Magnesium is not a newly discovered mineral or a new trend, as we may like to think. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions. Magnesium is a mineral , and is arguably the most important mineral in the body, which is why magnesium deficiency can be such an issue.
Magnesium is an essential mineral and a cofactor (a compound that is essential for the activity of an enzyme) for hundreds of enzymes. Magnesium is involved in many physiologic pathways, including energy production, nucleic acid and protein synthesis, ion transport, cell signaling, and also has structural functions. (1)
Magnesium sulfate is used in obstetric care (management of normal and complicated pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period) for the prevention of seizures in pregnant women with preeclampsia or eclampsia. Observational studies and randomized controlled trials also support a role for magnesium in preventing brain damage in premature infants.
Magnesium plays important roles in the structure and the function of the human body. The adult human body contains about 25 grams of magnesium. Over 60% of all the magnesium in the body is found in the skeleton, about 27% is found in muscle, 6% to 7% is found in other cells, and less than 1% is found outside of cells (2).
Even glutathione, your body’s most powerful antioxidant that has even been called “the master antioxidant,” requires magnesium for its synthesis. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of this, and millions suffer daily from magnesium deficiency without even knowing it!
Causes of Magnesium Deficiency
Once thought to be relatively rare, magnesium deficiency is more common than most physicians believe. Here’s why:
- Soil depletion, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the chemicals in our food have created a recipe for disaster. As minerals are removed, stripped away or no longer available in the soil, the percentage of magnesium present in food has decreased.
- Digestive diseases, like leaky gut, can cause malabsorption of minerals, including magnesium. Today, there are hundreds of millions of people who aren’t absorbing their nutrients. Also, as we age, our mineral absorption tends to decrease, so the probability of having a deficiency increases across the board.
- Chronic disease and medication use is at an all-time high. Most chronic illness is associated with magnesium deficiency and lack of mineral absorption. Medications damage the gut, which is responsible for absorbing magnesium from our food.
- Age: Several studies have found that elderly people have relatively low dietary intakes of magnesium. Intestinal magnesium absorption tends to decrease with age and urinary magnesium excretion tends to increase with age; thus, suboptimal dietary magnesium intake may increase the risk of magnesium depletion in the elderly (3 & 4).
Should You Worry About Magnesium Deficiency?
It all depends on your risk factors and presenting symptoms. Also, approximately 80 percent of people have low levels of magnesium, so the chances are that you’re probably deficient.
REMEMBER: Only 1 percent of magnesium in your body is in your bloodstream, so often you can have a deficiency, and it would not even be discovered by a common blood test.
Top 3 Symptoms for Magnesium Deficiency:
- Muscle Pain & Cramps
Seventy percent of adults and 7 percent of children experience leg cramps on a regular basis. Turns out, leg cramps can more than a nuisance — they can also be downright excruciating! Because of magnesium’s role in neuromuscular signals and muscle contraction, researchers have observed that magnesium deficiency is often to blame. ( 4 & 5)
More and more health care professionals are prescribing magnesium supplements to help their patients. Restless leg syndrome is another warning sign of a magnesium deficiency. To overcome both leg cramps and restless leg syndrome, you will want to increase your intake of both magnesium and potassium.
A study published in Magnesium Research examined the role magnesium plays in fibromyalgia symptoms, and it uncovered that increasing magnesium consumption reduced pain and tenderness and also improved immune blood markers (8).
Magnesium deficiency is often a precursor to sleep disorders, such as anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness. It’s been suggested that this is because magnesium is vital for GABA function, an inhibitory neurotransmitter known to “calm” the brain and promote relaxation.
Taking around 400 milligrams of magnesium before bed or with dinner is the best time of day to take the supplement. Also, adding in magnesium-rich foods during dinner — like nutrition-packed spinach — may help.
3. Migraine Headaches
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to migraine headaches due to its importance in balancing neurotransmitters in the body. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that 360–600 milligrams of magnesium daily can reduce the frequency of migraine headaches by up to 42 percent.
Should You Supplement?
In short yes. Considering the quality of soil and how we grow our fruits and vegetables, we can no longer rely only on fresh foods for enough magnesium. Magnesium is one of those vital minerals that we have to supplement.
- Shils ME. Magnesium. In: O’Dell BL, Sunde RA, eds. Handbook of nutritionally essential minerals. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc; 1997:117-152
Sebastian RS, Cleveland LE, Goldman JD, Moshfegh AJ. Older adults who use vitamin/mineral supplements differ from nonusers in nutrient intake adequacy and dietary attitudes. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107(8):1322-1332. (PubMed)
Moshfegh, Alanna; Goldman, Joseph; Ahuja, Jaspreet; Rhodes, Donna; and LaComb, Randy. 2009. What We Eat in America, NHANES 2005-2006: Usual Nutrient Intakes from Food and Water Compared to 1997 Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D, Calcium, Phosphorus, and Magnesium. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.