Even though it makes up only about 0.05% of our body weight, Magnesium is an essential and important macro-mineral for the human body. And most of us are deficient in it.
Magnesium is required for more that 300 enzymatic reactions with in the body, many of which are required for energy production and cardiovascular functioning. Deficiency in Magnesium in those who follow the Standard North American Diet is widespread and current numbers suggest that about 80% of the population is dealing with a Magnesium deficiency. There are many reasons for this including:
We typically absorb about 40% to 50% of the Magnesium we consume, but this can be as low as 25% or as high as 75% depending on the health of the digestive tract, the body's needs, dietary habits and the form of Magnesium being consumed.
Why do we need Magnesium?
Magnesium is often called the "anti-stress" mineral. It is a natural tranquilizer, relaxing our skeletal muscles as well as the blood vessels and smooth muscles of the digestive and cardiovascular systems. Magnesium is critical to cardiovascular functioning as it prevents coronary artery spasm, a major cause of heart attacks. When our blood vessels spasm, oxygen to the vessels is inhibited resulting in pain, injury and death of the cells of those blood vessels. In order to keep Magnesium balanced in the body, we need a proper balance of calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium chloride. So, for instance, if we are low in magnesium, more calcium will flow into our vascular muscle cells causing them to contract and leading to tighter blood vessels and high blood pressure.
Magnesium is also a critical nutrient required for activating enzymes necessary for protein and carbohydrate metabolism, as well as for DNA production and functioning It modulates the electrical potential across cell membranes allowing nutrients to pass back and forth from the cells to the blood, plays a role in the generation of ATP (an energy source produced by our cells). It also plays a role in preventing over-stimulation of the cells and it is believed to help dilate blood vessels.
Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
As I already mentioned, Magnesium deficiency is quite common and, unfortunately, it is not normally looked for so it is not found or corrected by conventional health practitioners. Deficiency is more likely in those who eat a processed-food diet, in those who cook or boil most of their foods (especially vegetables), in those who drink soft water, in alcoholics and in people who eat food grown in Magnesium deficient soil caused by modern-day agricultural practices which rely on the use of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers which contain no Magnesium whatsoever.
Individuals with diabetes and liver disease are typically deficient in Magnesium, as are those who don't absorb it well. Deficiency will also be a problem for those who consume too much sugar, caffeine (one cup of coffee will deplete an entire day's worth of Magnesium!) and those who are on diuretic medications as well as the birth control pill.
Magnesium deficiency in its early stages can present in a number of ways, including:
As Magnesium stores sink lower, symptoms can include:
Symptoms of severe Magnesium deficiency can include:
How Much Magnesium Do You Need (and how can you make sure you're getting enough)?
Daily requirements for Magnesium intake vary depending on age and gender. The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for Magnesium for adult males >31 years of age is 400mg/day and adult females >31 years of age is 320mg/day. However, many nutrition authorities believe these numbers should be increased by around 50% to account for the fact that many do not absorb Magnesium well and/or are making diet and lifestyle choices that can lead to deficiency. I tend to agree with this recommendation, especially since I see symptoms of Magnesium deficiency in almost all of my clients.
So, how do we get enough Magnesium through our food? Just about all of our Magnesium intake comes from plant-based foods, however, seafood also has high levels of the mineral. Excellent food sources of Magnesium are:
Should You Supplement?
If you are experiencing symptoms of Magnesium deficiency and you are not eating a clean diet rich in Magnesium containing foods, or if you are taking diuretic medications or the birth control pill, you may want to consider adding a good quality Magnesium supplement to your daily routine. Studies show that supplementing with Magnesium can help ease the symptoms of PMS (cramps, irritability, fatigue, depression and water retention), as well as migraine headaches. Fatigue is often alleviated through Magnesium supplementation since the many enzyme systems that help generate energy for the body rely on Magnesium to do their job.
When shopping for a Magnesium supplement, always turn to a reputable health food store with trained staff or holistic practitioner to help you find one that is best for you. Most drug and grocery store brands do not carry the most absorbable forms of Magnesium and are often loaded with fillers and unnecessary ingredients. There are many chelations of Magnesium on the market (chelation = a mineral paired with an amino acid). I prefer Magnesium glycinate (aka Magnesium bisglycinate) as it is perhaps the most bio-available form for the body, but there are other chelations available that may be more suitable for you so it is best to speak with a qualified practitioner to determine the best one for you based on your needs and your symptoms.
Keep in mind that Calcium-Magnesium balance is very important. The ideal ratio of Calcium to Magnesium is 2:1 so it is important to be aware of how much Calcium you are taking in over the course of a day before you start supplementing.
Magnesium supplements are best taken on an empty stomach since Magnesium is poorly absorbed when taken with food. I typically recommend that Magnesium supplements be taken in the evening because doing so can help the body relax and make for a better night's sleep. However, depending on the body's needs, a dose may also be needed earlier in the day as well as in the evening.
If you are concerned that you may be deficient in Magnesium and would like to explore the options available to you, please feel free contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 519.404.9919 to schedule your free 15 minute discovery session to discuss how I can help.
Jill Taylor is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She is the mom of two pretty awesome teenagers, s very dramatic dog, a hedgehog and a snake (yikes!). Jill assists her clients in achieving true wellness through thoughtful and compassionate dietary and lifestyle coaching. Feel free to visit the "Contact" page to get in touch. Jill would love to hear from you!