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Magnesium regulates our electrolyte balance

Within every cell in the body, a proper balance of mineral content must be maintained. 

Magnesium’s role in the healthy balance (“homeostasis”) of important minerals such as calcium, sodium and potassium affects the conduction of nerve impulses, muscle contraction and heart rhythms. 

The body allows mineral ions to flow into and out of the cell from the extra-cellular fluid, depending on concentrations inside or outside the cell. Minerals, in their ionic form, seek to equalize their concentrations by flowing through open membrane channels designed to allow movement of ions, water molecules, and small water-soluble compounds. 

However, ideal levels for minerals inside and outside the cells are not equal, as minerals serve various purposes inside the body and the cells. To keep cells healthy, a distribution such as the following must be maintained. 

Inside the cellsOutside the cells
CalciumLowHigh
SodiumLowHigh
MagnesiumHighLow
PotassiumHighLow

Because of the tendency of ions to equalize across membranes, like water flowing toward the sea, the cell must actively move ions into or out of the cell, expending energy to create a healthy balance using special “exchange pumps”. 

These mineral exchange pumps perform one of the most vital functions of the cell membrane, regulating the electrical action potential inside and outside of the cell, and maintaining homeostasis of minerals in the body. Without constant efforts by exchange pumps, cells would be flooded with calcium and sodium moving in, and potassium and magnesium moving out as they strived to achieve equilibrium. 

One such exchange pump, known as the “sodium-potassium” pump, pumps sodium out of the cell in exchange for potassium. Embedded in the cell membrane, the “sodium-potassium” pump is activated by magnesium inside the cell.

Magnesium deficiency impairs the “sodium-potassium pump”, allowing potassium to escape from the cell, to be lost in the urine, potentially leading to potassium deficiency (hypokalemia). Those with a known potassium deficiency, therefore, often do not respond to treatment until magnesium deficiency is also corrected. 

Similarly, magnesium’s role in calcium regulation is pivotal to its role in maintaining heart health. Magnesium is a known modulator of calcium, competing with calcium for entrance into cells and keeping many cellular processes in balance. 

  • The effect of magnesium on blood vessels is one of dilation, whereas calcium promotes contraction. 
  • Magnesium is also thought to antagonize calcium promotion of blood clotting. 

References for: What is Magnesium? / Forms of magnesium / Why we need it “Magnesium regulates our electrolyte balance” 

1) Dean C. The Magnesium Miracle. New York: Ballantine Books; 2007. 

2) Fox C, Ramsoomair D, Carter C. Magnesium: Its Proven and Potential Clinical Significance. Southern Medical Journal. 2001;94(12). Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/423568. Accessed August 30, 2009. 

3) Rubin H. Central role for magnesium in coordinate control of metabolism and growth in animal cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 1975 Sep;72 (9):3551-5. 

4) Hartwig A. Role of magnesium in genomic stability. Mutation Research [serial online]. April 18, 2001;475(1-2):113- 121. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 14, 2009. 

5) Pressman A. Vitamins and Minerals. New York: Alpha Books; 2007. 

6) Sultenfuss, SW, Sultenfuss TJ. A Woman’s Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and Alternative Healing. New York: MJF Books; 1999. 

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