The second most abundant mineral in our body, magnesium participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions. Its importance in gastrointestinal health is well known. Its sufficiency in the body helps keep your digestive system in top shape and its supplementation can help cure many digestive woes. Among the many GI troubles that magnesium is able to help in, GERD is one of them.
GERD happens when acidic contents of the stomach slosh back up into the esophagus. This causes inflammation and irritation of the sensitive lining of the esophagus, called “heartburn.” The junction between the esophagus and the stomach is guarded by the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This sphincter is meant to open downwards, allowing swallowed food to enter the stomach. If the LES experiences pressure from within the stomach, it gets weak and opens upwards, spilling stomach contents into the esophagus. While occasional acid reflux is common, chronic acid reflux is called GERD and is damaging in the long term, causing many health complications.
Magnesium helps relieve GERD by two mechanisms. Magnesium is a known regulator of muscle action and helps muscles to relax. It is especially active in the action of the pyloric sphincter. The pyloric sphincter is a muscular valve that guards the junction between the stomach and the small intestines. When digestion of the food in the stomach is complete, the pyloric sphincter gets a signal to relax, thereby allowing food to enter the small intestines for further digestion.
In case of magnesium deficiency, the pyloric sphincter fails to relax as frequently as it should. This impairs efficient emptying of the stomach. The food remains in the stomach for a longer time and creates pressure on the LES. The LES succumbs to the pressure and opens upwards, causing acid reflux.
Another mechanism by which magnesium helps relieve GERD is by its action on the stomach acid. In cases of digestive troubles caused by high stomach acid, magnesium is extremely efficient in neutralizing this acidity. When stomach acidity is high, it impairs normal digestion. Improper digestion leads to formation of gas and bloating. A bloated stomach puts pressure on the LES making it open upwards and spilling acidic contents into the esophagus. Many acid reflux medications contain magnesium (Milk of Magnesia, for example, is an excellent remedy for acid reflux, apart from its ability to relieve constipation) due to its ability to neutralize excess acidity in the stomach.
Magnesium is present in both animal and plant foods. Foods rich in fiber are often also rich in magnesium, like:
As a dietary supplement, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is between 100-750 milligrams per day. To treat GERD you will need a higher dose of around 500-700 milligrams per day, usually divided into equal doses. You should involve your medical practitioner to select the right dose for you.
Magnesium is also available in a supplement form as a chemical combination. Experts recommend magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate. While these can be somewhat expensive, they are easily absorbed in the body and show much better effects than say, magnesium oxide, which is cheaper but is not well absorbed in the body. Magnesium threonate, however, is considered by some as the best form of magnesium supplement.
While magnesium is a vital nutrient for the human body, excess magnesium is bad and may cause side effects. To understand safety of the various supplemental forms as well as the potential side effects of excess magnesium intake, we recommend one of our related articles on this nutrient.
Regulating muscle tone and contractions and neutralizing excess acid in the stomach are the two known ways in which magnesium helps treat digestive problems like GERD. Therefore, adequate amounts of magnesium can help in keeping such chronic health conditions at bay.
Magnesium is undoubtedly an important mineral in the normal functioning of our bodies. And yet, close to 80% of adult Americans have been found to be deficient in this important mineral. It really is no wonder that we spend billions of dollars to treat our various gastrointestinal distresses. If only we could make our bodies sufficient in magnesium, then we wouldn’t need to worry too much about the health of our digestive systems and, indeed, the overall health of our bodies.