Your Thyroid + Magnesium
This post is the sixth installment in my ten-part Minerals and Your Thyroid series, where I’m highlighting eight thyroid-supportive minerals (iodine is two parts) and one troublemaker: fluoride.
Magnesium symbol: Mg
Atomic number: 12
Magnesium has been nicknamed “the miracle mineral.”
It’s even been called a panacea.
And it’s another mineral that Dr. Richard Shames considers “absolutely essential” for healthy thyroid function.
Many are deficient (the estimates are as high as 70% of the population) due to excessive exposure to nitrogen (largely from fertilizers), phosphorus (largely from soft drinks), copper (largely from water pipes), and iron (largely from excessive red meat and/or supplements).
Deficiency can also be caused by taking too much supplemental calcium. More on the magnesium/calcium dance below.
There are many foods that are considered rich in magnesium (see list below), but given that we don’t have the mineral-rich soils of yore, we’re not getting as much of this important mineral (including other minerals) from our food.
[I thoroughly address optimal thyroid nutrition in my best selling cookbook, The Essential Thyroid Cookbook: Over 100 Nourishing Recipes for Thriving with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. The educational component of the cookbook details not only thyroid-supportive minerals, but also vitamins and amino acids that help to optimize thyroid function. The mouthwatering recipes are chock full of these supportive nutrients.]
Dr. Carolyn Dean, an outspoken, sassy voice of reason in the functional medicine community, has been a magnesium “activist” for years. She’s the author of The Magnesium Miracle and has written extensively and repeatedly about the dangers of magnesium deficiency in her blog and newsletter.
She says, “Magnesium is responsible for the function of 325 enzymes; is an absolute requirement for calcium to be incorporated into bone; keeps toxic chemicals out of the brain; dances with calcium to create nerve impulses and muscle impulses; keeps muscles relaxed, including the heart and blood vessels; and triggers dozens of health conditions if it is deficient.”
Some of those deficiency conditions include:
- Sleep issues
- Restless leg syndrome
- Muscle cramping/spasms
- Increased inflammation
- Compromised pathways of detoxification
- Syndrome X, aka metabolic syndrome
- Kidney disease
- Sluggish heart function
Every organ in the body, including the thyroid, needs adequate magnesium.
And it’s not so much that a magnesium deficiency is a direct trigger of hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s. It’s that the deficiency acts in a sneaky, back-of-the-barn way. As you can see from the list above, many of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency and low thyroid function overlap. So insufficient magnesium levels can slow symptom alleviation for those on a thyroid-healing journey.
That Balance Thing…
Remember how we talked about how magnesium is a carrier for calcium in the first installment in this series? And how we’ve discussed these checks and balances relationships with minerals (copper/zinc and iodine/selenium)? Well, same goes for calcium and magnesium – a balance of these two minerals is important for a healthy thyroid.
When calcium levels are high in the blood, often due – at least in part – to magnesium and Vitamin D deficiencies, the thyroid makes a hormone called calcitonin that helps to regulate calcium and to reduce blood calcium levels.
And according to Dr. Lawrence Wilson, “The higher the level of hair calcium, in general, the lower the effective activity of the thyroid gland. This occurs because one of the effects of [the thyroid hormones] T3 and T4 is to lower calcium levels in the tissues and at times, in the blood.”
(One way of testing minerals is through a hair mineral analysis. However many in the functional medicine community say that it may not be the best way to assess your mineral levels.)
Dr. Lawrence continues, “Once released into the blood, T4 must be absorbed into our cells. For this to occur, the cell membranes must function properly. Too little or too much cell membrane permeability will affect the uptake of T4. Problems with cell permeability can be due to accumulation of biounavailable calcium and magnesium in the cell membranes. This excessively stabilizes the cell membranes and reduces cell permeability. Deficient calcium and magnesium cause excessive cell permeability.”
He also states, “Once inside the cells, thyroxine [T4] must be converted to T3 or triiodothyronine, the more active form of the hormone. This conversion requires selenium, magnesium and other nutrients.” (More on selenium in two weeks.)
He sums things up by saying, “As you can see, calcium is crucial for proper thyroid health, but for calcium to properly function it must have its friend, magnesium.”
My summary goes like this:
- Adequate magnesium levels make you less prone to excess calcium.
- Without excess calcium, your thyroid works better.
- For calcium to work for you versus against you, you need adequate magnesium.
Magnesium and Mood
A magnesium deficiency can be a major factor in anxiety and depression.
- Noradrenaline (it’s both a hormone and a neurotransmitter) is vital for motivation and drive and can be low in the presence of a magnesium (and B12) deficiency.
- Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that elevates mood, suppresses appetite, and has a calming effect, is dependent on magnesium. Magnesium improves energy levels and activates the B vitamins needed for production of serotonin. When serotonin levels are low, our nervous system can become easily irritated and we can experience anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression.
- According to Dr. Gary Null, author of The Food Mood Connection, there are case histories of rapid recovery (less than 7 days!) from major depression using 125-300mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime. (Note: I recently received a heartfelt email from a woman who said that this quote from Dr. Null that she discovered in my Food and Mood: Eat Yourself Happy ebook “cured” her son’s longtime depression. She said they’d tried “everything.”)
Magnesium and Sleep
When my clients complain of sleep issues, I assume that their adrenals need a fair bit of support, given that cortisol, one of our adrenal hormones, is the boss of our sleep cycle.
This is the “long view” approach to addressing sleep disturbances.
The “short view” is that magnesium can help tremendously and it’s the first thing I recommend. It’s a great dinnertime supplement to help you wind down, relax, and get a good night’s rest.
And yes, there are other things to consider, such as melatonin, valerian root, or passionflower. But magnesium has given my clients the best results overall. In fact, some have had to cut back on their dose because they slept “too hard” and felt like a zombie in the morning (a different type of zombie than from not sleeping well).
Magnesium helps to keep blood sugar stable by:
- Promoting the production of insulin
- Making our cells open to receiving insulin/reducing insulin resistance
- Allowing glucose into our cells
- Vitamin C competes with magnesium – make sure you’re not taking excessive C supplementation.
- Several of our clients have had Raynaud’s – magnesium helps relax the spastic blood vessels that cause pain and numbness of the fingers of those with this condition.
- Magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce hot flashes.
- There’s a correlation between low magnesium and high estrogen.
- Adrenal dysfunction and stress can cause magnesium excretion/depletion.
- The birth control pill can deplete magnesium.
- If supplementing with magnesium while on thyroid hormone replacement, take the magnesium four hours from your thyroid meds.
Magnesium supplementation is a good idea, but some forms can cause loose stools. Not a sexy topic, I know.
Our crusader, Dr. Dean says, “The best way to tell if you are getting enough magnesium is the ‘bowel test.’ You know when you have too much magnesium when your stools become loose. This, in fact, may be a blessing for people with constipation and [constipation] is one of the many ways magnesium deficiency manifests.”
A few doctors I respect, including Dr. Shames and Dr. David Brownstein, recommend somewhere between 200 - 600 milligrams daily, although some warn against anything higher than 400 milligrams due to the possibility of loose stools.
Still, some doctors recommend doses as high as 2000 milligrams daily.
Dr. Dean, states, “The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is between 350 and 400 milligrams per day, which is just enough to ward off outright deficiency. But for optimal health and for the twenty-two conditions that are triggered by magnesium deficiency, perhaps twice as much magnesium is needed. Because we probably don’t get nearly enough magnesium from our diet, we have to investigate magnesium supplements.”
She also states, “The only contraindications to magnesium are caused in people with outright kidney failure, bowel obstruction, Myasthenia gravis, or heart block. If you have a kidney condition caused by disease or other conditions magnesium can be very harmful, even fatal.”
There are several types of magnesium and I’m often asked what type of supplementation to take. My answer is, “It depends.”
The short of it is that people respond differently to the various types – and when I say “respond” I’m talking about the possibility of loose stools.
According to Dr. John Douillard, the best forms of supplemental magnesium are magnesium malate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium citrate. He says to avoid magnesium oxide.
Dr. Dean concurs. She says, “I stopped using magnesium oxide in 2005 when I read a study that showed only 4 percent of the oxide form of magnesium is absorbed. That’s why magnesium oxide is a great laxative but if you want to stock up on magnesium, you need to use other forms.”
She continues, “I use magnesium citrate and magnesium taurate and also spray on magnesium oil after a shower. Magnesium oil is supersaturated magnesium chloride and because it’s used topically it doesn’t cause a laxative effect. If I use magnesium oil, I only need to take half the amount of magnesium by mouth and therefore avoid loose stools.”
Taking the oil form of magnesium is a good way to get this important mineral if you have digestive issues or if taking an oral supplement gives you, um, bowel troubles.
Many in the functional medicine community suggest magnesium citrate and it’s what I take.
Another effective way to increase magnesium levels without taking it orally is by taking epsom salt baths. They’re quite heavenly…
Foods rich in magnesium include: spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, beet greens, green beans, pumpkin seeds, summer squash, almonds, brown rice, sea vegetables, lentils, lima beans, and soy products such as tempeh, natto, miso, and tofu. (I’m not categorically against soy, but believe it should be fermented, as in tempeh, natto, and miso (tofu isn’t fermented) and only consumed in moderation.)
Important note for this whole Minerals series: You may see some slight discrepancies in the list of foods in this post and the list of foods in my thyroid- and immune-supportive nutrition chart (which you can download for free here). This is because for the chart, we created a ranking system. If each thyroid- and immune-supportive food didn’t have a broad enough nutritional spectrum such that it represented enough nutrients, it didn’t make the cut. In other words, the list in this post may be slightly more inclusive.