blocking pain receptors present in the brain.
Magnesium deficiency and your health
Your body needs adequate levels of magnesium to carry out hundreds of life sustaining chemical reactions. This highlights the importance of magnesium in your health. For example, magnesium works as an essential co-factor in energy production, DNA synthesis and repair, vitamin D utilization and glutathione production.
Fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps and loss of appetite are some early signs that your body is low in magnesium. These symptoms can soon progress into more serious health issues with chronic, long-term magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium deficiency and heart health
There is substantial research suggesting that magnesium deficiency is associated with arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease and ischemic heart disease.
This review reported that, “subclinical magnesium deficiency likely leads to hypertension, arrhythmias, arterial calcifications, atherosclerosis, heart failure and an increased risk for thrombosis. This suggests that subclinical magnesium deficiency is a principal, yet under-recognised, driver of cardiovascular disease.” 
And there is also credible scientific evidence that you can keep your heart healthy and reduce risk of heart disease by maintaining healthy levels of magnesium.
- Prevents calcium accumulation in the arteries, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis.
- Relaxes smooth muscle cells in the blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach the heart.
- Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in the heart tissue
- Reduces the risk of diabetes, one of the important risk factors for heart disease
Long-term magnesium deficiency is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. It is because you need magnesium to maintain bone density and integrity.
Both calcium and vitamin D are very well known for their role in bone formation and development. But the role of magnesium in bone health is something not many are aware of, nor are many people aware that magnesium plays more than one role in keeping your bones healthy and reducing the risk of fractures.
- Converts inactive vitamin D into a form that can be used by the cells.
- Works as a co-factor in enzymes required for vitamin D metabolism
- Improves bone strength and reduces the risk of fractures in the elderly
- Improves the activity of osteoblasts, cells that help in the formation of new bone.
- Stimulates the thyroid gland to release calcitonin, a hormone that draws calcium from the bloodstream and soft tissues and further re-directs it to bones, thus improving bone density.
Magnesium deficiency and metabolic disorders
Studies suggest that people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic disorders are more likely to have magnesium deficiency than healthy individuals. People with abnormally high sugar levels lose more magnesium in their urine. This is body’s defence mechanism to gets rid of excess sugar levels. On the other hand, you need sufficient magnesium to regulate sugar levels. We have explored the connection between magnesium and diabetes in one of our previous blogs. There are many ways in which magnesium may maintain your metabolic health.
- Regulates glucose metabolism
- Helps in insulin secretion
- Makes cells more sensitive to insulin
- Reduce the risk of insulin resistance
- Improves metabolic parameters in people with excessive weight and pre-diabetes
- Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease in patients with type 2 diabetes
You can get your daily does of magnesium by eating a variety of foods, especially nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fish, eggs and dairy foods. However, our soil is becoming increasingly depleted of important minerals, including magnesium. This means the food grown in such soil conditions won’t have as much mineral content as you need to keep healthy.
Other factors that increase the risk of magnesium deficiency include age, consuming too much of sugar and processed foods, not eating a healthy, wholesome diet and using filtered water devoid of any minerals. Too much stress, health conditions like type 2 diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, surgery, alcohol overuse, kidney disorders, long-term diarrhea, heavy bleeding during periods and too much use of salt also make you low in magnesium.
We believe that you cannot replace fresh foods with supplements, but you should bolster your intake of minerals and vitamins with quality supplements. Unfortunately, your diet is not enough to provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need to keep fit and fight stress, fatigue and diseases. Whether it is everyday stress, pollution, exposure to toxins, chronic infections or long-term illnesses, we are faced with so many situations and factors that are working hand in hand in robbing your body of these nutrients and other antioxidants. In that case, taking high quality dietary supplements will ensure a healthy body that is well-equipped to deal with this burden.
Magnesium supplements may not help prevent muscle cramps and Charlie horses completely, if the underlying cause is some other health condition, but if your symptoms also include low energy levels, unexplained weakness, loss of appetite, sore muscles, hormonal ups and downs and headache, chances are you need more magnesium.
Taking liposomal magnesium supplements is a great way of making sure your cells get all the mineral they need. Traditional supplements are not considered very effective in raising your magnesium levels as the nutrients are lost during digestion. But liposomal encapsulation of the nutrients ensures better absorption and bioavailability. Give magnesium supplements a chance if you think magnesium deficiency might be the reason behind your muscle spasms and contractions.
- DiNicolantonio et al. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart. 2018
- Sakaguchi et al. Magnesium and Risk of Hip Fracture among Patients Undergoing Hemodialysis. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2018.
- Kunutsor et al. Low serum magnesium levels are associated with increased risk of fractures: a long-term prospective cohort study. European Journal of Epidemiology. 2017