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  • Writer's pictureDr. Harold Pierre

Magnesium: The Missing Link in Addiction Recovery? 

Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, I did not believe in nutritional supplementation. I thought the sales pitches were all hype and buying supplements was a complete waste of money. That all changed during COVID.

Working as a frontline physician for COVID patients, I saw first hand how nutrition could impact the severity of COVID. It could determine who lived and who died. After contracting COVID and dealing with the severe health consequences, it was then that my journey into improving nutrition and taking supplements began. Boy was I so wrong about nutrition and supplements in the past. I know now, that nutrition is the foundation for overall health.

As time has passed, I've started asking the question, "could supplements help reduce the intensity of addiction to opiates?" Furthermore, can nutrition impact the treatment of drug addiction. Through my research, I kept finding one key element essential for overall health and possibly the recovery from addiction: magnesium.

If addiction is a battle you're facing, there's a key ally you might not have considered: magnesium. This isn't just a regular mineral, it's a critical part of healthy brain operations. Yet, surprisingly enough, magnesium deficiency is common among individuals dealing with substance abuse. So, let's examine the role magnesium plays. How does magnesium deficiency relate to addiction, and how could adding this mineral to your routine help you improve your recovery from drugs. I'm eager to share my insights on magnesium, and why I'm advocating for its use to every patient I treat.

What is Magnesium and Why is it Important?

Foods containing natural magnesium. Mg Chocolate, Banana, cocoa, nuts, avocados. brocoli, almonds. Top view on a black background copy

Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It's involved in energy production, muscle and nerve function, blood sugar regulation, and even the synthesis of DNA and RNA. Let's not forget it is as important to your bones as calcium. Unfortunately, many people, especially those struggling with addiction, are deficient in this vital nutrient. 

The Shocking Prevalence of Magnesium Deficiency

Did you know that up to 50% of Americans don't get enough magnesium in their diets? This widespread deficiency is even more pronounced among those battling substance abuse, with studies showing that individuals with alcohol or drug addiction often have significantly lower magnesium levels compared to healthy people.

Magnesium and Bone Health

Magnesium is important in maintaining bones by ensuring the proper absorption and utilization of calcium and vitamin D. It acts as a player in the bone strengthening process and a deficiency in magnesium can result in weakened bones and an increased susceptibility to osteoporosis. Moreover, magnesium is known to reduce inflammation, which can help prevent bone loss over time. As part of my recommendations for patients, especially those at risk of osteoporosis, I advise incorporating magnesium rich foods, such as leafy greens and supplements, into their daily diet.

The Link Between Magnesium Deficiency and Addiction

So, what's the connection between magnesium and addiction? Research suggests that low magnesium levels can actually increase the risk of developing substance abuse disorders. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to increased anxiety, depression, and stress - all of which can fuel addictive behaviors.

Additionally, inadequate magnesium can lead to sleep disturbances and chronic pain, further perpetuating the cycle of addiction.

How Magnesium Supports Addiction Recovery

Now that you understand the importance of magnesium and its relationship to addiction, I will explore how this mighty mineral can support your recovery journey.

Magnesium works in the brain to help reduce addiction in a few important ways. First, it can lower the amount of a chemical called dopamine that is released. Dopamine is what makes people feel good when they use drugs, so less dopamine means the drugs won't feel as rewarding.

Second, magnesium can block certain receptors in the brain called NMDA receptors. These receptors are like switches that turn on when drugs are used, and they play a big role in addiction. By blocking these receptors, magnesium can help "turn off" the addiction response. Most people know will notice that magnesium reduces muscle cramps, aches and pains.

Finally, magnesium can increase the activity of another brain chemical called GABA. GABA helps calm the brain down, which is important for reducing drug cravings, anxiety, insomnia and preventing relapse. So, by working on these different brain chemicals and receptors within the nervous system, magnesium can be a powerful tool in the fight against addiction. 

Studies Show Magnesium Reduces Opiate and Cocaine Addiction

Numerous animal studies have demonstrated the powerful effects of magnesium on reducing addiction to opiates like morphine and psychostimulants like cocaine, amphetamines and nicotine. In one study, researchers found that supplementing with magnesium decreased the self-administration of cocaine in rats, as well as reduced the risk of relapse. Another study showed that magnesium significantly lowered the intensity of morphine dependence and withdrawal symptoms in animals.

Magnesium Levels are Lower in Drug Abusers

Human studies have also shed light on the link between magnesium and drug abuse. Researchers have consistently found that individuals struggling with substance abuse, including heroin addicts and alcoholics, have significantly lower magnesium levels compared to healthy people. This suggests that magnesium deficiency may play a role in the development and maintenance of addiction.

Practical Tips for Boosting Magnesium Intake

Now that you understand the importance of magnesium for addiction recovery, you may be wondering how to make sure you're getting enough of this essential mineral. Here are some practical tips to boost your magnesium intake:

Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods

One of the best ways to increase your magnesium levels is through diet. Focus on incorporating plenty of magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Some top sources include spinach, almonds, pumpkin seeds, black beans, and quinoa.

Consider Magnesium Supplementation

While food should always be your first line of defense, sometimes supplementation is necessary to correct deficiencies or meet increased needs. This is the route that I have taken and recommend. Now, if you aren't one of my patients, talk with your healthcare provider about whether magnesium supplementation is right for you, and be sure to choose a high-quality supplement from a reputable brand. 

The amount of magnesium you should take per day depends on a few factors, like your age, sex, and overall health status. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium varies based on these factors:

  • Adult women: 310-320 mg per day

  • Pregnant women: 350-360 mg per day

  • Adult men: 400-420 mg per day

Keep in mind that these RDAs are the minimum amounts needed to prevent deficiency in the general population. Some people, like athletes or those with certain health conditions, may need higher amounts.

When it comes to supplementing with magnesium, the general rule of thumb is to aim for no more than 350 mg per day from supplements. This is because high doses of magnesium from supplements can cause some unwanted side effects, like diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping. For example, if you're aiming for 350 mg per day, you could take 100-150 mg two to three times a day with meals.

The Best Magnesium Supplements

Capsule with magnesium Mg. 3D rendering isilated on white background copy

Not all magnesium supplements are made the same. Sometimes, using different types of magnesium may provide benefits based on their side effects. For instance, for someone with constipation, a magnesium oxide or citrate may be the best option. Here are some more details:

  • Magnesium Oxide: Cheapest and most widely available, but least absorbable (around 4%).

  • Magnesium Citrate: More expensive than oxide, but higher absorption rate (around 30%). Known for its laxative effect.

  • Magnesium Glycinate: Pricier than citrate, but even higher absorption rate (around 40%). Gentler on the stomach and less likely to cause digestive issues.

  • Magnesium Threonate: Specifically designed to cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially benefiting brain function and memory. Slightly lower absorption rate than glycinate, but still much higher than oxide.

In my practice, I often recommend that my patients take three different forms of magnesium daily. First, magnesium citrate helps to alleviate constipation. Second, magnesium glycinate plays a crucial role in replenishing the body's magnesium stores. Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, magnesium threonate has shown promise in aiding recovery from highly addictive substances. Of course, more research is needed..

Magnesium and Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction, including dependence on heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, kratom, and other prescription painkillers, is a growing epidemic. Studies have shown that supplementing with magnesium can significantly reduce the intensity of opiate cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it a valuable tool in the recovery process. By supporting the body's natural pain-relieving mechanisms, magnesium may also help reduce the need for opiates in the first place.

Magnesium and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is notorious for depleting vitamin and magnesium levels, which can contribute to a host of health problems including liver damage, heart disease, and neurological issues. Research suggests that supplementing with magnesium may help reduce alcohol cravings, ease withdrawal symptoms, and support overall recovery from alcohol addiction.

Magnesium and Stimulant Addiction

Stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine can wreak havoc on the body's magnesium stores, leading to deficiency and a range of associated health problems. Boosting magnesium intake through diet and supplementation may help reduce cravings, alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and support the healing process in those recovering from stimulant addiction.

The Most Important Things to Remember

To sum up, here are the key takeaways about magnesium and addiction recovery:

- Magnesium deficiency is common among those struggling with substance abuse

- Low magnesium levels can increase the risk of developing addiction and worsen withdrawal symptoms

- Supplementing with magnesium can reduce cravings, ease withdrawal, and support overall recovery

- Magnesium-rich foods and high-quality supplements are effective ways to increase your levels

- Your bones won't be healthy without adequate magnesium

- Magnesium supports recovery from various addictions including opiates, alcohol, and stimulants

- Incorporating magnesium into your recovery plan may enhance your chances of lasting sobriety

When you are in recovery, don't take nutrition for granted. And when it comes to nutrition, I believe magnesium to be the most important ingredient in your addiction recovery journey. Remember, recovery is a process, and every step you take towards becoming functional and law abiding, is a step to ultimately beating addiction for good.

Nechifor, M. (2018). Magnesium in addiction – a general view. Magnesium Research, 31(3), 90-98. 

About the author:

Dr. Harold Pierre is a board-certified anesthesiologist and addiction medicine specialist with over 25 years of experience. He is board-certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology and the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

*Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. 

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