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Here's a little something that can help you make it through the holidays.

I'd like to introduce you to magnesium, the fourth most abundant mineral in your body. Magnesium is the most critical mineral for coping with stress.

That's right. Number one for helping you handle stress.

With the adrenaline-fueled rush of shopping and partying, stress levels go up, up and away. Taking a little magnesium or eating magnesium-rich foods could help bring stress down to a manageable level, and even let you enjoy the holidays more.

Magnesium helps muscles relax, and calms excited cells. It goes to work right away to ease stress and can help you fall asleep at night. In a moment I will explain how magnesium functions in the body. But first, let's look at common signs of magnesium deficiency, and what you can do about it.

Do you experience: leg or foot cramps, sensitivity to loud noises, muscle twitches spasms or tension, trouble falling asleep, restless legs, palpitations or irritability?

If so, you may be lacking in magnesium. Unfortunately, surveys suggest that many Americans fail to get the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, or if you're being treated for heart disease or high blood pressure, you may need a magnesium supplement.

Dietary supplements of magnesium come in several typical forms such as magnesium chloride or magnesium citrate. Another is magnesium glycinate. I take a powdered magnesium called "Natural Calm." The dose needed varies from 100 milligrams to about 500 milligrams per day of magnesium. While magnesium can help alleviate constipation, it can also cause diarrhea.

Note: People who suffer from kidney disease or are severely dehydrated may develop levels of magnesium in the blood which are too high. People with kidney disease or who are dehydrated should only take magnesium supplements under strict medical supervision.

Just as magnesium taken at bedtime can induce sleep, so high blood levels of magnesium may cause drowsiness and lethargy. Stress-related diseases, including heart attacks and high blood pressure, are often accompanied by a magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium supplements can help reduce blood pressure, according to research published in the American Journal of Hypertension.

The best food sources of magnesium are: broccoli, spinach, Swiss chard, oats, whole barley, millet, bananas, blackberries, dates, dried figs, mangoes, watermelon, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews hazel nuts, shrimp, tuna, buckwheat (kasha), navy beans, kidney beans green beans, soybeans (including tofu) and black-eyed peas.

Broccoli has the highest magnesium concentration per calorie. Even when you eat these foods regularly, you can become magnesium deficient if you're chronically stressed.

The complex relationship between stress and magnesium explains why many of my patients require magnesium supplements, because even a nutritious diet does not correct their magnesium deficiency.

For example, most people, when exposed to the stress of continuous loud noise, become irritable, easily fatigued, and lose concentration. Your blood pressure may increase as the level of adrenaline (a stress hormone) increases in the blood. Under conditions of mental or physical stress, magnesium is released from your blood cells and goes into the blood plasma. From there, it's excreted into the urine.

Chronic stress depletes your body of magnesium. The greater your level of stress, the greater the loss of magnesium. The lower your initial magnesium level is, the more reactive to stress you become, and the higher your level of adrenaline in stressful situations. Higher adrenaline causes greater loss of magnesium from cells, creating a vicious cycle.

Taking magnesium as a nutritional supplement breaks this cycle by raising blood magnesium levels and buffering the response to stress, which builds your resistance. Personality has a marked effect on the stress-magnesium cycle. A study done in Paris found that stress-induced depletion of magnesium is much greater in people who show the "Type A," competitive, heart-disease-prone behavior pattern than their less competitive colleagues.

Physiologists at the State University of New York have proposed that depletion of magnesium among Type A individuals is the main reason they are at increased risk for heart attacks. Depending on how stressed you are, you could try eating more magnesium-rich foods, or take a magnesium supplement.

Here's a little something that can help you make it through the holidays.