People experiencing chronic pain are often desperate for relief. After trying prescription medications, nerve blocks, complementary medicine, and sometimes even surgery with no relief, they may be willing to try nearly anything for even the smallest reduction in pain. For some, this search for relief has led them to transdermal magnesium, a treatment for pain that has anecdotal support without much focused research. But does magnesium supplementation work, and if so, should there be further study on transdermal magnesium specifically? Let’s take a look.
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral that is crucial to all systems and processes in the body – over 300 enzymatic systems altogether. The list of functions of magnesium in the body is too long to elaborate upon here, but magnesium is involved in everything from organ function to growing hair and nails to maintaining heart health.
That one mineral can do all of this good in the body should be reassuring, except for one thing: people in the U.S. are not getting enough of it. In 2009, the World Health Organization published a report indicating that 75% of adults are not getting the recommended levels of daily magnesium, with one in five adults getting less than half of what they need.
Basic symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Twitching or cramping muscles
- Headaches and migraines
- Obesity (with or without high blood pressure)
- Heart palpitations
- Chronic fatigue
These are basic warning signs that can indicate, among other things, that magnesium levels are low, but these are just the beginning.
The top four killers in the world: all related to magnesium deficiency
Because magnesium is so crucial to the functioning of the entire body, it stands to reason that low levels of this mineral would lead to serious, systemic issues.
- Type 2 diabetes: Researchers looked at 13 cohort studies with 536,318 participants reporting 24,516 cases of diabetes and found a significant inverse association between magnesium levels and Type 2 diabetes. In other words, where magnesium intake was up, incidence of Type 2 diabetes went down.
- Cardiovascular disease: In a similar meta-analysis of 16 studies and 313,041 individuals, researchers found that magnesium intake was also inversely associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease. Low magnesium is also the number one predictor of heart disease, even above cholesterol and saturated fat intake.
- Stroke: The results of seven studies with 241,378 participants and 6,477 cases of stroke found that an increase in magnesium brought about a small but statistically significant decrease in the risk of stroke.
- Cancer: In eight studies, increased magnesium helped bring about a modest decrease in the risk of colon cancer, but other studies have shown that more magnesium reduces cancer risk significantly.
These are the top four causes of death across the globe, and they are all tied significantly to magnesium levels. The warning signs of many of these diseases are the same as the warning signs for low magnesium levels and can also include a significant incidence of fibromyalgia and other pain in the joints and muscles. Other studies have shown that magnesium is an effective remedy for migraine, heart attack, and even ADHD. Remember that over 300 processes in the body utilize magnesium, and it becomes more clear how low magnesium can be related to pain in the body.
How it works in the body
Magnesium and calcium work together in the body. Magnesium relaxes and soothes muscles and aids in the function of all of the systems, while calcium contracts muscles. In today’s calcium-rich dietary landscape, magnesium is noticeably absent. This results in tension, anxiety, muscle soreness, and pain.
How to increase magnesium levels
There are several ways to increase magnesium levels, but one of the most effective at increasing levels rapidly is transdermal magnesium therapy. Transdermal magnesium therapy bypasses the digestive upset that can be caused by oral magnesium supplements. Oral supplementation is also very inefficient, and there is no guarantee that the body is absorbing the full dose. Transdermal magnesium therapy saturates the skin cells with magnesium, increasing the efficacy of the treatment. This therapy can be taken in a number of ways.
- Take a bath: A bath of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) has been shown to raise internal levels of magnesium. Athletes have long used this as therapy after intense training to relax and soothe muscles.
- Get a massage: Spray magnesium oil (which is more like a salt spray than an oil) onto the skin and rub it in. A massage therapist can do this for you, conveying the benefits of both massage and magnesium absorption through the cells of the skin.
- Apply the gel or use a patch: Transdermal magnesium therapy is also possible using a patch or simply applying a gel.
- Eat magnesium-rich foods: Sometimes magnesium deficiency can be corrected by eating foods rich in this mineral.
As with all changes to a treatment plan for chronic pain (or any illness monitored by a doctor), talk with your doctor before starting to increase your levels of magnesium.
There have been a few small-scale studies that looked at transdermal magnesium therapy, with promising treatment outcomes. Even without large-scale, focused research studies on the effects of transdermal magnesium therapy specifically, the message is clear: many serious and often fatal conditions are related to low levels of magnesium, and people in the U.S. are chronically deficient in this vital mineral.
Will you try transdermal magnesium to help with your pain?
Image by gaelx via Flickr