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Magnesium Deficiency

This month Dr. Burkhart talks about an important mineral  that needs to be addressed if you suffer from a malabsorption disorder, chronic stress, allergic problems, hormone imbalances and more. What is it?


Magnesium deficiency has been associated with all of the following health problems and more!

Arrythmias/Irregular heart beat
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Celiac Disease
Crohn’s Disease
Elevated triglycerides
High Blood pressure
High levels of stress
Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
Insulin Resistance
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Malabsorption Disorders
Muscle Twitching/Spasm
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Perimenopausal symptoms
Premenstrual symptom
Regular Use of Alcohol or Alcoholism
Restless Leg Syndrome
Thyroid Disease
Ulcerative Colitis

Why talk about Magnesium?

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies (following Calcium, Phosporus and Potassium). It is vital to health.  And MANY of us are deficient in it. The majority of magnesium is stored in our bones and most of the remainder is in our cells. Very little actually circulates in our blood. That little bit in our blood however, is crucial to our heart and plays a key role in maintaining a regular heart beat.

It has a number of other important roles in our body including blood sugar regulation, energy production, blood pressure normalization, muscle and nerve function and maintenance of a healthy immune system.

Why are so many people deficient in it?

DIET.  They typical American diet is full of processed, refined foods. Refining carbohydrates removes magnesium in addition to many other important nutrients. The process of refining involves removing  the hull (outside portion) of a grain.  This turns brown rice into white rice or whole grain wheat into white flour.

As our lives have gotten busier and people rely more on packaged and processed foods, magnesium intake declines. Gluten free diets are notoriously low in magnesium and it is an important nutrient that should be addressed with anyone following a gluten free diet. Wheat bran is one of the foods with the highest concentration of magnesium. When you eliminate wheat from the diet, an important source of magnesium is lost. Also, manufactured gluten free foods are full of refined flours and sugars and void of this important mineral.

Caffeine is also a magnesium depleting chemical, as is alcohol.  We all know how well Starbucks does in this country-caffeine consumption is high for the average American.

Chronic stress, in any form also depletes magnesium levels. Combine a poor diet, caffeine intake, chronic stress and alcohol and you have a set up for magnesium depletion.

What are some of the signs of magnesium deficiency?

Abnormal heart rhythms
High blood pressure
Loss of appetite
Low Potassium or Low Calcium
Muscle spasm, twitching
Nausea and vomiting
Poor Sleep
Personality changes
Poor nail growth

Note: This list is not all inclusive and any of these signs  are non-specific and may be due to things other than magnesium deficiency.

How to you test for it?

Because very little magnesium is stored in the blood –blood tests are notoriously poor at monitoring body magnesium levels. Due to the fact that magnesium is important to maintain normal heart function-your body works very hard to maintain a constant blood level. This occurs at the expense of body stores which are not easily measured. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency correlate poorly with serum levels. Which test, if any, is used varies from practioner to practioner.  Some examples of tests are serum magnesium, red cell magnesium, ionized magnesium, urinary magnesium. Some practioners treat based on symptoms only. Discuss evaluation with your practioner if you think magnesium deficiency is affecting you.

How can I increase my magnesium intake naturally?

Increase your food intake of magnesium.

The best food sources of magnesium  are (from highest to lowest) pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews,  black and soybeans, spinach, Swiss chard, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, brown rice, Chinook salmon and halibut.

Limit caffeine and alcohol – Both have been shown to deplete magnesium.

Decrease stress – Find a method that works for you. Even  fifteen minutes a day will help. Exercise is a great stress reliever and has additional benefits but others include reading, journaling, meditating, breathing exercises…the list goes on. Start by choosing  one, and make a point to incorporate it into your daily schedule.

If  I need a supplement? Which formulation?

Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diet. If you are considering a supplement please consult with your health care practioner before starting it. The best absorbed forms are magnesium glycinate, aspartate and citrate.

What are the precautions with magnesium?

Side effects from magnesium are rare and most commonly include diarrhea and/or stomach cramps. These side effects are dose dependant. But, due to the fact that magnesium can be dangerous for people with certain health conditions and can interact with many medications, you should consult your health care provider before taking magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency is widespread but you can improve your intake and your health by following a plant based, whole foods diet, decreasing stress and limiting caffeine and alcohol. If you think low magnesium may be an issue for you discuss it with your health care practioner soon. It is easily remedied and may make a world of difference in the way you feel!


Past columns by Dr. Burkhart:

September 2015: Celiac and Gluten Sensitivity Research: Snippets from ICDS 2015 (Part I)
July/August 2015:  A New Home Test To Monitor Gluten Exposure
June 2015:  Six Reasons to Test for Celiac Disease Before Starting a Gluten-Free Diet
May 2015: POTS, Celiac Disease and Gluten: An Undiscovered Connection?
February/March/April 2015: Arsenic in the Gluten-Free Diet: Facts and Tips
December 2014/ January 2015:  The Microbiome and Celiac Disease: A Bacterial Connection
November 2014: Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity: The doctor-patient disconnect
October 2014: Should You Trust Gluten-Free Labels?
September 2014: Triggers for celiac disease: One possible answer
July/August 2014: Ten Tips for a Healthier Gluten-Free Diet
June 2014: Back Pain and Gluten
May 2014:  Self-Diagnosis of Gluten Sensitivity: Four Alarming Trends
April 2014: Update on Restaurants and Gluten-Free Dining
March 2014: Histamine Intolerance: Could it be causing your symptoms?
February 2014 : Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (Reprinted with permission from Sonoma Medicine)
January 2014: Four Vitamin Toxicities on a Gluten-Free Diet
December 2013:  Move Over Gluten-Free, Low FODMAP is Next
November 2013: SIBO, Gluten and IBS: What Is The Connection?
October 2013: Pesticides, Wheat and Gluten Sensitivity: What is the Connection?
September 2013: Is gluten really the culprit in gluten sensitivity?
August 2013: Clarifying the Gluten-Free Labeling Rule
June/July 2013: No such thing as “Mild Celiac Disease”
May 2013: Magnesium Deficiency
April 2013: Six Reasons to test for celiac disease before starting a gluten-free diet
March 2013: Why am I having migraines?
February 2013: What is fructose malabsorption?
January 2013: Educating doctors about celiac disease
December 2012: Are supplements to digest gluten safe and useful?
November 2012: Top 5 reasons for persistent symptoms after “going gluten-free”


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“I have been a patient of Dr. Amy Burkhart for several years. I suffer from Crohn’s disease and was having difficulty in my daily life. After visiting many doctors, all of whom were unable to help me, Dr. Burkhart took the time and patience to create a plan which brought me back to health. I still follow her plan to this day and have been living a normal healthy life. Dr. Burkhart listened to my symptoms along with listening to me, she took her time in preparing a plan which led me to the road for recovery. I cannot thank Dr. Burkhart enough, and I would recommend her to anyone.”