In my last post I talked of calcium and its function in controlling the nervous system and contracting the muscles. In this post, magnesium and its role in relaxing the body is the focus. Together these two minerals are insperable they enable the yin, yang, control and flow within the body.

The body is in a constant state of peristalsis, contracting and relaxing. This is how food passes through the body, how the lungs take in oxygen, the heart beats and we of course how we move from A to B. We must have one action to have the other. Calcium is always being advertised as an essential mineral whilst magnesium is often overlooked. When magnesium is low in the body, calcium cannot be absorbed efficiently. Sometimes it ends up being unnecessarily excreted leading to poor bone density or the calcium is stored in soft tissues throughout the body, impeding the bodies natural flow and therefore causing pain, just think of bone spurs or osteoarthritis where calcium has become stuck. Calcification of the arterial walls can also occour impeding blood flow. Magnesium actually dilates the arteries enabling smooth unimpeded movement. Flow in Chinese medicine is governed by the Liver and Gall Bladder Meridians/Organs and the colour green. This makes it easy to remember foods for this element which are high in magnesium include chlorophll (green) rich plants such as spinach, kale, okra, spring greens and broccoli. It should be noted that sometimes water soluble magnesium can sometimes be lost through over cooking of the above vegetables.

Eventhough I link Magnesium to the Liver/Gall Bladder Meridians really, like its counterpart calcium, it’s connected to the realm of Kidney/Bladder Meridians affecting skeletal structure and the nervous system.

The body has, in broad terms, two states of action, firstly the sympathetic nervous system which is more commonly known as the fight or flight mechanism and secondly the parasympathetic nervous system known as the rest and digest state. Often both are used on a daily basis. However if they become imbalanced this can create a vicious circle within the body leading to adrenal exhaustion which in Chinese medicine is considered severe, as the kidneys house our jing, our very essence, which once diminished cannot be replaced and so should be guarded like a precious jewel.

When the sympatheic nervous system is in use chemicals are produced by the adrenals which tell the Kidneys to eliminate zinc and magnesium and to store Sodium and Copper. This is an essential process if you are facing a tiger or only have 22 seconds to save the world but overuse of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a situation where the body finds it difficult to relax because it has got rid of the magnesium to do so. Magnesium also plays a large part in metabolising carbohydrates and fats into energy. Without this energy, synthesised using magnesium, you might be dead tired all day and yet find it impossible to fall asleep at night. So the cycle begins, more stress for the body, more adrenal activity and therefore even less relaxing magnesium.

The best way of addressing this catch 22 situation is to make sure the body regularly enters the parasympathetic nervous system, which you can do through having a shiatsu massage, yoga, tai chi, meditation, a walk in the park or any activity that ensures the body rests and restores. In our busy paced life however often we think we need to keep going and so take stimulants such as coffee, tea or refined sugar. This will further reduce magnesium meaning less ability to relax and flow so what we end up with is head aches, migranes, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, period pain, heart palpitations and right back where we started – an inability to deal with stress.

If we eat a balanced diet high in unrefined grains and vegetables then magnesium deficiency is unlikely. However just like calcium we have to retain the magnesium we have by fortifying the kidneys and by relaxing the adrenals. So have a twenty minute break, make sure you get a regular massage, take time to smell the coffee without necessarily needing to drink a gallon of it. A lot of the foods to fit with the kidney and bladder meridians are also packed with magnesium so if you feel you need a little extra something to help you relax you could try eating barley, brown rice, oat bran, wheat bran, almonds, brazil nuts, cashew nuts, pinenuts, pumpkin seeds, seaweeds, soya beans and of course you knew it was good for you really ….. chocolate, of the very high cocoa, dark bitter variety of course.