Why take Magnesium oxide?

paleo-and-magnesiumThe suggestion to take any kind of supplement always raises the question, “Why do I need supplements to be healthy? Can’t I just get all my micronutrients from food?” After all, there was no Vitamin Shoppe in the Paleolithic. It seems silly that we should evolve to need a shelf full of pills just to function normally.

This is a very reasonable question, and it’s certainly better to ask for proof than to blithely stroll down the aisles of the drugstore tossing everything from Aluminum to Zinc into the shopping basket. On a diet of whole, nourishing foods (especially organic or grass-fed foods), you should be able to get everything you need. And there are plenty of natural sources of magnesium, including spinach, nuts, mineral water, and several kinds of fish. But a lot has changed since the caveman days, and there are a few major reasons why modern Paleo dieters might want to take one or two carefully-chosen supplements.

  • We have to fight the environmental toxins of industrial society (air pollutants like exhaust, factory runoff in our water, and toxic cleaning supplies, to name a few) that weren’t around in the Paleolithic.
  • We have to recover from diseases of civilization (like diabetes and obesity) and years of grain-based malnutrition that our ancestors never had to deal with.
  • Our food processing methods (factory farms, large monoculture crops, and pesticides) no longer produce food as micronutrient-rich as it used to be.

In the case of magnesium, the third argument is really the key. The magnesium content of foods depends on the soil they’re grown in, and that soil is becoming rapidly depleted by modern agriculture. The map here shows the magnesium content of soils across the United States, and in several areas, it’s very poor. In fact, the Nutrition Facts labels on fruits and vegetables may actually be misleading in some cases, because the soil has declined in quality since the USDA tested the foods. Purified water is also partly to blame: natural mineral waters (which is what we all drank before the advent of municipal water systems) contain high levels of magnesium, while the water that makes it out of your tap does not.

This is unfortunate, because magnesium is crucial for bone strength and development, and it’s required for over 300 enzymatic reactions, including many of the reactions that generate energy for your cells and control critical neurotransmitters. Deficiency can cause all kinds of symptoms including mental issues (difficulty concentrating and remembering things), muscle twitches and soreness, and a feeling of constant fatigue.

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