Magnesium is arguably the most important mineral in the body, which is why deficiency – common in the over 50’s – can be such an issue. It’s not only an essential mineral, it’s also an electrolyte, with an electric charge, which is how it helps with so many cellular functions in the body.
Twitching muscles, ‘Restless leg’ syndrome, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, constipation, cramps and heart flutters are common symptoms of Magnesium deficiency. Magnesium helps to regulate calcium, potassium and sodium in the body. It’s a critical component of over 300 biochemical functions, even glutathione, the body’s most powerful ‘master antioxidant’ requires magnesium for its synthesis.
Magnesium is found in nuts, seeds, beans/legumes, many vegetables, especially dark green ones, and surprisingly, in dark chocolate too!
Unfortunately, most people don’t make the connection between magnesium and the symptoms listed above and suffer needlessly from magnesium deficiency without even knowing it. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant and helps to calm the body, so deficiency can also affect the central nervous system with side effects that include nervousness and irritability. If deficiency gets really bad, anxiety and depression can become severe with hallucinations.
According to Norman Shealy, MD, Ph.D, an American neurosurgeon and a pioneer in pain medicine, “Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency and it’s the missing cure to many diseases.”
Type 2 Diabetes can cause a magnesium deficiency, but it’s also a common symptom. So increasing your intake of magnesium can lower your risk of diabetes.
Magnesium can help to balance brain neurotransmitters, and deficiency has been linked to migraines. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that supplementing 400 – 600 mg daily can reduce the frequency of migraines by up to 42%.
Magnesium deficiency can affect GABA function, this is a neurotransmitter needed to promote relaxation. If you find insomnia wakes you especially in the early hours, you may find taking a magnesium supplement in the evening helps you sleep better.
Muscle pain and fibromyalgia have been linked to deficiencies of Selenium, Magnesium, B and D vitamins, and when optimal levels of these nutrients are achieved, pain levels are usually lowered.
Calcium/Magnesium as partners
Many women worrying about Osteoporosis take Calcium supplements, unaware that Calcium needs both Magnesium and vitamins D3 and K2 to enter bone tissue and naturally build bone density. Taking calcium supplements on their own, without balancing with magnesium, increases risk of coronary artery calcification.
Magnesium also works with calcium to support proper blood pressure and protect the heart. Being low in both minerals can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure). With heart disease now commonplace in the UK, the prevalence of Magnesium deficiency is a cause for concern.
Who could be most at risk?
We are not born equal in our ability to both absorb and utilise Magnesium, due to our genetics. But there are some things within our control that affect our magnesium status. Clearly if we don’t consume the foods naturally rich in magnesium we risk deficiency, but stress, alcohol and certain medications can drain our levels too.
Unfortunately plant foods today do not contain as much Magnesium as they did in our grandparent’s day. Modern farming methods leave soils depleted of many minerals, including Calcium, Potassium, Iron and Magnesium.
There are 4 groups of people most at risk of deficiency:
- People with gastrointestinal complaints, especially with Coeliac disease, Crohn’s, or who have had resection/bypass surgeries.
- People with Type 2 Diabetes and insulin resistance struggle to absorb magnesium, exacerbated by increased urination,.
- The elderly, quite often because they eat less magnesium rich foods, they overcook vegetables to aid chewing/denture issues, and digestion and intestinal absorption simply reduces with age.
- People struggling with alcohol dependency, and people who simply choose to drink regularly, because Magnesium is sucked into the liver’s detoxifying pathways, to metabolise alcohol, leading to depleted stores and disturbed sleep patterns. Alcohol also depletes other minerals through dehydration and causes imbalance in gut flora, which in turn compromises immune function.
In addition to eating magnesium rich foods like dark leafy greens, beans, avocado and almonds, you can obtain extra magnesium from supplements if you suspect your intake is low, or your lifestyle is particularly depleting, or despite a good diet, you still have symptoms of deficiency.
Magnesium supplements come in different forms: citrate, chelate, glycinate, threonate, chloride, oxide and sulfate.
I favour food-derived supplements for optimal absorption and utility. The following two brands are good examples: