In 1618, a farmer on Epsom Common noticed that his cows refused to drink from a certain well
… even when the weather was hot and dry. The water had a bitter taste, but the farmer found that it helped to heal the scratches on his skin. ‘Taking the water’ from this source soon became fashionable and Epsom thrived as a popular spa town. Soon it was discovered that Epsom Salt is simply magnesium sulphate and has a variety of therapeutic benefits for both plant and animal life.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and of crucial importance for the production and transfer of energy, for the transmission of nerve and muscle impulses, protein formation, blood clotting and sugar regulation.
The body also uses magnesium as a co-factor in numerous chemical reactions and it’s essential for the absorption of calcium into bones and teeth. Magnesium is named after the district of Magnesia in Thessaly, Greece, where large deposits of magnesium carbonate were first discovered.
Magnesium is part of the chlorophyll molecule in plants and found in green vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains, but it only occurs in small amounts. Our intake over the last century has declined sharply due to the over-refining and processing of food. Refined wheat, sugar and fat contain almost no magnesium. Losses during cooking and the consumption of fizzy drinks also contribute to a deficiency. Other magnesium robbers are alcohol, prescribed diuretics and excess calcium.
It comes as no great surprise to hear that 70% of women and over 40% of men are deficient in this vital mineral. In teenagers and the elderly population, these statistics are even more alarming – 89% fall short of the recommended amounts. Symptoms of deficiency include depression, irritability and nervousness, PMS and menstrual cramps, constipation, muscle tremors and rapid heartbeat. The list goes on… As magnesium works on so many different levels, some of its effects can be difficult to diagnose. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and muscle pain, insomnia and hyperactivity.
Adults should take at least 300 mg and children 170 mg per day, although individual requirements may be affected by a variety of factors. Some doctors believe that taking multivitamin and mineral supplements is unnecessary. However, this is an increasingly old-fashioned view because few of us are able to obtain sufficient nutrients from our diet. Magnesium is completely safe, although excessive amounts of the mineral may lead to diarrhoea (milk of magnesia is commonly used as a laxative).
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus September 2004