Although we often associate vitamin deficiencies with past eras, they are a modern epidemic as well. While most people today generally get enough vitamins in their diet to prevent serious diseases such as rickets and scurvy, many still live with sub-clinical levels that aren’t sufficient for optimal cellular function. This can lead to vague symptoms such as fatigue, malaise and sleep disturbances. New research has discovered that magnesium, a mineral in which many people are deficient, may be especially important for preventing sleep disorders and maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm.
Magnesium: A Foundational Element of Life
Like many essential minerals and vitamins, magnesium plays a variety of roles in the human body. It is a cofactor in more than 300 biochemical reactions, with more yet to be discovered. When we lack this important mineral, even with a small deficiency, we have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease as well as symptoms that include memory loss, insomnia and muscle cramps. The link between magnesium and sleep disturbances has been of special interest to researchers because the exact mechanism behind this connection was previously unknown.
Magnesium and the Circadian Rhythm
A new study of magnesium and the circadian rhythm has found that this mineral is one of the chief players in our cells’ internal clocks. Magnesium levels in our cells oscillate, or rhythmically increase and decrease, throughout the day in a predictable pattern. The level of magnesium in a cell determines when the cell will be in high metabolic activity or in a period of rest and repair. When researchers adjusted magnesium levels in cells, the activity rate changed accordingly. These findings shed light on how magnesium deficiency may relate to sleep disorders and offers a possibly promising treatment for those who suffer from insomnia.
People who have low levels of magnesium in their diet, even levels that are not low enough to cause more serious symptoms, may not have enough magnesium to support optimal metabolism and a healthy circadian rhythm. This is especially concerning because the Western diet does not include a high amount of fruits, vegetables, soy, whole grains and other magnesium-rich foods. Knowledge of the link between magnesium and the circadian rhythm may encourage people to eat a more nutritious diet or supplement with magnesium, especially if they wish to sleep better.
Good Nutrition: The New Wonder Drug
Doctors and scientists are just beginning to discover the connections between good nutrition, good sleep and whole-body health. The link between magnesium and the circadian rhythm is one of many connections between essential nutrition and a healthy internal clock. The unique timing of fluctuations in magnesium levels in cells suggests that this mineral may be best used in a chronotherapeutic way. In other words, there may be optimal times during the day for people to take a magnesium supplement or eat foods rich in this nutrient. For example, choosing a bedtime snack that is high in magnesium may help people who struggle with insomnia to sleep better. Magnesium is already being used as an adjunct therapy for delirium, a disease that is deeply entwined with circadian rhythm disruption.
Understanding the way that different nutrients interact with the circadian rhythm can help researchers to develop more effective treatments for common ailments such as insomnia. This knowledge can also help when it comes to chronotherapy, the science of timing medications and therapies so they will be present during the time in the cell cycle when they can best be used. New medical discoveries in the field of chronobiology can help improve lives by allowing doctors to treat diseases in safer and more effective ways, in sync with the body’s natural rhythms.