Magnesium is arguably the most important mineral in the body, which is why magnesium deficiency can be such an issue.
Not only does magnesium help regulate calcium, potassium and sodium, but it’s essential for cellular health and a critical component of over 300 biochemical functions in the body.
Even glutathione, your body’s most powerful antioxidant that has even been called “the master antioxidant,” requires magnesium for its synthesis. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of this, and millions suffer daily from magnesium deficiency without even knowing it.
Severe and long-term deficiency can also contribute to more serious health problems, such as kidney and liver damage, peroxynitrite damage that can lead to migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or Alzheimer’s disease, and osteoporosis due to poor absorption of vitamin D and calcium.
How do you know if you’re low in magnesium and can benefit from supplementing? It can be difficult to accurately test someone for magnesium deficiency, which is why paying attention to your symptoms is recommended.
Are You at Risk for Magnesium Deficiency?
Who is most susceptible to a magnesium deficiency? According to the National Institute of Health, not everyone is created equal in regard to metabolizing and assimilating magnesium. In fact, certain people are inherently at a greater risk of developing a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium deficiency can be inherited genetically as an inability to absorb this important mineral. Also, a diet low in high magnesium foods or even emotional or work stress can drain magnesium from the body. Whether inherited, through a deficient diet or even stress, a magnesium deficiency can lead to side effects of migraines, diabetes, fatigue and more.
The four most prominent at-risk groups include:
1. People with gastrointestinal complaints
It really all starts in the gut. Since most magnesium is absorbed in the small intestines, issues like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and regional enteritis all have a tendency to cause magnesium deficiency. Also, people who elect for surgeries involving the gut, such as resection or bypass of the small intestines, leave themselves vulnerable for magnesium deficiency.
2. People with type II diabetes
Partly due to increased urination, type II diabetics and people suffering from insulin resistance are known to struggle with proper magnesium absorption. Lowering glucose concentrations in the kidneys through natural diet changes can be extremely helpful for these patients.
3. The elderly
For several reasons, as people age their magnesium levels drop. First and foremost, studies have shown that the elderly simply don’t eat magnesium-rich foods as they did when they were younger. This is relatively easy to correct. The uncontrollable risk factor, however, is that as we age we naturally experience reduced magnesium intestinal absorption, reduced magnesium bone stores and excess urinary loss.
4. People struggling with alcohol dependence
Alcoholics often experience magnesium deficiency because of a combination of the reasons above. The easiest way to understanding this is to see alcohol as an “antinutrient.” It literally sucks the nutrients out of your cells and prevents proper absorption/utilization of the vitamins and minerals that you consume. Consuming one to two glasses of wine a week is fine for most people, but much more than that is highly taxing on your liver. Alcohol can also deplete the minerals in your body because it causes dehydration, gut floral imbalance, immune system compromise, disturbed sleep patterns and premature aging.
Many people may be magnesium deficient and not even know it. Here are some key symptoms to look out for that could indicate if you are deficient:
1. Leg Cramps
Seventy percent of adults and 7 percent of children experience leg cramps on a regular basis. Turns out, leg cramps can more than a nuisance — they can also be downright excruciating! Because of magnesium’s role in neuromuscular signals and muscle contraction, researchers have observed that magnesium deficiency is often to blame.
More and more health care professionals are prescribing magnesium supplements to help their patients. Restless leg syndrome is another warning sign of a magnesium deficiency. To overcome both leg cramps and restless leg syndrome, you will want to increase your intake of both magnesium and potassium.
Magnesium deficiency is often a precursor to sleep disorders, such as anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness. It’s been suggested that this is because magnesium is vital for GABA function, an inhibitory neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid and known to “calm” the brain and promote relaxation.
Taking around 400 milligrams of magnesium before bed or with dinner is the best time of day to take the supplement. Also, adding in magnesium-rich foods during dinner — like nutrition-packed spinach — may help.
3. Muscle Pain/Fibromyalgia
A study published in Magnesium Research examined the role magnesium plays in fibromyalgia symptoms, and it uncovered that increasing magnesium consumption reduced pain and tenderness and also improved immune blood markers.
Oftentimes linked to autoimmune disorders, this research should encourage fibromyalgia patients because it highlights the systemic effects that magnesium supplements have on the body.
As magnesium deficiency can affect the central nervous system, more specifically the GABA cycle in the body, its side effects can include irritability and nervousness. As the deficiency worsens, it causes high levels of anxiety and, in severe cases, depression and hallucinations.
In fact, magnesium has been shown to help calm the body, the muscles and help improve mood. It’s a vital mineral for overall mood. For those suffering form anxiety, taking magnesium on a daily basis, and they’ve seen great results.
Magnesium is needed for every cell function from the gut to the brain, so it’s no wonder that it affects so many systems.
5. High Blood Pressure
Magnesium works partnered with calcium to support proper blood pressure and protect the heart. So when you are magnesium-deficient, often you are also low in calcium and tend toward hypertension or high blood pressure.
A study with 241,378 participants published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a diet high in magnesium foods could reduce the risk of a stroke by 8 percent. This is profound considering that hypertension causes 50 percent of ischemic strokes in the world.
6. Type II Diabetes
One of the four main causes of magnesium deficiency is type II diabetes, but it’s also a common symptom. U.K. researchers, for example, demonstrated that of the 1,452 adults they examined, low magnesium levels were 10 times more common with new diabetics and 8.6 times more common with known diabetics.
As expected from this data, diets rich in magnesium has been shown to significantly lower the risk of type 2 diabetes because of magnesium’s role in sugar metabolism. Another study discovered that the simple addition of magnesium supplementation (100 milligrams/day) lowered the risk of diabetes by 15 percent!
Low energy, weakness and fatigue are common symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Most chronic fatigue syndrome patients are also magnesium-deficient. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that 300–1,000 milligrams of magnesium per day can help, but you do also want to be careful, as too much magnesium can also cause diarrhea.
If you experience this side effect, you can simply reduce your dosage a little until the side effect subsides.
8. Migraine Headaches
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to migraine headaches due to its importance in balancing neurotransmitters in the body. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that 360–600 milligrams of magnesium daily can reduce the frequency of migraine headaches by up to 42 percent.
The National Institute of Health reports that, “The average person’s body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, and about half of that is in the bones.” This is important to realize, especially for the elderly, who are at risk of bone weakening.
Thankfully, there’s hope! A study published in Biology Trace Element Research uncovered that supplementing with magnesium slowed the development of osteoporosis “significantly” after just 30 days. In addition to taking magnesium supplement, you will also want to consider getting more vitamin D3 and K2 to naturally build bone density.
Once thought to be relatively rare, magnesium deficiency is more common than most physicians believe. Here’s why:
- Soil depletion, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the chemicals in our food have created a recipe for disaster. As minerals are removed, stripped away or no longer available in the soil, the percentage of magnesium present in food has decreased.
- Digestive diseases, like leaky gut, can cause malabsorption of minerals, including magnesium. Today, there are hundreds of millions of people who aren’t absorbing their nutrients. Also, as we age, our mineral absorption tends to decrease, so the probability of having a deficiency increases across the board.
- Chronic disease and medication use is at an all-time high. Most chronic illness is associated with magnesium deficiency and lack of mineral absorption. Medications damage the gut, which is responsible for absorbing magnesium from our food.
- When you follow certain restrictive diets, even if you’re drinking a lot of water, you will lose a lot of water weight and also flush essential electrolytes out of our system, including magnesium, potassium or sodium. This especially occurs in the beginning, so having magnesium-rich drinks like bone broth can help.
Should you worry about magnesium deficiency? It all depends on your risk factors and presenting symptoms. Also, approximately 80 percent of people have low levels of magnesium, so the chances are that you’re probably deficient.
Take note: Only 1 percent of magnesium in your body is in your bloodstream, so often you can have a deficiency, and it would not even be discovered by a common blood test.
Foods to Eat
You may be surprised to learn that so many recommended healthy foods are rich in magnesium. It’s quite easy to increase your magnesium intake with these nutritious foods.
The top ten magnesium-rich foods are:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Black beans
- Dark chocolate
Best Magnesium Supplements
If you think you might be magnesium deficient and you want to improve your levels more quickly, you may consider taking an all-natural supplement.
Because magnesium supplements pose little risk for side effects or toxicity, many health care professionals now recommend that adults take supplements regularly to prevent deficiency. For some, a good multivitamin/mineral can suffice.
Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms. The absorption rate and bioavailability of magnesium supplements differs depending on the kind; usually types that dissolve in liquid are better absorbed in the gut than less soluble forms.
It’s believed that magnesium in citrate, chelate and chloride forms are absorbed better than magnesium supplements in magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate forms.
Here’s information about the different types of magnesium supplements:
1. Magnesium Chelate
Magnesium chelate is highly absorbable by the body and the kind found in foods naturally. This type is bound to multiple amino acids (proteins) and used to restore magnesium levels.
2. Magnesium Citrate
This is magnesium combined with citric acid. Magnesium citrate may have a laxative effect in some cases when taken in high doses, but is otherwise safe to use for improving digestion and preventing constipation.
3. Magnesium Chloride Oil
An oil form of magnesium, magnesium chloride can be applied to skin. It’s also given to people who have digestive disorders that prevent normal absorption of magnesium from their food. Athletes sometimes use magnesium oil to increase energy and endurance, to dull muscle pain, and to heal wounds or skin irritation.
4. Magnesium Glycinate
Highly absorbable, magnesium glycinate is recommended for anyone with a known magnesium deficiency and less likely to cause laxative effects than some other magnesium supplements.
5. Magnesium Threonate
Magnesium threonate has a high level of absorbability/bioavailability since it can penetrate the mitochondrial membrane. This type is not as readily available, but as more research is conducted, it may become more widely used.
6. Magnesium Orotate
These supplements have orotic acid, and magnesium orotate is beneficial to the heart.
7. Magnesium Sulfate
8. Magnesium Oxide
Typically used as a laxative and remedy for acid reflux, magnesium oxide may be taken in higher doses than other forms since its not absorbed as well. Another name for this type is hydroxide, which is the ingredient in milk of magnesia that is taken for heartburn symptoms.
Magnesium Side Effects
Just as a reminder, when taking 600 milligrams or more of magnesium, 20 percent of people taking magnesium as a supplement can experience diarrhea.
A good recommendation is to hover around the 300–400 milligrams amount and consult your healthcare provider if you experience any disturbances in your GI tract.
- Magnesium a vital mineral for the body, and according to research, a magnesium deficiency is associated with just about every illness.
- Causes of magnesium deficiency include soil depletion, digestive diseases and chronic disease.
- Magnesium deficiency symptoms include cramps, insomnia, muscle pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes, fatigue, migraines and osteoporosis.
- People with GI complaints, diabetes and alcohol dependence, along with the elderly, are at greater risk of becoming magnesium-deficient.