Chronic Pain – the Role of Magnesium
When it comes to chronic pain, I like the analogy of old-fashioned weigh scales. Your pain is on one side, weighing you down. What you need to do is to add pebbles – in whatever combination of medications, therapies, diets and supplements that work for you – to the other side. At first, when you add a pebble, you may feel no difference. Or maybe you do, but the effects don’t last. Over time, however, as you add more pebbles, the balance of pain v. ease starts to shift. You get longer periods of feeling comfortable, less severe painful days. You need to keep adding the pebbles, rather than hop from one to another. And with chronic pain – what role can magnesium play?
One ‘pebble’ that has good research behind it is magnesium. No, it is not a magic bullet, but it can be one of the larger pebbles for most people with chronic pain.
Magnesium is a mineral present in food and water. It is used in 100s of different reactions around the body. It is probably best known for its role in bone health, where it provides the scaffolding into which calcium and other minerals can slot for strong structure. It also plays an important role in energy production, helping in the conversion of glucose from our food, to useable energy by our cells. It affects muscle contraction, including your heart rhythm, and has been shown to be effective for easing cramps, muscle aches, asthma and bronchitis. Magnesium is depleted by stress, as it is needed for the manufacture of our stress hormones. In our modern society, with our days filled with many micro-stressors, magnesium is busy making adrenaline, often leaving us short in other areas.
Can I get magnesium from my diet?
Yes, you can. The best food sources are oats, brown rice, quinoa, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, nuts, lentil and dark green leafy vegetables. Water can also be a good source, although this will vary by region (with tap water) and brand (with bottled mineral water). Try to include some of these foods on a daily basis in your diet and make water your go-to drink.
Signs you might be deficient
Magnesium is essential for the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Therefore, if your life is stressful – and let’s face it, living with chronic pain is, in itself, stressful – then you may be deficient. It relaxes muscle so if you suffer from muscle cramps, twitching, or weakness, this could be a sign of deficiency. Increased heart rate and raised blood pressure are also common in those with deficient levels of magnesium, as are symptoms of glucose dysregulation such as diabetes. Constipation, depression, tinnitus, migraine, poor sleep and raised inflammatory markers could all be signs as well. Magnesium has been shown to have a direct and an indirect positive effect on pain so it has a role to play in chronic pain situations.
Things to watch out for
Phosphoric acid, found principally in sweet fizzy drinks, increases the body’s demand for magnesium. So keep fizzy drink intake to a minimum.
Magnesium is depleted by some common medications, including antibiotics, anti-fungals and birth control medication. Seek advice for safe supplementation if you are taking any medications.
Magnesium for chronic pain – different forms, different roles
Magnesium comes in various forms and it is important to choose the one that is most closely suited to your own situation. It is also important to seek advice from someone qualified in the art of supplementation before making your selection if you are taking any prescription medications. Whilst magnesium is generally a safe supplement to take, there are some significant interactions with a small number of medications. Book a call with me if you are taking medications and are interested in finding out whether magnesium could safely play a role in managing your chronic pain.
A nice way to up your magnesium is using Epsom Salts, either in your bath or in a foot soak. Be generous, add ½ – 1 cup of Epsom salts to hot water, add some essential oils such as lavender or geranium, and soak yourself. Our skin absorbs magnesium well and the warmth of the water helps with this. Baths are also relaxing, reducing stress, so a nice double effect here. Epsom salts are available in chemists, health food shops and on-line.
Magnesium oxide is the most common form of magnesium in supplements found in health food shops or supermarkets. Studies have shown however that approximately 4% of this form of magnesium is absorbed in the digestive tract. Therefore, it is better to look elsewhere.
I tend to use this form of magnesium when constipation forms part of the overall picture, as it has a mild laxative effect. It is well absorbed, affordable and palatable. I avoid this form if someone tends to have loose stools as it may make this symptom more severe.
This form of magnesium is better for those who tend towards loose stools, as it has less of a laxative effect than the citrate form.
Magnesium malate – it’s role in Chronic Pain
This is my favoured form of magnesium for those with chronic pain and associated fatigue. The malate part of the formula is a key component of energy production in the body and supplementation has been shown by researchers to reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia, pain, insomnia and fatigue. You have to persevere with supplementation to have positive outcomes with fibromyalgia and also work up gradually to a higher therapeutic dose.
There are numerous good quality combination formulas of magnesium that I use in my clinic. I gather a complete health picture of all my clients and will then decide a) whether supplementation may be helpful and b) if so, what formula makes most sense given the various symptoms present.
If you are interested in finding out more about magnesium and whether it could shift the scales in chronic pain, please book a free call with me. I work regularly with individuals with chronic pain. If you are looking for more ideas on how to ease chronic pain, download my free eBook 5 Steps to Ease Chronic Pain.