By Rachel Welch
The holidays and winter weather are quickly approaching, and with them comes planning, gatherings, vacations, work deadlines, and sometimes, stress. Unfortunately, the exciting time of year that gives us the warm and fuzzy feelings we love, can also stir up stressful and frantic feelings that we could do without! If you are looking ahead to the holiday season, and wondering how you will make it through while clinging to peace and calm, this is the post for you.
Holiday stress and normal life stressors can thankfully be addressed in simple ways. Certain factors make a positive difference in our maintenance of stress so that we can lessen how it impacts our health. Factors like exercise, good nutrition, proper hydration, and quality sleep can all play a big part in how you feel, and how you cope with the unexpected. In addition to maintaining healthy nutrition, it seems that two factors are exceptionally helpful in increasing our peace and calm - the combination of magnesium and meditation. This powerful duo might just be the key to a stress-free holiday season!
Magnesium is a naturally-occurring mineral in the body and one that we also can benefit from supplementing. Magnesium benefits our health in several areas, including our nervous system, muscles, heart, bones, and immune system. Typically, an adult body holds around 25 grams of magnesium normally, and about half of that is stored in bone. The rest is found in soft tissues, bodily fluids, and muscles. While magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, it is still something we should focus on incorporating into our diets and supplement routines.
It likely doesn’t come as a surprise that many adults need more magnesium than what is readily available in a typical American diet. What may be surprising, is that a common symptom of magnesium deficiency is stress. This is because magnesium is crucial to the proper function of our nervous system, which determines how the body handles stress (2).
There are several different types of magnesium, and they all have an important purpose in the body.
Aspartate – Aspartate is bound with an amino acid called aspartic acid, which naturally occurs in your body as it breaks down protein. More easily absorbed than, for instance, Magnesium Oxide, it has been found to have a positive effect on fatigue.
Chloride – This type includes chlorine. It has a relatively lower level of absorption in comparison to other types. Supplements with Magnesium Chloride are used to treat low Magnesium levels and digestive issues. If you take it to increase Magnesium levels, you may experience unwanted gastrointestinal side effects.
Citrate – This type of Magnesium is bound with citric acid, which also gives citrus fruits their tart flavor. Because it is easily absorbed through your digestive tract, it is the most commonly used in supplements. Since higher doses have a laxative effect, it can also be used to treat constipation.
Glycinate –This type includes the amino acid glycine, which naturally occurs in foods rich in protein, such as fish, meat, and dairy. It is easily absorbed and, for most people, the least likely to cause unwanted gastrointestinal side effects. Magnesium Glycinate can enhance your quality of sleep and promote neurological functions—that is, it can be used to treat people suffering from insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Lactate – This type is bound with lactic acid (yes, the kind that forms in your muscles and makes you feel sore). Although easily absorbed, it is less commonly seen in supplements; however, if you need large doses of Magnesium without wanting to stimulate your digestive tract, you may select this type.
L-Threonate – This type contains threonic acid, which naturally occurs when your body breaks down Vitamin C. It is more effective as a source of threonic acid, rather than of Magnesium. It seems to be most effective in the brain, based on research conducted on animals. More research is needed to fully understand its effects and benefits on humans.
Malate – This type is bound with malic acid, which naturally occurs in fruit and wine. It has been found to remain in the blood at a higher level for longer. Easily absorbed in the digestive tract and with less of a laxative effect, it is often used to treat Magnesium deficiency.
Orotate – This type includes orotic acid, which naturally occurs in your body when it builds genetic material, such as DNA. Because orotic acid plays a role in the way in which heart and blood vessel tissues produce energy, it is a (costly) supplement that can benefit athletes and patients suffering from congestive heart failure.
Oxide – This type is bound with oxygen. It is poorly absorbed in the body and, in its white powdery or liquid form (known as “Milk of Magnesia”), serves to treat digestive issues such as constipation, heartburn, and indigestion.
Sulfate – This type is bound with oxygen and sulfur. You can find it commonly available as Epsom Salt, to treat sore muscles when added to bathwater. Using it in your bathwater may increase Magnesium levels, but this type of topical application has not yet been properly studied. Magnesium Sulfate is poorly absorbed when taken orally. Although you can take it to treat constipation, its unpleasant taste will probably have you reaching for other options.
Taurate – This type is bound with the amino acid taurine. In animal studies, taurate has been proven to regulate blood pressure and promote a healthy blood sugar level. It may therefore be beneficial for treating high blood pressure and helping especially diabetics manage high blood sugar (1).
From this variety, four types of magnesium are considered to be essential. These are Malate, Glycinate, Taurate, and Citrate.
● Malate helps to increase your endurance and can improve athletic performance.
●Glycinate helps with balancing energy. This form is often used to help with anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. It also has shown significant effects in the management of chronic fatigue syndrome.
● Taurate is a heart-healthy favorite! It is believed to be one of the best options for naturally managing high blood sugar and high blood pressure.
● Citrate helps regulate bowel movements, and improves digestion (3).
Magnesium comes in many shapes and sizes, and all of them help us to feel our best! Now, what if we could give magnesium a natural and pleasant boost in efficacy? The great news is that we can, with the amazing powers of meditation!
Meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand and are often referred to interchangeably. Meditation is considered a “mindfulness practice,” which is a practice of becoming mindful of the precise moment, versus being distracted by thoughts and worries for the future. Previously considered a “far out” and “woo woo” practice, meditation has gained substantial scientific credibility in recent years. Meditation has been shown to be a truly powerful tool for both relieving stress, and even physically altering our brains!
Meditation is a practice or training of awareness in the present moment. Often, meditation is done by an individual sitting or laying still, with their eyes closed. If they are engaging in a guided meditation, they might have an audio track to walk them through the process. In a beginner-level meditation, you might hear calm instructions similar to “focus on your breath, and try to only focus on your breath.” The purpose of this instruction is to help the individual become more aware of their body and less aware of the millions of racing thoughts in their mind. Through the practice of meditation, a person can gain mental peace of mind, a feeling of calm, and a dose of relaxation.
There are many different types of meditation. Some explore different thoughts, sound patterns, breathing techniques, and more. Whichever variety you choose, the basic goal of practicing meditation is to slow down, pause, and be still with your breath and body. This allows the mind to slow down, rest, and recalibrate.
In tandem with a magnesium supplement, meditation is a daily practice that you can implement to further reduce your stress and find relaxation. If you’re still not convinced, check out what science has to say.
Now, for a bit of brain anatomy. The amygdala is the part of our brain that is responsible for our fight, flight, and stress response. The amygdala is the highly emotional, fearful part of the brain.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain which allows cognitive control, including attention and regulating how you respond to impulses. This helps the brain to determine if that spider on the wall is actually a threat to your life, or perhaps, just a surprising nuisance. Without the help of the prefrontal cortex, we would likely react very prehistorically to any slight or perceived threat. Thank goodness it is there to help us think!
So, why the lesson on brain anatomy? Well, according to neuroscience research, mindfulness practices (like meditation) reduce the activity in the amygdala and increase connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. This means that meditation helps the amygdala to calm down, and strengthens the physical connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, which allows the brain to be more rational when stressors occur (4). The stronger the connection, the more effectively they can work together.
In short, meditation can help us react more calmly to stressful situations.
Additionally, studies have shown that meditation may increase one’s compassion. Particularly in the case of “loving-kindness meditation” practices, it appears that meditation helps to reduce activity in the part of the brain that is self-focused and activates circuits in the brain which are connected to empathy and love. Researchers have also found that meditation sharpens attention. Some results suggest that improved attention seems to last up to 5 years after mindfulness training (5).
M&M: Magnesium and Meditation
You know we aren’t talking about “candy” when we say M&M. No, we are talking about the relationship between magnesium and meditation, as a powerful pair to fight off stress!
In addition to finding a high-quality magnesium supplement, here are some tips to get started with meditation. Remember, there are many different kinds of meditation out there, so don’t be afraid to explore and try new ones until you find what works for you. Here are a few resources to help you get started:
Headspace: an app with free introductions to basic mediation, that includes paid options for premium content.
Insight Timer: a free app with quite possibly the largest collection of free meditations! I love this one personally, as it has introduced me to several different courses and cool soundtracks.
YouTube: There are countless meditation tracks available on YouTube by different creators!
Calm: another free app, that includes basic introductions, and paid options to go deeper.
I hope you enjoy your new daily routine of magnesium supplements and meditation practice. If you gain consistency with this powerful pair, you are sure to have a more peaceful and joyful holiday season!