Up to 80 percent of Americans may be deficient in this critical nutrient and the health consequences are more significant and complicated than previously understood.
This critical nutrient is magnesium.
According to the latest research, 3,751 magnesium binding sites have been detected on human proteins, indicating that its role in human health and disease may have been vastly underestimated.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, of which half is found in your bones. It is used in over 300 enzymes in the human body, including those enzymes responsible for:
- Action of heart muscles
- Creation of energy or ATP (adenosine triphospate)
- Formation of bone and teeth
- Promotion of proper bowel function
- Relaxation of blood sugar levels
- Regulation of blood vessels
What’s more, magnesium is anti-inflammatory. It is also the most powerful relaxation mineral – it is an antidote to stress. It can help improve your sleep as well as migraine headaches which is a result of the contraction of brain blood vessels leading to reduced blood flow.
A number of studies have shown that magnesium serves as the nutritional version of the highly effective class of drug called calcium channel blockers used in the treatment of high blood pressure, angina, and abnormal heart rhythms. The effect of calcium is that it causes muscles to contract while magnesium relaxes them.
Magnesium also plays a role in the body’s detoxification processes and therefore, is important for helping to prevent damage from environmental chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxins. Even glutathione, your body’s most powerful antioxidant requires magnesium for its synthesis.
Signs Of Magnesium Deficiency
There is no lab test that will give you a truly accurate reading of the magnesium status in your body. A blood test is highly inaccurate because only one percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in the blood – magnesium stays primarily inside your cells.
Other tests that your doctor may use include the 24-hour urine test and the sublingual epithelial test, but these are only estimates of your magnesium levels and have to be evaluated in conjunction with your symptoms, which may include loss of appetite, headache, nausea, fatigue, and weakness.
The following are more serious conditions that can be caused in part by an ongoing magnesium deficiency:
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Anal spasms
- Chronic fatigue
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bladder
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Kidney stones
- Menstrual cramps
- Migraine headaches
- Muscle cramps or twitches
- Numbness and tingling
- Sensitivity to loud noises
- Trouble swallowing
Why Magnesium Deficiency is So Prevalent
The reason is simple: Many of us eat a diet that contains practically no magnesium – a highly processed, refined diet that is mostly based on white flour and sugar.
Additionally, magnesium levels are decreased by excess caffeine, phosphoric acid in sodas, salt, sugar, alcohol, profuse sweating, prolonged or intense stress, chronic diarrhea, excessive menstruation, some intestinal parasites, diuretics (water pills), antibiotics, and other drugs.
This is all further complicated by the fact that magnesium is often poorly absorbed and easily lost from our bodies. To properly absorb magnesium, we need a lot of it in our diet, plus enough vitamin B6, vitamin D, and selenium.
How To Reverse A Magnesium Deficiency
1. First and foremost, stop draining your body of magnesium by limiting excessive caffeine, soda, salt, sugar, and alcohol consumption. Up to 60 percent of alcoholics have low levels of magnesium.
2. Beware that an unhealthy digestive system (such as Crohn’s disease and leaky gut) will impair your body’s ability to absorb magnesium.
3. Certain medications (such as antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, digoxin, diuretics, and steroids) may lead to increased magnesium loss. Check with your doctor if you are taking such medications on a prolonged basis.
4. Eat plenty of foods that are magnesium-rich:
- Dark leafy greens (e.g. spinach and Swiss chard)
- Nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts) and seeds (e.g. squash, pumpkin, and sesame)
- Beans and lentils
- Dark chocolate and cocoa powder
- Whole grains (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, and wheat bran)
- Fish (e.g. mackerel and halibut)
- Basil, coriander, cumin, and parsley
What About Magnesium Supplements?
One of the major benefits of getting your nutrients from eating whole foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds is that you are much less likely to end up with too much of one nutrient at the expense of others. Foods, in general, contain all the co-nutrients needed in the right proportions for optimal health. When you are using supplements, you need to be extra careful about how nutrients affect each other.
For instance, it is extremely important to maintain the proper balance between calcium, magnesium, vitamin D3, and vitamin K2. That’s why taking mega doses of calcium supplements without the other co-nutrients, especially magnesium, have been associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. As mentioned earlier, calcium causes muscles to contract while magnesium relaxes them.
Americans typically have higher calcium to magnesium ratio in their diet, averaging about 3.5 to 1. According to some research, this may be way too high for our bodies – something closer to 1 to 1 may be more appropriate for most people. In addition, a great number of Americans are deficient in vitamin D3 and vitamin K2, resulting in an imbalance among the co-nutrients.
Therefore, anytime you take any calcium, magnesium, vitamin D3, or vitamin K2 supplements, you need to take all the others into consideration as well, since they all work synergistically with each other.
Different Types Of Magnesium Supplements
Be aware that there is no 100 percent magnesium supplement as magnesium must be bound to another substance. Whatever it is bound to can affect the absorption and bioavailability of the magnesium and may provide slightly different results.
The most absorbable forms are magnesium aspartate, citrate, glycinate, and taurate. Magnesium bound to Kreb cycle chelates (fumarate, malate, succinate) are also good and can be used to correct a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium carbonate, gluconate, oxide, and sulfate are not as well absorbed. However, they are cheaper and most commonly found in supplements. They tend to have more of a laxative effect.
In general, it is quite safe to take from 400 up to 1,000 mg a day. Side effects from too much magnesium is loose bowels and diarrhea.
Magnesium threonate is a newer, emerging type of magnesium compound which appears to better deliver magnesium to the brain. It crosses the blood-brain barrier and gets into the cell membranes to provide positive effects on cognition and memory and improve sleep quality. It also has less of a laxative effect than other forms of magnesium.
A Word Of Caution
People with kidney disease or heart disease should not take magnesium except under their doctor’s supervision as it may affect the dosages of their medications.
It is very rare to overdose on magnesium from food. However, people who take large amounts of milk of magnesia (as a laxative or antacid), Epsom salts (as a laxative or tonic), or magnesium supplements may overdose. Excessively high doses of magnesium may cause nausea, vomiting, deficiencies of other minerals, severely lowered blood pressure, confusion, slowed heart rate, respiratory paralysis, coma, cardiac arrhythmias, cardiac, arrest, and death.
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Carol Chuang is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and a Metabolic Typing Advisor. She has a Master’s degree in Nutrition and is the founder of CC Health Counseling, LLC.
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