I considered calling this Magnesium is the New Vitamin D. Why? Because in my practice, almost everyone takes vitamin D – and for good reasons because it is often low in your blood when you live at North American latitudes. However, I believe magnesium deficiency is far more common than vitamin D deficiency. And here’s what is also ironic – you also need sufficient magnesium to correct low vitamin D.
This 2018 review shows that magnesium deficiency is a global epidemic, including the United States, where:
“Approximately 50% of Americans consume less than the Estimated Average Requirement for magnesium, and some age groups consume substantially less.“
Here I hope to convey why it’s important to assess your potential need for magnesium, what kinds to take, and how much.
What does magnesium do?
Practically everything. It’s an essential co-factor in over 600 biochemical processes in your body. For example, magnesium is necessary to:
- Synthesize RNA and DNA.
- Make your muscles and nerves function properly.
- Control blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.
- Create cellular ATP energy.
- Build bone.
- Control nerve impulse conduction, muscle contractions, and heart rhythms.
What are signs of magnesium deficiency?
Here’s one list of chronic magnesium deficiency symptoms:
“Abnormal heart beat, agitation, cardiac arrhythmia, depression, heart spasms, muscle cramps, spasms, twitches and weakness, numbness, seizures, sudden changes in behavior or personality, tingling, tremors.“
And another list:
“Aggression, anxiety, arrhythmias, calcium deposits in soft tissue, confusion, coronary artery disease, depressed immune response, hand or foot cramps, hearing loss, heart failure, high blood pressure including pre-eclampsia in pregnancy, irritability, light sensitivity, migraines, mitral valve prolapse, osteoporosis, pain, tinnitus, vertigo.“
These are conditions associated with low magnesium:
“ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s, angina, anxiety disorders, arrhythmia, arthritis (rheumatoid and osteo), asthma, autism, auto immune disorders, cavities, chronic fatigue syndrome, congestive heart disease, constipation, diabetes, fibromyalgia, hypoglycemia, insomnia, insulin resistance, kidney stones, menstrual pain, multiple sclerosis, obesity, Parkinson’s disease, PMS, Raynaud’s, thyroid disorders.“
Why is low magnesium so common?
In Paleolithic times it’s estimated that people consumed 600 mg of magnesium per day from food. Now it’s estimated that in developed countries, for a 150 pound woman, magnesium intake from food is about 17 mg – which is far lower than 600 mg!
In a nutshell, reasons for this massive decline include:
- Low intake of magnesium: foods green vegetables are the highest source, next is WHOLE grains, nuts and seeds.
- High intake of foods that lower magnesium: refined and processed foods, alcohol, soda.
- Drinking soft, demineralized water.
- Less magnesium in foods because the soil is depleted.
- High incidence of diseases that lower magnesium, including type 2 diabetes and digestive disorders like colitis.
- Medications that lower magnesium: stomach acid blockers are the top, diuretics are another biggie.
- Alcohol abuse.
- Drinking too much water!
- Sweating too much through saunas or athletics – think hot yoga.
- High intake of calcium through supplements or dairy.
Since most of your magnesium is in your cells and tissues, and only a tiny fraction is in your blood (serum), a standard blood test won’t show your total body magnesium. However, serum levels do correspond with bone levels. So, it’s worthwhile to test serum levels if you are concerned about bone levels, or a very serious deficiency.
A red blood cell test is a bit more accurate than serum as far as giving a window into intracellular magnesium, but it doesn’t accurately reflect all body tissues.
So how do we get the right amount of magnesium?
The RDA for adult women over 18 is 300-320 mg, and the Paleo amount is estimated at 600 mg. Many of us nutritionists think the RDA will go up at some point. The RDA is generally an amount to take to barely avoid a severe deficiency. You could actually get the RDA amount of magnesium and still have a low grade or “subclinical” deficiency.
I recommend that all women take supplemental magnesium – 300 mg all the way up to 1000 mg. If more than 300 mg then split up your daily dose. How to determine where you fall on this dose range? If you eat a lot of green veggies, plus nuts and seeds, take the low end (300-400 mg) as a supplement.
For higher doses, listen to your body. Do you feel stiff and have aches and pains, PMS, painful periods, low energy, anxiety, palpitations, or poor sleep? Do you have constipation or sluggish bowels (as in not pooping completely at least once per day)? If so, consider taking 600-800 mg. Back off if stools become loose. Find your sweet spot amount.
Which form, which brand?
Avoid the ones that act as laxatives, if you can. These are sulfate, citrate, and chloride. Why? Because increasing water in your stool (especially to the point of loose stool or diarrhea) will actually deplete your magnesium stores! It’s not a fix to chronic deficiency. Also avoid carbonate, because it’s poorly absorbed.
For topical application, do use sulfate as it absorbs well through your skin, such as in topical gels, epsom salt baths, or essential oil rollers.
Always use glycinate for supplementation, unless these conditions apply:
Food sources of magnesium
Healthy magnesium-rich foods include:
- Spinach — 1 cup: 157 milligrams (40% DV)
- Chard — 1 cup: 154 milligrams (38% DV)
- Pumpkin seeds — 1/8 cup: 92 milligrams (23% DV)
- Yogurt or Kefir — 1 cup: 50 milligrams (13% DV)
- Almonds — 1 ounce: 80 milligrams (20% DV)
- Black Beans — ½ cup: 60 milligrams (15% DV)
- Avocado — 1 medium: 58 milligrams (15% DV)
- Figs — ½ cup: 50 milligrams (13% DV)
- Banana — 1 medium: 32 milligrams (8% DV)
Read the next sister on The Calcium – Magnesium Relationship.
Talk to me in the comments below,