by Dr. Will Cole
Your body is a breathtaking symphony of intricate biochemical pathways working in harmony every second of your life. We often take for granted the many facets which make up our bodies and how these simple elements and chemical reactions compose our very being. One small component of our body’s composition is magnesium. Magnesium, along with calcium, potassium, chloride, and sodium are all electrolytes, needed for our brain, nerves, heart, eyes, immune system, and muscles to function.
We function best when magnesium in our body is at its optimal level. When we are lacking in this mineral our perfect symphony is out of tune, and this disharmony leads us down a path to health problems.
One of the most overlooked nutrient deficiencies that I find as a functional medicine practitioner is magnesium deficiency.
As the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, magnesium is crucial to accomplishing at least 300 important biochemical reactions. If you are magnesium deficient (like 50 to 90 percent of us are), you are most likely experiencing some symptoms.
Why are so many lacking in magnesium? There are four primary reasons:
- Poor nutrition
- Medications that deplete magnesium (such as antibiotics and diuretics)
- Soil depletion
- Chronic gut problems (e.g., leaky gut syndrome), which compromise magnesium absorption
The above reasons are common and are major contributors to the population being so deficient as a whole, but they do not always lead to a deficiency in magnesium. The following list contains common health issues that are tied to magnesium deficiency. Look for these signs that you could be not getting enough magnesium.
Studies suggest that that kids who took 200 milligrams of magnesium daily over six months saw a significant decrease in hyperactivity symptoms compared to children in the study who did not supplement with magnesium.
2. Adrenal fatigue
I have personally dealt with adrenal fatigue in the past, and I can vouch for magnesium’s role in calming stress levels and rehabilitating hormonal systems. Magnesium helps to regulate cortisol levels, allowing for more balanced hormone production which is essential in our fast paced culture.
3. Depression or anxiety
Magnesium works in the brain to calm down the excitatory NMDA receptor. Without it, calcium and glutamate activate NMDA unchecked, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
Researchers are suggesting that those who do not include enough magnesium-rich foods in their diet have a higher rate of asthma. One reason could be that magnesium may facilitate healthy bronchodilation.
5. Chronic fatigue syndrome
In a study published in the prominent medical journal Lancet, researchers found that about fifty percent of the hundreds of participants with chronic fatigue syndrome were magnesium deficient. These participants saw an improvement of symptoms when they received injections of a 580 milligram supplement.
6. High blood pressure
Studies also suggest that those using a magnesium supplement lowered their blood pressure levels by up to 12 points.
7. Heart problems
Every 43 seconds someone experiences a heart attack. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that a lower level of magnesium intake increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 to 80 percent. In a separate double-blind, placebo-controlled study, participants received either magnesium or a placebo for a period of one year. Over the course of one month, the magnesium group received 6,000 milligrams of magnesium orotate, and 3,000 milligrams of magnesium orotate for another 11 months after. The survival rate of these high risk patients was 76 percent in the magnesium group compared with 52 percent of the placebo group.
9. Migraines and other types of headaches
Half of people in the United States report having a least one headache per month. Millions of others are struck with painful migraines. It is estimated that about half of those who suffer from migraines are magnesium deficient. Researchers looked into this, and found that 60 percent of chronic migraines sufferers have genetic changes that decrease their body’s ability to metabolize magnesium. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels in the brain. Ionized magnesium administered through an IV significantly reduced pain within 15 minutes in more than 80 percent of patients.
10. Insulin resistance
A massive health concern for so many, half of the US population has some kind of insulin resistance which runs the gamut from metabolic syndrome to type 2 diabetes. A 15 year research study published in the medical journal Circulation showed that among approximately 5,000 people those who took higher levels of magnesium had a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome. A similar study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed more than 1,000 healthy adults for five years. This study suggests that greater magnesium intake improved insulin sensitivity in these individuals. Other studies suggest that magnesium also improves triglycerides, another marker of metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
11. Low thyroid hormone levels
12. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
People who have OCD were found in studies to have lower levels of magnesium compared to individuals in control groups.
13. Muscle cramps and spasms
Spontaneous spasms, cramps in your muscles or “charley horses” are not really random —they are the most common sign of magnesium deficiency.
14. Premature aging
The death of human endothelial cells and fibroblasts at a rapid pace contributes to early aging and age-related diseases. Being deficient in magnesium is indicated in the acceleration of these processes.
15. Poor memory
Research done at MIT found that magnesium is key in regulating brain receptors that are necessary to learning and memory function, and that supplementing with magnesium helped clear so-called brain fog. Magnesium also supports the brain’s lifelong function of adapting, healing and adding new neural pathways. Getting enough magnesium may lead to slowed down and reversal of cognitive decline.
16. Skin health
A study in Poland showed that those with skin allergies saw substantial improvements in their skin with magnesium supplementation.
17. Sleep trouble
Research has found that magnesium supplementation helped improve all the major physiological markers associated with insomnia. For instance a neurotransmitter, GABA is key in the body’s regulation of it’s sleep system, and GABA receptors in the brain need magnesium to function properly.
18. Weak bones
In two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a strong correlation between magnesium deficiency and low bone density was found. Low bone density increases one’s risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
When supplemental magnesium (300 mg) was taken for one year by participants in a randomized controlled study bone mineral content increased.
What to do if you suspect your magnesium is low:
If you have indications of magnesium deficiency it is wise to check in with your doctor to have your magnesium levels tested. Because the standard nutrient labs are not always accurate, I recommend advanced nutrient labs (a functional medicine practitioner can help you with this) to assess your magnesium level. If you find that you are deficient, you can begin by adding more magnesium-rich foods to your diet, such as:
- Spinach, 1 cup: 157 mg
- Swiss chard, 1 cup: 154 mg
- Dark chocolate, 1 square: 95 mg
- Pumpkin seeds, ⅛ cup: 92 mg
- Almonds, 1 ounce: 80 mg
- Black beans, ½ cup: 60 mg
- Avocado, 1 medium: 58 mg
- Salmon, 1 fillet: 53 mg
- Kefir, 1 cup: 50 mg
- Figs, ½ cup: 50 mg
- Banana, 1 medium: 32 mg
It can sometimes be hard to replenish your magnesium through diet alone, so if you are eating enough of this mineral and are still deficient it is time to utilize magnesium supplements. I suggest about 500 milligrams daily. Get your levels checked once every few months to monitor your progress. Supplementing with magnesium is typically safe, but it may cause diarrhea and GI upset if you take too much. Try starting with a lower dosage and work your way up, or proceed according to your doctor’s recommendation.
Want to learn more about magnesium? Here’s everything you need to know about magnesium supplements.
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