Few people are aware of the enormous role magnesium plays in our bodies, it is by far the most important mineral we consume. Magnesium is vitally important, yet hardly known. After oxygen, water, and basic food, magnesium is considered by many specialists to be the most important element needed by our bodies.
It is believed that over 80% of the western population is deficient (NHANES).
One of the main reasons for widespread magnesium deficiency is that it often goes unnoticed by primary care doctors simply because it does not show up in standard blood tests – only 1% of the body's magnesium is stored in the blood making a blood test highly inaccurate.
Magnesium is needed by every cell in the body including those of the brain. It regulates the activity of calcium, potassium and sodium and has a vital role in hundreds of enzyme systems and functions related to reactions in cell metabolism, as well as being essential for the synthesis of proteins and for the utilisation of fats and carbohydrates. Magnesium is needed for the important process of removing toxins and wastes from the body known as detoxification. A magnesium deficiency can affect virtually every system of the body.
A recent paper published in the BMJ (formally known as the British Medical Journal), concerning subclinical magnesium deficiency, highlighted the prevalence and harms of subclinical magnesium deficiency to the medical community. A well overdue paper.
The first symptoms of magnesium deficiency can often go unnoticed, with periodic leg and foot cramps, foot pain, or muscle 'twitches' often around the eyes or on the face. These symptoms occur because magnesium is stored in, and required by skeletal muscle. Other symptoms include; muscle tension, muscle soreness, including back aches, neck pain, tension headaches and jaw joint (or TMJ) dysfunction. These symptoms and the others listed below, need not be all present at the same time to indicate a deficiency in Magnesium.
Other symptoms involving the impaired contraction of smooth muscles include; constipation, urinary spasms, menstrual cramps, difficulty swallowing or the feeling of a lump in the throat, photophobia, especially difficulty adjusting to oncoming bright headlights in the absence of eye disease and loud noise sensitivity.
Deficiency in magnesium markedly affects the central nervous system where symptoms can show as; insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and premenstrual irritability.
In the peripheral nervous system symptoms include; numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, legs and feet with other abnormal sensations, such as vibratory sensations.
Because magnesium is vitally important to the cardiovascular system, symptoms can include; palpitations, high blood pressure and heart arrhythmias (heart rhythm changes).
If magnesium is severely deficient brain function can be affected. Clouded thinking, confusion, disorientation and depression are largely brought on by a lack of this nutrient and often remedied when magnesium is given.
Because large amounts of calcium are lost in the urine when magnesium is under supplied, the lack of this nutrient indirectly becomes responsible for an increase in tooth decay, poor bone development, osteoporosis and slow healing of broken bones and fractures.
Magnesium deficiency has been linked as a common factor associated with insulin resistance. Higher magnesium intake reduces the risk of impaired glucose and insulin metabolism and slows the progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes.
Other more general initial signs of magnesium deficiency include:
· Fatigue and weakness
· Loss of appetite
· Nausea and vomiting
More severe signs of magnesium deficiency include:
Calcifications (in soft tissue)
Coronary artery disease
Depressed immune response
(BMJ, January 2018)
We evolved to regulate our magnesium requirements millions of years ago. Palaeolithic man, our hunter / gatherer ancestor would have typically consumed 600 mg of magnesium a day – substantially higher than the average today. Our bodily systems are still the same today as they were for our ancestors, which means our metabolism is best adapted to a higher level of magnesium intake (6).
Today our recommended daily allowance (RDA) is between 300 – 420 mg/day for most people.
It is known from studies that magnesium intake is below the recommended daily allowance for up to 80% of the population (7). A large French study of 2373 subjects across all ages reported 71% of men and 82% of women to have an inadequate magnesium intake (7).
A common comment ''I eat a good balanced diet, so why would I be deficient in any nutrients?''
In a UK study between 1940 and 2002 the level of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in foods was shown to have reduced substantially. The content of magnesium in white flour over this period reduced by 82% (largely due to processing techniques), polished rice reduced by 83%, cheese by 40%, whole milk by 21%, wheat by 20%, pork by 18% and beef by 8%. Magnesium reductions in our food supply are mainly due to reducing levels of soil mineral content from over farming and an increasing reactionary cause from the toxic effect of elevated CO2 on plants (5).
Good sources of magnesium include:
Coriander and basil leaf
Pumpkin seeds, dried
Potatoes with skins
Yogurt or kefir
As a guide, a serving (1 cup) of cooked spinach or Swiss chard would amount to 38% of your (RDA), one medium banana 15% (RDA) and one once of almonds 20% (RDA).
Causes of magnesium deficiency
As well as insufficient levels of magnesium intake from food sources other factors lead to magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium is absorbed through the small intestines and colon so conditions such as; Crohn’s disease, IBS, Coeliac disease, Colitis, gastroenteritis and gastric surgery will affect absorption and retention of magnesium.
As we age our ability to produce strong stomach acid decreases along with our ability to breakdown food substances into their component parts for digestion. Eating slowly and chewing well supports food breakdown and absorption.
Conditions such as diabetes type 1 and 2 and kidney disease affect the rate of magnesium release through the kidneys.
Magnesium levels are controlled in the body by the kidneys which filter and excrete excess magnesium and other minerals. Caffeine, however, causes the kidneys to release extra magnesium regardless of the body status of this mineral. If you drink caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks regularly, your risk for magnesium deficiency is increased.
Several studies indicate that athletes commonly suffer from magnesium deficiency partially due to the additional requirement of supporting the production of increased energy for physical exercise and also from magnesium lost through perspiration. Over 42% of young (aged 15 – 18 years) sportsmen, volleyball players and rowers, known to have sufficient levels of magnesium pre exercise showed to be deficient after training (3).
High levels of calcium
High levels of calcium intake either from supplements or dietary sources also increases magnesium requirements and may worsen an existing magnesium deficiency (3).
Antibiotics, diuretics, heart medication, asthma medication, birth control pills or oestrogen replacement therapy, plus several other drugs will reduce the level of circulating magnesium.
The effects of certain drugs have been shown to reduce magnesium levels in the body by increasing magnesium loss through excretion by the kidneys.
Accumulation of heavy metals
An accumulation of heavy metals, particularly aluminium within the body, from cookware, deodorants, over the counter and prescription medications, can lead to significant magnesium deficit by inhibiting absorption and retention, leading to a reduction of magnesium levels within the bone (2).
Magnesium and the removal of metal toxins from our body
Magnesium plays a big role in the process of removing heavy metal toxins from within the body by its role in the production of cellular energy (4).
How can you increase magnesium intake?
Many of the factors which contribute to low magnesium stores are caused by inefficiencies of the gastrointestinal tract. By delivering magnesium through the skin directly to the cells, removes many of the problems associated with low magnesium absorption.
As well as a diet high in magnesium rich foods, one cup of Epson salts can be added to the bath and soaked into the skin over a 30 minute period. Repeating this twice weekly will ensure adequate levels of magnesium are maintained. Westlab sell an economic 5 kg bag of Epson salts.
Magnesium chloride has been shown to be a highly bioavailable (well absorbed into the body) source of magnesium, while simultaneously providing the chloride necessary for healthy digestion and vitamin and mineral absorption. A concentrated topical spray for rapid absorption is an effective way to increase magnesium levels within the body. Innovative naturopathics supply a 200ml pure magnesium oil spray.
Magnesium glycinate is a form of magnesium that provides a high level of absorption and considered ideal for those trying to correct a deficiency. Nutri Advanced, a well respected brand, supply this supplement.
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Nutritional Therapy is the application of nutrition science in the promotion of health, optimum performance and individual care. Registered nutritional therapists use a wide range of tools to assess and identify potential nutritional imbalances and understand how these may contribute to an individual’s symptoms and health concerns.
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If you experience any of the severe magnesium deficiency symptoms please see your GP.
(1) Nutrition and Health. The mineral depletion of foods available to us as a nation (1940–2002) – a review of the 6th edition of mccance and widdowson*. UK: A B Academic Publishers, 2007;19:21–55. http://www. mineralresourcesint. co. uk/ pdf/ Mineral_ Depletion_ of_ Foods_ 1940_ 2002. pdf
(2) Neathery, N., Crowe, N., Miller, W., et al . Effects of dietary aluminium and phosphorus on magnesium metabolism in dairy calves. J Anim Sci 1990;68:1133–8.doi:10.2527/1990.6841133x
(3) Vizinova, H. Bartek, J. Jirka, Z. et al. (1993). The oral magnesium loading test for detecting possible magnesium deficiency]. Cas Lek Cesk 1993; 132:587–9.
(4) Sircus, Mark, Ac., OMD. Transdermal Magnesium Therapy (2007), 97
(5) Loladze, L. (2014). Hidden shift of the ionome of plants exposed to elevated CO2 depletes minerals at the base of human nutrition. eLife. 2014; 3: e02245. Published online 2014 May 7. doi: 10.7554/eLife.02245
(6) Vormann, J. (2003). Magnesium: nutrition and metabolism. Mol Aspects Med 2003;24:27–37.
(7) Rude RK, Gruber HE. Magnesium deficiency and osteoporosis: animal and human observations. J Nutr Biochem 2004;15:710–6.
(8) BMJ: http://openheart.bmj.com/content/openhrt/5/1/e000668.full.pdf