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 available. It has been studied for its ability to prevent kidney stones. It is a good choice, not excellent.
Magnesium Orotate. Some consider this the most effective form of magnesium supplement, created through the use of the mineral salts of orotic acid. Both plants and animals use orotates to create DNA and RNA. Extensive scientific research shows orotates can penetrate cell membranes, enabling the effective delivery of the magnesium ion to the innermost layers of the cellular mitochondria and nucleus. Magnesium orotate contains many properties that can help protect you and your health, while offering your cells the most readily absorbable form of magnesium on the market today.
Magnesium Pidolate (or picolinate): This form of magnesium has generated interest because it is very inexpensive and can easily be made into a liquid supplement. There really have not been any substantial research trials supporting its specific health benefits. The down side of this form is that the pidolate molecule does not have any additional health benefits.
Magnesium glycinate is a chelated (chopped into small pieces) form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability and is typically considered ideal for those who are trying to correct a deficiency. It does not have a laxative effect because it is 80% absorbable leaving 20% in the GI tract which lowers your chance of constipation. It is one of the best choices. This type of magnesium is also excellent for reducing muscular pain, especially low back pain.
Magnesium threonate is a newer, emerging type of magnesium supplement that appears promising, primarily due to its superior ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane. It is difficult to find however. This particular form of magnesium has recently been studied to improve memory and brain function. One preliminary study in animals found that it significantly enhanced both short-term and long-term memory, boosting scores by 15% for short-term memory and 54% for long-term memory compared to magnesium citrate.
Interestingly, there’ very little toxicity with magnesium, especially if you steer clear of the carbonates, sulfates and oxides. About the only side effect is very loose stool.
Are You Deficient In Omega-3’s?
Another deficiency common in developed countries is an omega-3 deficiency. It is believed to be a significant underlying factor in up to 96,000 premature deaths each year! This deficiency was revealed as the sixth biggest killer of Americans, with results showing that low concentrations of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA were associated with an increased risk of death from all causes including blood pressure complications, and accelerated cognitive decline. Those suffering from depression have also been found to have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood than non-depressed individuals.
Part of the problem is that most Americans eat too many inflammatory omega-6 fats (think vegetables oils and grain fed beef) and too few anti-inflammatory omega-3s, setting the stage for the health problems. Unhealthy omega 3 to 6 ratios have been linked to many disease including cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is 1:1, but the typical Western diet is between 1:20 and 1:50. Common signs and symptoms that your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio may be out of balance include:
Dry, flaky skin, alligator skin, or "chicken skin" on backs of arms
Cracked skin on heels or fingertips
Dandruff or dry hair
Brittle or soft nails
How Can You Fix An Omega-3 Deficiency?
Sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fats, with one serving containing more than 50 percent of your recommended daily value. Sardines also contain a wealth of other nutrients, from vitamin B12 and selenium to protein, calcium, and choline, making them one of the best dietary sources of animal-based omega-3s. Other high omega-3 foods include: herring, salmon, mackerel and flax seed.
If you decide to take omega-3s in supplement form, krill oil is superior to fish oil in many ways. The omega-3 in krill is attached to phospholipids that increase its absorption, which means you need less of it. More importantly, krill oil contains more than 50 times the astaxanthin over fish oil. This prevents it from oxidizing. Moreover, astaxanthin is one of the most powerful antioxidants known to man.
Are you Deficient in Vitamin D?
Finally, vitamin D3 deficiency is prevalent in adults of all ages, especially those who always wear sun protection (which blocks vitamin D production) or limit their outdoor activities. Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency, and this percentage rises in higher-risk populations such as the elderly and those with darker skin. For instance, it’s estimated that over 95 percent of US senior citizens may be deficient in vitamin D, not only because they tend to spend a lot of time indoors but also because they produce less in response to sun exposure (a person over the age of 70 produces about 30 percent less vitamin D than a younger person with the same sun exposure).
Signs you may have a vitamin D deficiency include being over 50, having darker skin, obesity, achy bones, frequent colds, feeling blue, head sweating, and gut trouble. When it comes to vitamin D, you don't want to be in the "average" or "normal" range, you want to be in the "optimal" range. The reason for this is that as the years have gone by, researchers have progressively moved that range upward. The daily intake for vitamin D3 is about 600IU’s, but recent research finds that to be off by a factor of 10.
How Can You Fix Vitamin D3 Deficiency?
At present, based on the evaluation of healthy populations that get plenty of natural sun exposure, the optimal range for general health appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70 ng/ml. People who drop below 35 appear to have elevations in disease rates such as cancer and depression. As for how to optimize your vitamin D levels, appropriate sun exposure is the best way. But if you do not get enough sun then vitamin D3 is the better form to take in a supplement. It is almost impossible to overdose or reach toxicity levels on D3, but the side effects are increased urination, so it’s a good idea to monitor your blood levels with a yearly test.
Some Other Symptoms and Deficiencies
As much as possible, it is recommend getting your nutrients from whole foods. This means minimizing processed foods as much as possible and instead focusing on healthy fats, fresh produce, grass-fed meats and pastured poultry, raw dairy products, organic free-range eggs, nuts and seeds, and, if you’re healthy, moderate amounts of fruit.
In the event you begin to experience unusual events in your life, think first where your nutritional intake is leading you. Some common things to look for include:
1. Cracks at the Corners of Your Mouth
This can be a sign of iron, zinc, and B-vitamin (niacin, riboflavin, and B12) deficiency, or that you’re not getting enough protein. Good dietary sources of these nutrients include organic free-range poultry and eggs, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, oysters, and clams (if you can be sure they are harvested from non-polluted waters), Swiss chard, and tahini.
Because iron absorption is enhanced by vitamin C, be sure your diet also includes plenty of vitamin C-rich veggies like broccoli, red bell peppers, kale, and cauliflower.
2. Hair Loss and a Red, Scaly Rash (Especially on Your Face)
This can be a sign of biotin (vitamin B7) deficiency. Your body needs biotin for metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids, but it’s most well-known for its role in strengthening your hair and nails. Egg yolks from organic, free-range eggs are one of the best sources of biotin.
3. Red or White Acne-Like Bumps (on Your Cheeks, Arms, Thighs, and Buttocks)
This can be a sign of deficiency in essential fatty acids like omega-3s, as well as vitamin A or vitamin D deficiency. Increase your intake of omega-3 fats by eating more sardines and anchovies (or wild-caught Alaskan salmon) or taking a krill oil supplement and also add liquid minerals to your diet.
You can find vitamin A in foods like leafy green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, and red bell peppers, while vitamin D is best obtained through safe sun exposure or use of a high-quality tanning bed or D3 supplementation.
4. Tingling, Prickling, and Numbness in Your Hands and Feet
This can also be a sign of B-vitamin deficiency (particularly folate, B6, and B12), especially if you experience zaps or shocks. The symptom is related to the deficiency’s effect on the peripheral nerves and may be combined with anxiety, depression, anemia, fatigue, and hormone imbalances.
Some good sources of B vitamins include spinach, asparagus, beets, organic free-range eggs and poultry, and grass-fed beef.
Also, tingling and numbness is a sign of nerve entrapment or spinal misalignment. You should make an appointment with a chiropractor for a thorough evaluation of your spine. At Revibe we use an electronic nervous system scan to verify how well the nerve roots are functioning. You can make an appointment on line (www.revibewellness.com) or call us for an appointment if you are concerned that you have an issue.
5. Muscle Cramps (in Your Toes, Calves, Backs of Legs, and Arches of Feet)
Muscle cramps may be a sign of deficiencies in magnesium, calcium, and potassium, especially if it happens frequently. Fix this by eating more almonds, hazelnuts, squash, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, and dandelion), broccoli, Bok choy, and apples.
6. Extreme Fatigue.
This is a little more complicated and can be due to many reasons. The most common is under hydration. If you are not drinking enough ounces of water to equal at least half your body weight in pounds, you are likely tired due to simple dehydration. In other words, if you weigh 150 pounds you should be drinking at least 75 ounces of water per day. Dehydration can also stress your adrenal glands causing adrenal fatigue (and extreme exhaustion with it).
Other reasons for fatigue include: depression, heart disease, diabetes, glandular fever, underactive thyroid, chronic fatigue syndrome, urinary tract infections, low grade virus, sleep apnea, food intolerance, lack of adequate sleep, anemia, not eating enough, over training, or simply stress. Basically, the reasons behind extreme fatigue can be a bit more complicated than simple deficiency. If you are frequently tired you should mention it to a healthcare provider for further examination.
There are many things that can cause nutrient deficiencies in life. Eating a whole food diet with added fermented foods is likely a crucial part in maintaining an adequate nutritional intake. But, for assurance, supplementing is always a good back up policy.