Collin Cross; Ph.D. (10/20/2016)
In articles about magnesium, attempts to describe how important it is for health often reflect a few familiar paths. For instance, many articles will have text making statements along the lines of “over 300 different physiologies depend on magnesium”, to give a flavor of importance. We have used exactly such jargon in our writing more than once. While these statements are certainly true, they somehow seem to fall short in descriptive power. Explaining the benefit of supplemental magnesium is challenging. Magnesium enables so many essential processes in our physiology; it can’t be well described in any single forum. We feel this is particularly the case when considering the profound change it has had on our health and that of so many we know. For these and other reasons, we intend to dig a little deeper into one of the most fundamental mechanisms causing magnesium to have such a broad impact on health. To do this, we will look at how magnesium enables and underpins cellular energy usage and cellular metabolite transport. These are two of the most fundamental and widespread of magnesium’s many roles, and each is important to the entire envelope of our body’s function.
On top of many lists touting health benefits provided by magnesium, we often find descriptions claiming that magnesium helps deliver cellular energy. The energy gain phenomenon is so real and so powerful, to better describe it, we will now use a simple yet detailed chemical and mechanical model as a further means of framing the importance of magnesium status. By using this simple model we can look more closely at what “energy” really means to our body and how magnesium actuates it. We hope this article might help some to understand better a few of the most important roles magnesium plays at the foundation of our cellular biochemistry.
Please check out our premium collection of magnesium and other metabolic support complexes at Genesis BioHealth. Our products deliver therapeutic dosages of both magnesium and vitamin K2-MK4 in a convenient and flexible way as needs change over time. We use no fillers of any sort, and our products help the body replenish and maintain a few critical things needed to maximize potential. Our individual products make up a unique multi-part system of essential supplements that work together to support cellular function at the heart of metabolic and immune regulation. While these critical nutrients and minerals are known to operate together in multiple ways to achieve their impact, at the same time they have become difficult to get in a modern process food diet. For such reasons, lack of these vital nutrients affects the health of a vast number of unknowing people.
The chemical processes keeping us alive are very complex. In this article, rather than dive into technical jargon and details, we will instead try and draw broader analogies from easy to comprehend examples. Then to support the developed concepts with a video for visualization. First, though, we should realize that our body has to accomplish many billions of mechanical tasks each millisecond to continue its existence. With all these ongoing tasks to be potentially performed all the time, practical logistical concerns for raw material needs have a profound impact on our body’s ability to do things like breath, walk, think, talk, move, sleep, heal, defend, grow, digest, etc. In each of these biological processes, complex interactions must occur between multiple systems of our body. Each of these bodily systems is subsequently composed of multiple types of individual cells each having their own needs, magnesium being high on the list of shared resources, and simultaneously one of the hardest to get from diet alone.
To think or act requires logistics
Each of our movements, thoughts, or nerve impulses has a cost in terms of time, energy and a continued flow of chemical resources. Virtually every function in our body has these same physical limitations. A giant commonality of life is that for each cellular process accomplished, numerous resources must move back and forth across cellular membranes. The figure below shows a cartoon-like graphic of a cell membrane. All the colored blobs floating in the membrane are biological “machines”, each participating in specific life-critical functions. The makings for these molecular machines are coded for and controlled by our DNA and manufactured inside our cellular spaces. Either switches, triggers, ports or gates, when you get right down to it. All of these molecular machines need magnesium to be built, transported, operated and maintained. The eyes, ears, mouths and limbs of the cell, yet coming in the vast diversity of all nature’s most amazing wonders.
Many, or even most, of the material selectively allowed to “move” through the “walls” and “compartments” of a cell require a net input of mechanical and/or chemical energy. The majority of these specialized “channels” into the cells inner compartments have a gate-keeping function so that only certain things are allowed to pass selectively. The body accomplishes these complex microscopic mechanical tasks using an amazing ability to create seemingly unlimited arrays of very specific biochemical machines made from protein. We will take a closer look at the workings of one such gate-keeping channel below. Technically the channels going through the cell membranes are a class of compounds called “transmembrane proteins.” These large chemical structures are manufactured inside the cell from many types of smaller building blocks; many also being imported through such channels. Upon completion, the transmembrane proteins are transported to, and installed in, the “membranes” to which they belong by yet other dedicated cellular transport machinery. Once installed, the transmembrane proteins typically have different functions on the outside vs. the inside of the membrane. The blueprints, the manufacturing processes, the auxiliary support structures, and the regulatory codebook for these hordes of living machines are all stored in our DNA, deep inside the arcane processes of each cell.
Cells are like factories
While it may not be common to consider, each time we create a thought or action, a series of cells in our body starts manufacturing specific chemicals. After the chemicals are produced inside the involved cells, they are either used internally or often exported to interact with other cells in the body that need them. We give names to these manufactured chemical machines like hormones, neurotransmitters, metabolites, enzymes, factors, co-factors, cytokines, cell walls, ribosomes, integral membranes, and many other names. In the end, one of the most important things to realize is that our body has to manufacture all these different macro-chemical structures inside our cells using a long series of complex cellular machinery and processes. Because of the similar nature of all manufacturing processes, we can think of these miniature cellular factories as being very like a large integrated industrial complex we might see in any technological city. Every coordinated action in our body means biological factories go into action, somewhere deep inside our cells, to achieve current objectives. At least we hope they do! If they have enough magnesium, that is!
To manufacture anything, anywhere, be it in our cellular factories or a large industrial city factory, raw materials, their movement, their transformation, and energy are always required. For cells in our body, this means we have to move many varied resources from outside the cell, to the inside and vice-versa, all while excluding unwanted toxins or anti-nutrients. Once pumped inside a call, metabolites might get further tagged, routed and transported to other specific regions of the cell to fulfill their destinies. The orchestra of chemistry and its organizational complexity is nearly magical, especially since it has arisen amidst the surrounding chaos reigning at the microscopic thermophysical level.
After all the required building materials arrive at their final destinations, they go through a set of complex processes very much like an assembly line. The cellular manufacturing process starts with reading the DNA to get the required design template and ends with a newly folded protein or alternative piece of cellular machinery ready for shipping out to its final destination. The finished products of these intracellular factories must then be exported from the cell so they can be used and/or imported in turn by other cells. The process of exporting finished chemical products from inside a cell is called “secretion.” Whenever we think or act, lots of cells have to secrete things and also to digest things like neurotransmitters, hormones, or other chemical species, which then interact with other interconnected processes in various ways. The figure above shows a typical example of one cell secreting a hormone to be read by another cell’s receptors. In this way, factories in different regions can coordinate their actions to achieve larger, multi-system tasks such as turning over bone cells and scavenging calcium from soft tissues. Effective nutrient driven logistics and their regulatory biochemistry must function smoothly to keep the factories of our blood and immune chemistry functioning properly to better stem the tide of aging. The cellular receptors shown here are another type of transmembrane structure embedded in cell walls and involved in cellular communications.
Factories need lots of energy
All the manufacturing and secretion of finished products described above requires lots of “energy.” Commonly we are taught to think of energy from food as “calories.” Well, this isn’t very true in the end. On its own, a “calorie” is only a little measure of potential or existing heat. Heat by itself can’t do anything except flow to regions of less heat. To get work out of a process, we must couple the heat flow to mechanical machinery. It is just the same with molecules at the cellular level as it is for a machine in an assembly line of a factory. One of the most common forms of chemical energy our body uses to derive practical work is called “ATP,” or Adenosine Triphosphate. This little molecule, called a nucleotide, gets manufactured and destroyed over and over again in our bodies. Its job is to both carry and supply energy where it is needed. It is used as a vehicle to spread fuel around wherever it needs to go. When ATP gets where it is needed, it ultimately gets metaphorically burned for work, or at least a part of it does. Just like a gasoline distribution system, starting in a refinery and ending in our cars engines, our body makes lots of ATP in specific locations and allows it to spread through our body to get used. Most ATP is used quickly, however, so it usually doesn’t spread too far.
Here is where magnesium finally comes in. For ATP to deliver energy and achieve work, it must join to magnesium. Meaning these two chemical species must bind together to form a single unit, called a complex. This complex has a very special shape and electrostatic charge pattern allowing it to fit tightly into special activation pockets wherever it is to be used like a key into the keyhole of a lock. An ATP molecule, by itself without magnesium, can’t be used to create any work because it won’t have the correct shape or charge distribution. If a person is low in magnesium, their body will spend excess resources and energy making ATP which will then just float around uselessly until it meets a lonely magnesium ion. On the other hand, if we have more free magnesium in our cells, we can use ATP more quickly because the ions are more plentiful and the ATP can easily find a magnesium when it is needed. Having more energy and using it more efficiently means we can accomplish more tasks in the same time frame. Being able to spend more energy units in the same time frame allows our body to multi-task more effectively. Providing our body with a better ability to chemically multitask can have many significant and practical impacts on life and health. As an example, enough magnesium might better allow us to take care of our family, fuel our immune systems, flush stress hormones, deal with adversity, and function more effectively without tiredness, all at the same time.
Who cut the energy budget?
Imagine if we were to try and run a large industrial complex without enough fuel? Would we get out as much product over the same time frame? As much productivity? Of special importance to many readers on the downhill side of gray, what about our factories maintenance budget? The answer is no. We simply can’t make as much product in our factory or keep it maintained properly without as much energy and resources. It is precisely the same in our body. We don’t want to get into a state where magnesium status (or any other micronutrient status) is limiting the rate of our metabolism and its ideal chemical production and distribution output. Such a state of magnesium shortage will always lead to rationing, and will necessarily result in the down-regulation of important cellular activities affecting long-term health.
In the section below, we will use an animated video to show biochemically one way magnesium and ATP contribute to cellular workflow and provide energy for ongoing mechanical processes. We hope you enjoy it and learn something new! As an example, we will consider a broad reaching aspect of the cellular lifecycle called “primary active transport.” Primary active transport is a set of different cellular pumping mechanisms for different materials. It is these type mechanical processes where various metabolites are pumped into, or out of, cellular compartments against their natural tendencies of random diffusion. Whether pumping water uphill or filling a vacuole with magnesium ions, both pumping activities require energy and mechanics to move material against the fundamental forces of nature. From the secretion of bile to the absorption of a fat droplet to its delivery to the liver to its absorption into a set of liver cells, or for any and all of the involved cellular processes of the body, active transport is essential. We can’t think of a more fundamental level of function for defining the key mechanisms of life and health, other than the genomic activities themselves.
Start the pumps! We’re taking on water!
With the description above in-hand, we ask the reader to think of primary active transport as our “cellular pumps.” Cells have to pump all sorts of stuff all the time. Any thought or action requires all kinds of cells to pump many things in and out across many cellular compartments. As such, our “pumps” are very-very important for all aspects of health and life. We should try to do everything possible to keep our pumps running at full speed all the time. Magnesium is a huge help here. Higher levels of magnesium allow our body to pump more efficiently by enabling faster ATP turnover. Faster ATP turnover means that we can produce more thoughts and actions in less time. Ask any boat captain about the impact of pumps on life and death at sea? Simply put, if a ship can pump out water as fast or faster than it is taking it in, it will continue to float on, even with a hole. If the old pumps slow down beyond a critical amount, it’s never good, and the boat will begin to take on water!
On active transport
The type of active transport we illustrate below is called “Ligand-Gated” transport. We will focus on a particular subset of this transport class that specifically uses a piece of toolkit called an “ATP Binding Cassette” (ABC transport). ABC transport is a fascinating and important type of cellular transport, but there are many others types. All forms of active transport require magnesium and ATP either directly or indirectly to provide motive force, the true nature of cellular energy. We have chosen to illustrate ligand-gated ABC transport because it is also important for understanding why vitamin K2-MK4 is important for many forms of cellular communications. Later we might decide to cover how MK4 can “activate” many ligands in the body, in effect turning them on, or off. That is a story for another article, however. Back on the magnesium front, we can think of active transport machinery as important pumps responsible for getting nutrients across membranes so we can achieve necessary and desired tasks and actions. If we can’t move material across membranes fast enough, we don’t complete critical tasks and procedures at the desired rate. Thus our cellular punch list might start to fall behind, leading to worse health outcomes.
Below is a generalized list of cellular processes depending on ABC type cellular transport. It is only a small list, but we can use it to represent the much larger number of processes mediated by this kind of mechanism alone
- Nutrient transport – cholesterol, lipids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, toxins, steroids, drugs
- Ion transport – pH, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, etc.
- Chemical signaling – cellular receptors, neurotransmitters, blood brain barrier, bile, liver, pancreas, skeleton.
- Drug uptake and Toxin removal – identification, import, and export of many non-specific sorts of compounds.
Animated video showing how magnesium and ATP fuel active transport
We hope you enjoy the animation and it helps you understand how cellular magnesium concentrations directly control the rates of many important biochemical processes. Please get your magnesium at our store here.
Without magnesium, cellular logistics will grind to a halt. If the body is only 10% low, then 10% of potential interactions don’t happen. Nutrient shortages force the body to ration, or timeshare, its most precious resources. Forced rationing of vital energy resources slow the metabolism and all dependent processes, like our health! Slowing our health is never good, Get your Mag Today!
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