Written by Nandan Roongta, Medical Expert and Gynecologist
Minerals are essential micronutrients that are required in small amounts for the body to function properly. Untreated mineral deficiencies can cause serious health problems including endocrine (hormone) imbalances, osteoporosis(weak bones) and anemia. The main sources of minerals are certain types of whole foods, but following a diet that contains all the necessary nutrients can be a challenge for any woman. Most women are deficient in such common minerals as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, iodine and selenium, so it may be worth considering supplementation, as these minerals are critical for proper metabolic function, hormone balance and bone strength, among other health benefits.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant essential mineral that is involved in more than 300 enzyme and metabolic reactions. Approximately 99% of total body magnesium is intracellular, with 85% stored in bone; only 1% is found within the extracellular space. In addition to maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, magnesium helps to keep the heart rhythm steady and supports a healthy immune system. Magnesium is also involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis, since the body requires it for completing certain chemical reactions pertaining to the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Finally, magnesium is also crucial for detoxification activities and a healthy immune system. Low levels in the body may exacerbate chronic inflammatory stress, and can cause irritability, headaches, muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms or twitches, constipation, and insomnia.
Nature provides a number of dietary sources of magnesium, including dark leafy green vegetables, seaweed or green algae, avocados, nuts, beans, raw chocolate, and grains such as brown rice and millet.
However, magnesium deficiency is widespread across different populations, as dietary magnesium intake has decreased dramatically, especially in the western world. Studies have shown that women have a lower dietary intake of magnesium than men. Furthermore, magnesium intake decreases with age. In addition to dietary factors, many commonly prescribed medications can also lead to hypomagnesemia. Additionally, many chronic and acute illnesses can trigger magnesium wasting.
Low magnesium levels have been linked with a chronic inflammatory state, cardiac and neurovascular health, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension. In women, low levels have been associated with discomfort or disabilities during the premenstrual period, menstruation and during menopause, in conditions of PCOS, endometriosis, and cancer and in those on the oral contraceptive pill.
Premenstrual Syndrome and Menstrual Cramps
Magnesium has been hypothesized to possibly play a role in premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The erythrocyte concentration of magnesium in patients with PMS is significantly lower than that of patients without PMS. It is proposed that there is a cyclical decrease in the body magnesium in the second half of the menstrual cycle, and so women who are already magnesium deficient may be affected by this in the form of PMS symptoms.
It has been suggested that many minerals may impact PMS. Further research is needed to explore the definitive role of magnesium in treating PMS.
Dysmenorrhea (painful uterine cramps that precede or accompany menses) is related to the presence of hypercontractility of the uterine muscles. Prostaglandins released in the uterus, in turn, induce an inflammatory response and lead to the onset of cramps and other systemic symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, and headaches. Studies have found a potential role for magnesium in the treatment of dysmenorrhea.
The efficacy of magnesium supplementation for the prevention of premenstrual migraines has also been evaluated in a number of studies.
Menopausal women suffer from a variety of symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, insomnia, and long-term complications such as osteoporosis. These symptoms arise primarily as a response to the decline in circulating endogenous estrogens, but a growing amount of evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency may play a pivotal role in these conditions.
Mood disorders represent a very common finding in peri- and postmenopausal women, affecting up to 90 % of these subjects. A recent observational study reported by Stanisławska et al. found significantly lower magnesium concentrations in women with depressive symptoms compared with healthy controls.
Another common symptom of menopause is the occurrence of hot flashes. Magnesium is also hypothesized to have a role in the prevention and treatment of menopausal hot flashes.
Dietary magnesium deficiency has also been implicated as a risk factor for osteoporosis, which represents a well-known long-term risk for postmenopausal women. Although still fragmentary, the current amount of evidence suggests that magnesium is an important factor for bone health and that the optimization of the intake of this ion might represent an effective and low-cost preventive measure against osteoporosis.
Magnesium also has antispasmodic effects on the smooth muscle of arteries, thus enhancing the neuroprotective effects of estrogen that may decrease with menopause.
Women on oral contraceptives are depleted of magnesium, in addition to some other minerals and vitamins. This reduction is proportional to the duration of time the patient has been using contraceptives. These women may benefit from dietary supplementation.
Magnesium plays an interesting role in cancer, not only due to the association with inflammation, but also due to its role in the cell DNA cycle and proliferation. Magnesium helps regulate cell proliferation. Hypomagnesemia is frequently seen in cancer patients, often in the terminal stages.
An increased intake of magnesium is associated with a decreased risk of breast, ovarian and colorectal cancer in women.
Magnesium is extremely relevant to women’s health issues. A number of conditions of gynecological interest have been related to magnesium deficiency. Magnesium supplementation has shown promise in treating some of these conditions, such as PMS, menstrual migraine, and dysmenorrhea. For other conditions, such as those related to the climacteric syndrome, further studies are required. Of interest, magnesium supplementation has been also proposed for conditions, such as osteoporosis.
This supplementation can be via the oral preparations as various inorganic and organic salts. However, these are contraindicated or have to be taken with precaution in those with underlying kidney, heart or bowel conditions. the alternative mode of supplementation is magnesium oils which can be topically applied on a regular basis for skin absorption to meet the dose requirement of the body.
Magnesium and Women’s Health
~ Written by Nandan Roongta, Medical Expert and Gynecologist