We are all taking our calcium, but for some reason, many of us have forgotten the importance of balancing out the bone-strengthening supplement with magnesium. Ashley Koff, RD, believes we should all be consuming more of “Mother Nature's muscle relaxant", and she tells LivingHealthy what is causing this widespread imbalance.  

Noting that we are getting less magnesium than we used to, Koff says, “For several reasons, we have lost touch with magnesium and its benefits in the body, especially as a muscle relaxant.” First, the soil has aged and we aren’t taking great care of it, and second, most of our sources of magnesium, such as wheat shafts, are heavily processed into things like white flour, reducing the magnesium level by as much as 80 percent. 

The third cause may come as a shock for those who think they eat healthy. We’re looking at you, Paleo eaters. We have made certain dietary choices in the name of health, like reducing carbohydrates, which are rich in magnesium. Additionally, certain medications on the market decrease the levels of magnesium in the body and should be discussed with your doctor. But the award for the most ironic reason goes to the fact that for decades we have placed a higher emphasis on calcium, which works in opposition to magnesium. Of course calcium is important, but the more you take, the more magnesium you need to counterbalance it. 

It is directly related to the fight-or-flight response. When we are relaxed, calcium remains outside of cells while magnesium is inside, but when we become stressed, calcium moves inside of the cell. “Calcium is responsible for helping muscles contract, while magnesium helps them relax,” Koff explains. “Magnesium pushes the calcium outside the cell and we relax, turning down that fight-or-flight response. When we look at overall health issues, too many of us exist in that state of 'fight-or-flight' and are feeling the negative impacts of chronic stress without sufficient relaxation. We need a better balance.” 

Aside from taking a supplement, she suggests incorporating more magnesium into the diet by substituting processed foods with organic ones, consuming quality sources of magnesium like greens, beans, whole grains, hemp seeds and cacao. “If we don’t have enough magnesium in our diet, it isn’t there to kick the calcium out of the cell and relaxation isn’t happening sufficiently, says Koff. “This can trigger or exacerbate a whole range of issues including anxiety, constipation, cramps, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue.” According to Koff, you can also absorb the mineral by using magnesium cream and bath salts. That’s the best justification for a long soak in the tub that we’ve ever heard.