Earlier this week, we discussed the intricate relationship between calcium and magnesium (read more about it here), and established the current dilemma we have with overemphasis on calcium consumption while minimizing the importance of magnesium. Because of this, an estimated 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. Not only is magnesium necessary for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and responsible for a host of basic functions such as muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and our heartbeats, but studies have now shown that it may prevent heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and osteoporosis.
What are the risk factors for magnesium deficiency?
- age – Our ability to absorb anything decreases with age. The elderly are also more likely to be on medications that may interfere with magnesium absorption.
- over-exercising – Magnesium is lost in sweat.
- menopause – Magnesium levels fluctuate with menstrual cycles and decrease even more after menopause. (Ever wonder why you crave chocolate before your period? It could be magnesium deficiency.)
- diabetes – Diabetics have increased magnesium loss in their urine, especially if poorly controlled.
- kidney disease – Those with unhealthy kidneys will also lose magnesium through their urine.
- malabsorption or gut problems – Digestive problems such as Crohn’s disease or leaky gut syndrome will interfere with your ability to absorb magnesium.
- use of certain medications – Diuretics, antibiotics, and certain cancer medications can result in magnesium deficiency as they interfere with its absorption.
- eating processed foods with high sugar content and drinking soda – This depletes magnesium in our bodies, since magnesium is used to metabolize and detoxify these foods.
- alcoholism – Alcoholics tend to have low magnesium levels.
- exposure to heavy metals and environmental chemicals – Magnesium is depleted through detoxification of these exposures.
What does magnesium deficiency cause?
According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, a leading researcher in magnesium and author of the book, The Magnesium Miracle, magnesium deficiency has been found to trigger 22 medical problems including:
- anxiety and panic attacks
- blood clots
- bowel diseases
- heart disease
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- musculoskeletal conditions (e.g. cramps, fibromyalgia, chronic back pain)
- nerve problems
- obstetrics and gynecology (e.g. PMS, infertility, preeclampsia)
- Raynaud’s syndrome
- tooth decay
Review: How do I know if I am magnesium deficient?
Early signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include fatigue, nausea, headaches, loss of appetite and weakness. Signs of chronic magnesium deficiency may lead to more serious symptoms of numbness and tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, coronary spasms, abnormal heart rhythms, and even personality changes. An easy way to find out if you are deficient is to get a magnesium RBC test. The “normal values” are between 4.2-6.8mg/dl, but you really want your levels to be 6mg/dl or higher. Once you find out your baseline, check every 3 months to make sure you are taking enough to maintain your levels. According to Dr Dean, unlike most medications, “as your body becomes saturated with magnesium, your body will need less, not more, to maintain these levels.”
How do I increase my magnesium levels?
The foods with highest concentrations of magnesium (per 100mg or 3.5 oz) include:
– seaweed: kelp (780mg), dried agar (770mg)
– dark leafy greens: kale (88mg), swiss chard (86mg), and baby spinach (87mg) (if it’s green, it’s got magnesium, as it plays a central role in the chlorophyll molecule)
– nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds (534 mg), flaxseed (392mg), sunflower seeds (325mg), almonds (286 mg), Brazil nuts (376mg), and walnuts (201mg)
– fish: mackerel (97mg), halibut (83mg), and wild salmon (37mg)
– legumes: soybeans (86 mg), lima beans (188mg)
– avocado: 58 mg in one avocado (another great reason to eat one a day!)
– dried fruit: dried figs (68mg), dried apricots (62mg)
– cocoa and bitter chocolate: ounce for ounce, dark chocolate (with cocoa content over 80%) delivers the most magnesium (327 mg)
Review: Magnesium supplements
With the depletion of magnesium in our soil, we are probably only getting 200 mg of magnesium from our daily diet versus 500mg in the past. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of magnesium for young adults is 400mg for men and 310mg for women. In adults over 30, the RDA is 420mg for men and 320mg for women. It is important and necessary to supplement and perhaps even double this recommended allowance through food and supplements, especially if you have stress in your life (who doesn’t?), as stress uses up our magnesium stores even more.
Magnesium glycinate provides the highest level of magnesium absorption. Metagenics comes in 100mg tablets (take 2 twice a day for a total of 400mg/day) and OrthoMolecular Products offers 235mg in 2 tablets (also taken twice daily for a total of 470mg). It is probably best to start with the recommended dosage and adjust according to your levels.
The many benefits of magnesium
1) Magnesium protects the heart.
Studies have reported a a 34% lower risk of sudden cardiac death in women who took higher levels of magnesium. When a heart attack occurs, there can be increased damage to heart muscle when calcium rushes into the muscle. Blood clots can block blood vessels to the heart. Decreased circulation can cause blood vessels to constrict. New formed arrhythmia in the injured area can occur. Magnesium counteracts these events by dilating blood vessels, preventing spasm in the blood vessels and heart, opposing the action of calcium which increases spasm (remember, magnesium is the “calming” mineral with a relaxing action), dissolving blood clots, lessening the site of injury thereby preventing arrhythmia, and using its antioxidant activity against free radicals that may form at the injury site.
2) Magnesium may prevent diabetes.
Magnesium reduces insulin resistance. In a study with overweight subjects, the group taking 365 mg of magnesium daily for 6 months had lower fasting blood sugar levels and less insulin resistance than the control group. It seems that magnesium controls the activation of the enzyme tyrosine kinase, which is required for proper functioning of our insulin receptors.
3) Magnesium may prevent and treat symptoms of stroke.
4) Magnesium may prevent osteoporosis and hip fractures.
Magnesium is involved in bone formation and bone health. It regulates osteoblast activity (cells involved in bone formation) as well as osteoclast activity (cells involve in bone breakdown). It influences parathyroid hormone and vitamin D, which are both major regulators of bone homeostasis. Researchers also discovered that women with osteoporosis had lower serum levels of magnesium than women with osteopenia or women without osteoporosis or osteopenia. In Norway, a study found that those who drank water with magnesium had a lower risk of hip fracture in both men and women.
4) Magnesium has been used in colorectal cancer prevention.
Higher intakes of dietary magnesium was correlated with lower risk of colorectal cancer. The data from this study showed that for every 100mg increase in magnesium intake, the risk of colorectal cancer tumor decreased by 13% while colorectal cancer risk decreased by 12%.
5) Magnesium promotes weight loss.
Finally, we see a positive correlation between magnesium intake and weight loss. The more magnesium we have in our bodies, the more our bodies are able to regulate insulin and control our blood sugar levels, leading to prevention of diabetes and obesity.
Hopefully, I’ve give you plenty of incentive to check your magnesium levels and start supplementing as needed! Have a great weekend!
In health and wellness,
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