Despite being one of the most prevalent minerals in the body – second only to potassium in terms of concentration – the importance of magnesium in the diet has been largely overlooked. Whilst its partner calcium has been stealing all the headlines, magnesium has quietly become one of the most common mineral deficiencies across the UK and North America. Magnesium deficiency is commonly referred to as a modern day silent epidemic or the ‘invisible deficiency’. And this is because it is known to be difficult to detect in a clinical setting. The most commonly used clinical test – blood serum magnesium – is generally considered to be inaccurate in identifying deficiency.
The main reason for such widespread deficiency is, as ever, poor diet. Since magnesium occurs abundantly in whole foods, many people who live on a diet of refined carbohydrates and saturated fat do not obtain adequate levels of this important nutrient.
Magnesium - The Enzyme Activator
Magnesium’s primary function is enzyme activation. Approximately 60% of the magnesium in the body is in the bones, 26% is in muscle, and the remainder is in soft tissue and body fluids.
One of the most essential of all the minerals, magnesium is required by the human body to assist in the maintenance of bones and a healthy nervous system, as well as helping to convert food into energy.
Low levels of magnesium in the diet and in our bodies increases susceptibility to a variety of diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney stones, cancer, insomnia, PMS and menstrual cramps. Deficiency interferes with the transmission of nerve and muscle impulses, causing irritability and nervousness. Additional signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency are fatigue, mental confusion, weakness, heart disturbances, muscle cramps, loss of appetite, insomnia and predisposition to stress.
What foods is it found in naturally?
It’s found in traces in spinach, nuts, brown rice, meat, fish and dairy products, but many people don’t get enough in their diet. A typical Western diet fails miserably when it comes to supplying magnesium; refined and processed foods are stripped of this vital mineral. In addition, modern day intensive farming methods have led to declining levels of nutrients in crops.
How to boost your magnesium levels
• Increase magnesium-rich foods in your diet
• Juicing leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale is a great way to add a more concentrated hit of the mineral into your diet. Choose organic for best benefits
• Cooking & processing depletes the mineral content of any food – so eat vegetables raw or lightly steamed whenever possible to maximize your intake of key nutrients
• Keep alcohol intake to a minimum; alcohol can interfere with the body’s absorption of vitamin D, which in turn can affect magnesium absorption.
• Fizzy drinks and caffeine are also associated with lower magnesium levels.
• Minimise intake of refined sugar - excess sugar can lead to increased excretion of magnesium
• Magnesium can be poorly absorbed by the body so it’s important to optimize gut health to ensure maximum benefits.
• Regular Epsom salt baths or foot baths are a good way to increase magnesium levels as they absorb into your body through your skin
Top 10 Magnesium Rich foods
2. Swiss Chard
3. Beet Greens
4. Pumpkin Seeds
5. Summer squash
6. Turnip greens
8. Sesame seeds
9. Black beans
Magnesium deficiency is strongly implicated as a causative factor in pre-menstrual syndrome. Red blood cell magnesium levels in PMS patients have been found to be significantly lower than in normal subjects.1,2 Because magnesium plays such an integral role in normal cell function, magnesium deficiency may account for the wide range of PMS symptoms. One clinical trial of magnesium in PMS showed a reduction of nervousness, breast tenderness and weight gain in the majority of women tested after magnesium supplementation.2 In another double-blind study, high-dosage magnesium supplementation (360 milligrams three times daily) dramatically relieved PMS – related mood changes.3
Magnesium supplementation is as important as calcium in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. Women with osteoporosis have been found to have lower bone magnesium content and other indicators of magnesium deficiency than women without osteoporosis.4 Magnesium is now a major component of all good mineral supplements aimed at supporting bone health.
Magnesium is also essential in the proper functioning of the entire cardiovascular system. Magnesium’s critical role in preventing heart disease and strokes is now widely accepted. In additiona, a substantial body of knowledge demonstrates that magnesium supplementation is effective in treating a wide range of cardiovascular diseases, and has been used in many of these applications for over 50 years.5,6,7
Magnesium supplementation has also had some success in the treatment of chronic fatigue. An underlying magnesium deficiency, even if “subclinical”, can result in chronic fatigue and symptoms similar to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). In a UK trial assessing the effect of magnesium supplementation in CFS, significantly more of the patients who had received magnesium reported improved energy levels better emotional state, and less pain than placebo.8
Migraine and Tension
Several researchers link low magnesium levels with both migraine and tension headaches based on their theories and clinical observations.9,10 A magnesium deficiency sets the stage for the events that can cause a migraine attack or a tension headache. Reduced levels of magnesium are found in the serum, saliva and red blood cells of migraine sufferers, which indicates a need for supplementation because one of magnesium’s key functions is maintenance of blood vessel tone.11 Despite the number of clinical studies that show magnesium supplementation (as well as elimination of food allergies) is effective in many cases, most physicians choose to prescribe drugs that usually have only moderate benefits and significant side effects.
Oral magnesium supplementation has often been complicated by side effects of poor gastrointestinal tolerance, including malabsorption and diarrhoea. Using a glycinate chelated form of magnesium overcomes these problems.
1. Abraham GE. Nutritional factors in the etiology of the premenstrual tension syndromes. J Repro Med. 1983; 28:446-464.
2. Piesse JW. Nutritional factors in the premenstrual syndrome. Int Clin Nutr Rev. 1984; 4:54-81.
3. Facchinetti F, et al. Oral magnesium successfully relieves premenstrual mood changes. Obstet Gynecol. 1991; 78:177-181.
4. Gallai V, et al. Magnesium content of mononuclear blood cells in migraine patients. Headache. 1994; 34:160-165.
5. McLean RM. Magnesium and its therapeutic uses: A review. Am J Med. 1994; 96:63-76.
6. Altura BM. Basic biochemistry and physiology of magnesium: A brief review. Magnes Trace Elem. 1991; 10:167-171.
7. Purvis JR and Movahed A. Magnesium disorders and cardiovascular disease. Clin Cardiol. 1992; 115:556-568.
8. Clauw DJ, et al. Magnesium deficiency in the eosinophilia-myalgiasyndrome. Arth Rheum. 1994; 9:1331-1334.
9. Skobeloff EM, et al. Bronchodilating effect of intravenous magnesium sulfate for the treatment of acute asthma in the emergency department. JAMA. 1989; 262:1210-1213.