The chances of you being magnesium deficient are just over 1 in 2. Some studies show that 60% of adults in the Western world are low in magnesium. So more than half of you reading this right now could do with a top up of this crucial nutrient. How crucial? Well considering magnesium is the second most plentiful mineral in our cells (after potassium), you can imagine that it matters rather a lot!
This high proportion of magnesium is because magnesium is so important to our bodily functions and processes; it is involved in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body and is absolutely critical to cellular energy production and replication. You don’t really get much more fundamental or important that that!
So why are we so low in magnesium?
The answer to this, and to so many health questions, lies in what we put in our mouths every day. Our Western diet, full of refined carbohydrates and processed ingredients, contributes to a relative lack of much of the good stuff, especially magnesium.
Magnesium is naturally high in all whole-foods; beans, lentils, tofu, seeds, nuts (almonds, cashews, brazils), whole-grains and green leafy vegetables. You’ll get a relatively good dollop of magnesium with foods like kelp, molasses, dried fruits and brewer’s yeast too, but you don’t usually have big quantities of these foods at any one time!
Other important reasons for low magnesium are not only what we’re not eating, but what we are: increased consumption of alcohol or calcium rich foods impact on magnesium levels. Additionally, if you have any conditions affecting your kidneys, heart or liver, have diabetes or use certain common medications (such as the oral contraceptive pill, diuretics, antibiotics or omeprazole), you will have a higher chance of magnesium deficiency. Other situations such as diarrhoea or digestive disturbances will reduce your ability to absorb magnesium from your food. Excessive coffee consumption, exercise and sweating will also deplete magnesium stores. As you can see, there are very many good reasons why many of us may have less than optimal magnesium levels.
Some common signs that may indicate low magnesium:
- Muscle cramping
- Low appetite
- Heart irregularities
- Insomnia or sleeping problems
- Feelings of stress
Extensive studies and clinical experience show that magnesium is useful for helping with the following conditions:
- Menstrual pain
- Headaches & Migraines
- Kidney stones
- Fibromyalgia and muscle pain
- Cardiovascular conditions including high blood pressure, angina, and arrhythmia
- And quite a lot more besides….
What type of magnesium and what dose?
The chances of significantly improving your levels through diet alone are slim, especially if you have any of the conditions listed above. If you do choose to do this, it may be a slow process, and will require diligence! If you want to see results that are measurable, I’d recommend supplementing first and then maintaining your levels with a good whole-food diet.
If you suspect your magnesium stores are less than optimal, it may take a good six weeks or so to replenish them with good quality supplements. In my clinical experience, magnesium supplementation often needs to go on considerably longer than this. Generally, preferred forms of magnesium are chelates: Magnesium aspartate, magnesium citrate, magnesium succinate, or ‘amino acid chelate’. Occasionally magnesium phosphate or chloride are utilised therapeutically. Other forms such as magnesium oxide or carbonate tend to be more poorly absorbed and cause more problems with bowel looseness, which is why they can sometimes be used as a laxative! Ideally we want the magnesium being absorbed into the body however, not going straight on through!
Dosing of magnesium varies according to age and body size. Different conditions also require differing amounts. Even small regular amounts of magnesium can be beneficial, as can hefty huge doses in the short term! When assessing your dose, be sure you are looking at the amount of elemental magnesium in a supplement, not the ‘bound’ form. For example, a product may say “Magnesium citrate 400mg…providing elemental magnesium 150mg”. This means that the actual magnesium in the product is 150mg. Discuss the best dosage for you with your practitioner.
So if you have a tendency to feel stressed, have problems sleeping and feel tired alot, it may be worth investigating your magnesium levels. Chances are rather high you could have found a new best friend!