Balancing Magnesium, Potassium, and Sodium
Hair tissue mineral analysis is an amazing tool to use to determine how your body is handling stress, how well your adrenals are working, and where your mineral levels are. Minerals are needed for millions of enzymes as co-factors, inhibitors or even as the enzyme themselves. Enzymes are what keeps our bodies running. When we are low on minerals or if they are imbalanced, our bodies cannot physically function correctly. We look at the whole picture with HTMA- levels, ratios, and the person’s individual symptoms.
In this post though, we are going to go over 3 of the main minerals in HTMA which include: Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium. Our goal with HTMA is to BALANCE these minerals. These 3 have a very delicate balance, but they are all incredibly important. (and Calcium makes up the 4th main mineral- but it doesn’t seem to be as hard to balance as the other 3 for most people).
Balancing Mg/Na/K: A Delicate Mineral Dance!
In the mineral balancing world, magnesium lowers sodium, which in turn can mess with the sodium/potassium ratio. From ARL Labs: “Sodium and magnesium tend to be antagonistic. As one goes up the other goes down. The ratio of the two minerals often gives a better picture of adrenal activity than the sodium level alone. “
If both sodium and potassium are low and one takes their dose of mag (whether it be the RDA of 400mg or their body-weight dose of about 800+), one can experience both low sodium and low potassium signs. Also, while potassium might not directly be affected by mag, it is very closely related to cortisol on its own and magnesium can lower cortisol. So a very low potassium reading on the HTMA can indicate low cortisol output (roughly), which would indicate an issue with tolerating magnesium.
With HTMA, there are clear indications if someone truly can handle mag or not. About 80% of people in general are slow oxidizers, which means that adrenals are sluggish. Magnesium *decreases* adrenal function, while sodium supports it. Mag *lowers* sodium and further decreases adrenal activity. For some, it can take months and other it takes years to see the negative effect. HTMA is about balancing in the long run, not taking massive doses of any one nutrient.
I am seeing that *so many people* are reacting poorly to magnesium.
Adrenal crashes, severe insomnia, anxiety, low blood pressure, dizziness- these are all of the side effects of too much mag and not enough sodium and potassium. I know it can be frustrating, as there are oodles of articles out there coming out about how magnesium can be a cure-all mineral for so many illnesses. Magnesium is crucial but when we have low sodium and potassium, it can be hard to tolerate any amount of magnesium. This is why the HTMA is important so we can determine your sodium and potassium, as well as the state of your adrenals. The whole point is to get a personalized plan. Healing happens in stages: we cannot fix everything all at once!
You can read my whole post on the sodium/magnesium ratio here and how it relates to adrenal health. In short: Those with OVER-active adrenals need more magnesium, and those with UNDER-active need more sodium (and often cannot tolerate any magnesium!). Usually with over-active adrenals, one will have high cortisol and high sodium levels- taking magnesium can help balance this. Those with under-active adrenals are more complicated, as they tend to have mixed cortisol and very low sodium- so magnesium *might* help someone if they deal with high nighttime cortisol, but overall they need to focus more on sodium through the day to support the adrenals.
So how much Mag, Potassium, and Sodium do we need?
Looking at the minerals separately: Magnesium recommended daily amount is about 400mg. Potassium RDA is about 4700mg. Sodium RDA is about 2300mg. (These obviously approximates as the RDA doesn’t always cut it when it comes to info- just using these as a reference). That is a pretty big difference here: 400-4700-2300. So if you are using more than that amount of mag, imagine how much more sodium and potassium you would need to properly balance it. Many are doing 800+mg of magnesium, and doing maybe 2-3 adrenal cocktails (which have about 500g of potassium and about 500mg of sodium).
Needs for each mineral will vary person to person depending on HTMA results and symptoms, as well as what a person tolerates. A majority of people are not getting nearly enough potassium in their diet. Unless you are focusing on potassium intake, it is extremely hard to get to that almost 5000mg amount! Usually I suggest going for about 3000 a day just to get used to getting more potassium and that way we slowly introduce it instead of flooding the body with it (especially as potassium can cause copper dumping!). Read my post on potassium here for more info and my giant list of favorite potassium rich foods.
Sodium intake seems to vary person to person. Many people with adrenal fatigue crave salt like crazy. We have the potential to waste up to 30,000mg of sodium a day when adrenals are stressed (and I cannot find the source I had for this as I read it several years ago now- but it is an alarming amount, and mineral balancing agrees at least that sodium is the first mineral that we start burning through like crazy in adrenal fatigue.) I usually have people listen to their body on this: if it tastes good to you, go for it! Eventually your body shouldn’t crave it as much as levels are replenished. Adrenal cocktails, salt water sole, doing sea salt baths, making your own salt capsules, and obviously just salting food are all helpful.
When sodium, potassium, and magnesium are all low it is VERY hard for someone to raise all 3 at once. They all have to be in balance because too much of one can bump another around. It can be easy to determine which one is the lowest when looking at an HTMA though, and that is usually the main one that people need to focus on. I try to tell people to take note of their symptoms: low sodium signs include dizziness, low blood pressure, muscle weakness or a very rapid heartbeat. Low potassium signs include a hard, thumping heartbeat; thirst; insomnia; or muscle cramps. Low magnesium signs include muscle pain/stiffness, headaches, and skipped heartbeats.
My favorite way to use magnesium is topically. It seems to have less of a chance to mess with sodium this way, and I’m seeing people raise levels well with it. There was a study that showed that in only 12 weeks of use, most of the people rose their magnesium levels by almost 60%! Compare that to oral supplementation which can take 9-24 months to raise mag levels. (Source)
You can try mag oil baths or foot baths: try 1-2 ounces mag oil (or ½ cup to 1 cup of flakes), 1 cup of baking soda (for increased mag absorption and to neutralize chlorine in the water); add ½ cup of pink salt if desired so you can get the balance between sodium and magnesium. Soak for 20-40 minutes at least twice a week.
Common questions I get:
“But don’t we burn through magnesium like crazy under stress?” Yes we do. We can also burn through sodium, potassium, zinc, and even copper (technically, stored copper can get pushed out under stress, along with other toxins). Magnesium is not the *only* mineral that has to do with stress!
“Our soils are so depleted of mag, don’t we need high doses?” Yes, our soils are depleted. A Standard American diet is also very devoid of most nutrients. Switching to a whole foods diet can help increase nutrients in your diet (plus healing your gut– we need stomach acid to utilize many nutrients). If you look in nature, you will *never* find any food right now with the whole RDA of magnesium in it. The most you will find is about 150mg in a cup of cooked spinach or an ounce of pumpkin/squash seeds- plus you will be getting SO much more from the food: enzymes, co-factors, more minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, protein, etc. You can check a list of high magnesium foods here. Also, nettle and oatstraw infusions are very magnesium rich. More is not always better. We need to look at nutrients in a complex, not in isolation, especially when you are trying to heal your body and not just treat symptoms.
“I NEED magnesium for xyz reason. I can’t live without it.” Yes, I believe that. Magnesium supplementation acts like a crutch (sort of like any other isolated nutrient). I’m coming across many people that supplement with mag or any other nutrient in isolation for years and their symptoms are managed, but their levels never rise much, or they even drop. Isolated oral magnesium is not the kind that your body utilizes so while you might find symptom relief, it isn’t solving the actual deficiency. As soon as one stops supplementation for a day or 2, their symptoms come right back.
I preach caution with high doses of anything in general, but magnesium is the most common one right now that is creating so many issues for people. In our quest for better health, we see to believe the “more is better” lie. We became ill because our diet was imbalanced to begin with- flooding your body with the full RDA of each nutrient (or more) is not the way to get yourself back in balance. There is a huge difference between treating an illness and healing your body. The more that time goes on, the more I am an advocate for whole food nutrition, nutrient dense foods, and focusing on the body as a whole.
Need more reading?
Adrenaladvice.com: “If you are unfortunate enough to get to the exhaustion stage ……too much magnesium can cause you to crash since it lowers sodium.”
ARL Labs: Sodium and the Adrenals
Nutrient interactions: what happens when you take one nutrient on its own and the other nutrients it can lower/raise