Magnesium Deficiency Is Common
Why talk about magnesium?
Magnesium deficiency is common, and difficult to measure with blood tests. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies (following Calcium, Phosphorus, and Potassium). It is vital to health. 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 overall health..
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.
Low magnesium associated with the following and more!
- Arrhythmias/Irregular heartbeat
- 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 are people low in magnesium?
DIET. The typical American diet is full of processed, refined foods. Refining carbohydrates removes magnesium and 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 lives have gotten busier and people rely more on packaged and processed foods, magnesium intake declines. Gluten-free diets are notoriously low in magnesium. It is an important nutrient to address 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 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.
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 do 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 a 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 practitioner to practitioner. Some examples of tests are serum magnesium, red cell magnesium, ionized magnesium, urinary magnesium. Some practitioners treat based on symptoms only. Discuss evaluation with your practitioner if you think magnesium deficiency is affecting you.
How to increase magnesium naturally
Increase your food intake of magnesium.
The best food sources of magnesium are (from highest to lowest)
- pumpkin seeds,
- sesame seeds,
- sunflower seeds,
- black and soybeans, s
- Swiss chard,
- quinoa, millet,
- brown rice,
- Chinook salmon
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.
What type of magnesium is best?
Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diet. If you are considering a supplement please consult with your health care practitioner before starting it. The best-absorbed forms are magnesium glycinate, aspartate, and citrate.
Precautions with magnesium
Side effects from magnesium are rare and most commonly include diarrhea and/or stomach cramps. These side effects are dose-dependent. 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 practitioner soon. It is easily remedied and may make a world of difference in the way you feel!
THIS ARTICLE IS COPYRIGHTED BY AMY BURKHART, MD, RD.
Dr. Amy Burkhart is a doctor (M.D.), Registered Dietitian, R.D., and fellowship-trained in integrative medicine. She specializes in treating chronic digestive disorders from an integrative/functional medicine perspective.