Magnesium, Lithium, and Zinc - The Holy Triad in Neuroprotection, Brain Recovery, and Healing
Magnesium has been called the body’s primary “anti-stress” mineral, and for good reason. It’s a natural “stress buffer”, and has a powerful soothing, and calming effect on the brain and nervous system. Though, it’s not alone. Due to their similar chemistry – lithium (Li) has similar biological effects to that of magnesium (Mg) – zinc (Zn) too.
As someone who has been fascinated with nutritional biochemistry and trace mineral research since a very young age (around the age of 11 is when I jumped aboard the biochemistry train), I was mesmerized by the intricate interactions of the different vitamins and minerals (both macro and micro) – and how a simple deficiency in just one nutrient could affect so many aspects of one's physiology.
What I've learned in the 30+ years since is that the human body is amazingly resilient, phenomenally complex, and when provided with the proper nutrients, it's simply mind-blowing what the body can do.
Our creator (God), designed us to thrive in this world, not simply survive. And when provided with all of the necessary nutrients (love and human connection included), we can do just that.
Let's now discuss what I regard as three of the most important nutrients in human physiology, neural protection, and brain repair. It's not that other nutrients aren't also incredibly important for the body and brain, they absolutely are. It's just that when it comes to three of the most common nutrient deficiencies (that impair healing processes in the brain and nervous system) in this 21st Century world of ours – magnesium, lithium, and zinc – are at the top of the list for a number of reasons. These include mineral depleted soils, and depleting factors such as glyphosate overuse, caffeine, alcohol, excess calcium supplementation, fluoride, use of certain drugs (e.g. antacids, acid blockers, diuretics), and excess consumption of refined sugar.
To get started, let's first look at the incredible biological functions these precious minerals serve in the body, their unique chemistry, and how they keep you healthy and strong.
Are Natural Anti-Depressants and Stress-Reducers
Magnesium “calms” and “quiets” the system through a few primary mechanisms. One involves modulation and inhibition of the body’s primary excitatory receptor called the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA-R). Lithium and zinc are also modulators and inhibitors of this same receptor, and have mood-elevating and stress-reducing properties. The amino acid, glutamate, and to a lesser degree, aspartate – activate the NMDA-R, and through this activation, can be stimulating to the brain and nervous system. Over-activation of this receptor system can result in feelings of nervousness, irritability, depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances (e.g. night terrors).
Quick chemistry lesson: the ionic radii of Mg2+, Li+, and Zn2+ are: 72 pm, 76 pm, and 74 pm, respectively, which means the three are chemically similar with respect to size; within 5% of one another. Magnesium and lithium also possess a special relationship in chemistry, known as a “diagonal relationship” on the Periodic Table. This results in magnesium and lithium having more chemical and physical properties in common with one another than they do with the elements in their own group (e.g. Li: Group I, Mg: Group II).
The Antioxidant Trio
Mg, Li, and Zn are important antioxidant, anti-inflammatory nutrients that reduce oxidative stress and inflammation – and slow the aging process. All three provide powerful cellular and neuro-protection – against heavy metals and other toxins, and have been shown to promote a stronger immune system with higher intakes correlated with greater longevity. Magnesium reduces oxidative stress – through NMDA receptor inhibition, and by boosting the body’s endogenous antioxidant defense systems (e.g. superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), and catalase). Lithium and zinc, do as well.
Besides the above activities, all three have important nutritional roles in the body, which include the utilization of B-vitamins such as B1, B6, B12, and folate. Lithium is needed for the transport and utilization of both vitamin B12 and folate.
A Protective Shield for the Brain and Nervous System
Mg, Li, and Zn – all serve important neuroprotective functions in the body, and act as a “protective shield” against environmental toxins and stress. Chronic stress, sweating, excess sugar, caffeine, alcohol, calcium supplementation, and mineral antagonists such as glyphosate and fluoride in our food and water – ALL increase our nutritional requirements for these elements (and others). Those who are under chronic stress, or have experienced a recent trauma or injury, would especially benefit from additional amounts of these nutrients, as greater amounts are loss (and required) during physical, emotional, and psychological stress.
ALL three minerals are necessary for the formation of new neurons (ie. neurogenesis) in the brain and nervous system – important in neuronal health and healing. Because of these powerful effects – the three nutrients are what I refer to as the Holy Triad in NeuroRepair and Healing.
In addition to magnesium, lithium, and zinc – the brain also requires a complete spectrum of nutrients such as the B-complex, vitamins C, D, E, K2, oxygen, and essential fatty acids for optimal health and well-being. Most, if not all, of these nutrients have neuroprotective and healing functions in the brain and nervous system.
Companion Nutrients in Neuroprotection, Healing, and Repair
If you’re trying to heal anything in the body, brain, and nervous system, and are deficient in magnesium, lithium, or zinc – healing processes will be impaired.
Nature’s richest source of magnesium are nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruits and vegetables. For lithium, milk and eggs are the richest natural sources, followed by vegetables and grains. The most bioavailable sources of zinc are oysters, shellfish, seafood, organic meats, milk, eggs, followed by nuts and seeds.
Optimizing your intake of these elements increase neural growth factors, stem cell proliferation and mobilization, cellular repair processes, and neurogenesis – all important factors in healing.