Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Have you noticed a mysterious health symptom that has no apparent cause? It’s worth considering whether a nutrient deficiency may be to blame. Fact is that vitamins and minerals are co-factors (required helpers) for all the bio-chemical reactions in the body. We need them in order to function properly, and when we don’t get them, or get too much of one and not enough of another, things happen.
Are You Deficient In Magnesium?
Take magnesium for instance. It deserves a special focus in this article because as many as 80 percent of Americans are deficient in it. Magnesium is a crucially important mineral for optimal health, performing a wide array of biological functions, including:
Activating muscles and nerves
Creating energy in your body by breaking down adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
Helping digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
Serving as a building block for RNA and DNA synthesis
Acting as a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin
Part of the bone building materials required to combat osteoporosis
Meanwhile, calcium has been the main mineral touted by most doctors to be the bone building mineral. There’s a big problem with that: bone is more than just calcium. Not only that, but when we drive up the calcium levels there tends to be a problem. It's extremely important to have a proper balance between magnesium and calcium. If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, your muscles will tend to experience tightness, sometimes with enough of an imbalance they can go into spasm, and this has consequences for your heart in particular.
Excessive amounts of calcium without enough magnesium can, in its extreme, lead to a heart attack and sudden death. Unfortunately, there's no easily available commercial lab test that will give you an accurate reading of the magnesium status in your tissues, but if you live in the US, it’s likely low. Yes, there are blood tests available, but only about 1 percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood, making a serum magnesium blood test highly inaccurate.
So what are the early signs of a magnesium deficiency? They include muscle tightness, knots, loss of appetite, headaches (about 50% of migraines are due to a magnesium deficiency), nausea, fatigue, heavy legs and weakness. An ongoing magnesium deficiency can lead to more serious symptoms including: numbness and tingling, muscle cramps and spasm (knots), abnormal heart rhythms, anorexia, sugar cravings and seizures.
Not only can a magnesium deficiency be due to a lack of magnesium in your diet, but certain things can actually cause a deficiency! Are you doing any of these?
Most dark colored sodas contain phosphates. Phosphates actually bind with magnesium inside the digestive tract, rendering it unabsorbable to the body. So even if you are eating a balanced diet, by drinking soda with your meals you are flushing magnesium out of your system. The average consumption of carbonated beverages today is more than ten times what it was in 1940. This increase is responsible for both reduced magnesium and calcium availability in the body, because phosphate also competes for calcium absorption on the same binding sites in which calcium is absorbed.
2. Refined sugar
Excess sugar consumption causes the body to excrete magnesium through the kidneys along with the water keeping you hydrated. Even worse, sugar does more than just reduce magnesium levels. Sweet foods are known by most health professionals as “anti-nutrients”. Anti-nutrients like candy, processed carbs, and even many yogurts are foods that replace nutritious foods in the diet and then consume the nutrients you do eat when digested. This results in a massive net loss of nutrients. Because all foods need vitamins and minerals in order to power your digestion, turn off hunger, and nourish your cells it’s very important to choose good foods. We want foods that give us vital nutrients, not take them away.
Stress can cause magnesium deficiency. Making matters worse, a lack of magnesium tends to magnify the stress reaction compounding the problem. In studies, adrenaline and cortisol, byproducts of the “fight or flight” reaction associated with stress and anxiety, were associated with decreased magnesium.
Because stressful conditions require more magnesium use by the body, all such conditions may lead to deficiency. These include both psychological and physical forms of stress, even exercise.
For all the benefits associated with coffee consumption, there are two negatives. Dehydration and the loss of magnesium, along with other minerals including potassium. Magnesium levels are controlled in the body in large part by the kidneys, which filter and excrete excess magnesium and other minerals. But caffeine causes the kidneys to release extra magnesium regardless of body status.
If you drink caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda regularly, your risk for magnesium deficiency is increased too.
5. Pharmaceutical Drugs
Of course, the effects of certain drugs have been shown to reduce magnesium levels in the body by increasing magnesium loss through excretion by the kidneys. These drugs include birth control pills, asthma medications, heart medications, diuretics, and estrogen replacement therapy. Alcohol has its consequences too. The effect of alcohol on magnesium levels is similar to the effect of diuretics: it lowers magnesium available to the cells by increasing the excretion of magnesium by the kidneys. In studies, clinical magnesium deficiency was found in 30% of alcoholics.
To be fair, generally alcoholics are not known for great diets, so we must consider these factors also. Increased alcohol intake also contributes to decreased efficiency of the digestive system, as well as Vitamin D deficiency, and increased dehydration, all of which can contribute to low magnesium levels.
6. Over hydration
Over hydration can cause a purging of minerals too through excessive hydration. Sometimes, just drinking enough water is not enough either since the body requires minerals to hold onto the water.
How Can You Fix A Magnesium Deficiency?
To increase your mineral intake you have two choices. Eat high mineral content foods or supplement. Foods high in magnesium are harder and harder to find due to present modern farming and growing techniques. But seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard can be excellent sources of magnesium as are some beans, nuts, and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds. Avocados also contain magnesium. If you are prone to muscle and joint pain, it is better to avoid legumes due to their inflammatory by-products. Juicing vegetables with some fruit can be also be a wonderful and enjoyable option. Other foods high in magnesium include: dark chocolate, cacao, spices, flaxseed, whey, mackerel, pollock and tuna.
Choosing a quality magnesium supplement is also a great way to get adequate magnesium. But not all magnesium supplements are created alike, and they need to be bound by something to make it absorbable.
Magnesium oxide for instance is a non-chelated (not chopped into small pieces) type of magnesium, containing 60 percent magnesium but it has poor bioavailability so it has major stool softening properties even in smaller quantities. It is considered one of the cheapest forms of magnesium, so you will get lower prices on it and you’ll be able to buy it at places that don’t specialize in supplements nor care about their quality. Since only 20% of it is absorbed into the blood, it remains in the GI tract which is why it can be used as a mild laxative. It is bound by oxygen (hence oxide), but although it is higher in magnesium overall, it is lower in absorption. It’s not recommended.
Magnesium sulfate / magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) are typically used as a laxative also for the same reasons as magnesium oxide is used. Be aware that it's easy to overdose on these, so ONLY take as directed. Also not recommended because of its low bioavailability to the cell.
Magnesium taurate contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, an amino acid. Together, they tend to provide a calming effect on your body and mind and help heart function. Taurine has a calming effect on the neurological system so it is good for night time use as a natural sleep aid. It does increase the flow of blood by relaxing the blood vessels so if you have heart issues or blood pressure issues then this is a good choice.
Magnesium chloride / magnesium lactate contain only 12 percent magnesium, but has better absorption than others, such as magnesium oxide, which contains five times more magnesium. This magnesium is typically found in topical applications of magnesium such as Epson Salts. Not really intended for internal use. Not recommended.
Magnesium carbonate, this form of magnesium has moderate levels of elemental concentration and 30% bioavalibity rates. Magnesium carbonate has a strong laxative-effect when taken in high amounts. It is also commonly known as chalk, and is used as a drying agent by pitchers, gymnasts, rock climbers and weight lifters. It has antacid properties, contains 45 percent magnesium, but it is not recommended in anything but very small doses. Not recommended.
Magnesium citrate is magnesium with citric acid, which has laxative properties but is one of the higher quality magnesium supplements availabl