As the fourth most abundant mineral in your body and the second most common intracellular cation or positively charged ion (after potassium), magnesium is required for the healthy function of most cells in your body, especially your heart, kidneys and muscles. A lack of magnesium will impede your cellular metabolic function and deteriorate mitochondrial function, which in turn can lead to more serious health problems.
Unfortunately, magnesium insufficiency or deficiency are extremely common around the world. According to 2011 data, 45 percent of American adults do not get the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) amount of magnesium from their diet, and teen statistics published in 2014 suggests nearly 92 percent of teenagers between 14 to 18 do not meet the estimated average requirement for magnesium from food alone. The most likely reason for this is because they do not eat fresh vegetables on a regular basis.
Magnesium resides at the center of the chlorophyll molecule. So, if you rarely eat leafy greens, you’re probably getting very little magnesium from your diet. Moreover, some researchers insist the RDA is inadequate, warning that many suffer from subclinical magnesium deficiency that can compromise their cardiovascular health. Adding to the problem is that a regular serum magnesium is a poor test, as only 1 percent of the magnesium in your body is actually found in your bloodstream.
Your best bet is to have an RBC magnesium test done, which measures the amount of magnesium in your red blood cells. You can also evaluate and track signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and to make sure you eat magnesium-rich foods and/or take a magnesium supplement, balanced with vitamins D3, K2 and calcium. Alternatively, keep an eye on your potassium and calcium levels, as low potassium and calcium are common laboratory signs of magnesium deficiency.
Why Most People Need Magnesium Supplementation
While eating organic unprocessed foods will help optimize your magnesium from food, it’s not a surefire way to ward off magnesium deficiency. Most soils have become severely depleted of nutrients, including magnesium, which is why some experts believe most people need supplemental magnesium. If you frequently eat processed foods, your risk of deficiency is magnified. As noted in a 2001 paper:
“Unfortunately, [magnesium] Mg absorption and elimination depend on a very large number of variables … Mg absorption requires plenty of Mg in the diet, [selenium] Se, parathyroid hormone (PTH) and vitamins B6 and D. Furthermore, it is hindered by excess fat.
On the other hand, Mg levels are decreased by excess ethanol, salt, phosphoric acid (sodas) and coffee intake, by profuse sweating, by intense, prolonged stress, by excessive menstruation and vaginal flux, by diuretics and other drugs and by certain parasites (pinworms).”
Taking a magnesium supplement is particularly advisable if you:
|Experience symptoms of insufficiency or deficiency|
|Engage in strenuous exercise on a regular basis. Research shows just six to 12 weeks of strenuous physical activity can result in magnesium deficiency, likely due to increased magnesium demand in your skeletal muscle|
|Are taking diuretics or medication for hypertension, especially thiazides, which have been shown to induce undetectable magnesium deficiency (while patients may have normal or even high serum magnesium, their bodies are actually depleted of magnesium)|
|Have had or are planning heart transplant or open heart surgery|
|Are at risk for or have had a heart attack, or if you experience ventricular arrhythmia|
|Are insulin resistant or diabetic (as this increases magnesium depletion)|
|Have congestive heart failure|
How Magnesium Benefits Your Body
Magnesium is involved in more than 600 different biochemical reactions in your body, which play important roles in:
|Creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of your body||Metabolism of calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, iron, sodium, hydrochloric acid, acetylcholine and nitric oxide, as well as 300 enzymes, and the activation of thiamine.
Magnesium is also required for DNA, RNA and protein synthesis and integrity
|Mitochondrial function and health. Magnesium is required both for increasing the number of mitochondria in your cells and for increasing mitochondrial efficiency||Regulation of blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, which is important for the prevention of Type 2 diabetes
(In one study, prediabetics with the highest magnesium intake reduced their risk for blood sugar and metabolic problems by 71 percent)
|Relaxation of blood vessels and normalizing blood pressure||Detoxification, including the synthesis of glutathione and likely lowering the damage from EMF by blocking voltage gated calcium channels|
|Muscle and nerve function, including the action of your heart muscle||Antioxidant defense via a number of different mechanisms, including anti-inflammatory activity and support of endothelial and mitochondrial function|
|Maintenance of ionic gradients — keeping intracellular sodium and calcium low and potassium high — and maintaining cellular and tissue integrity||Mental and physical relaxation; stress antidote|
Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Common signs and symptoms of magnesium insufficiency include the following. For a more exhaustive list of signs and symptoms, see Dr. Carolyn Dean’s blog post, “Gauging Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms,” which will give you a checklist to go through every few weeks. This will also help you gauge how much magnesium you need to resolve your deficiency symptoms.
|Seizures; muscle spasms, especially “charley horses” or spasms in your calf muscle that happen when you stretch your leg and/or eye twitches||The Trousseau sign. To check for this sign, a blood pressure cuff is inflated around your arm. The pressure should be greater than your systolic blood pressure and maintained for three minutes.
By occluding the brachial artery in your arm, spasms in your hand and forearm muscles are induced.
If you are magnesium-deficient, the lack of blood flow will cause your wrist and metacarpophalangeal joint to flex and your fingers to adduct. For a picture of this hand/wrist position, see Wikipedia
|Numbness or tingling in your extremities||Low potassium and calcium levels|
|Insulin resistance||Increased number of headaches and/or migraines|
|High blood pressure, heart arrhythmias and/or coronary spasms||Low energy, fatigue and/or loss of appetite|
Common Pathologies Associated With Magnesium Deficiency
Considering the influence of magnesium, it’s no great surprise that deficiency can snowball into significant health problems. When magnesium intake is low, your body compensates, trying to maintain a normal serum magnesium level by pulling the mineral from your bones, muscles and internal organs. Common pathologies associated with magnesium deficiency include but are not limited to:
|Hypertension, cardiovascular disease, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death||Recurrent or persistent bacterial infections such as sinus, vaginal, middle ear, lung and throat infections due to low levels of nitric oxide|
|Conditions associated with peroxynitrite damage, such as migraines, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease||Kidney and liver damage|
|Impotence (also associated with low nitric oxide levels)||Fungal infections due to depressed immune function|
|Increased risk of death from all causes||Type 2 diabetes. Estimates suggest nearly half of all diabetics are magnesium deficient. Low magnesium levels also affect insulin resistance, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
High levels of insulin in the blood, common with insulin resistance, also lead to further loss of magnesium
|Premenstrual syndrome, mood swings, aggression, anxiety and depression (as magnesium acts as a catalyst for mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin)||Impaired hearing|
|Osteoporosis||Muscle cramps and muscle weakness|
Even Subclinical Magnesium Deficiency May Place Your Cardiovascular Health at Risk
Magnesium is particularly important for heart health, helping you maintain normal blood pressure and protect against stroke, and even subclinical deficiency can lead to cardiovascular problems. The importance of magnesium for heart health is addressed in “Subclinical Magnesium Deficiency: A Principal Driver of Cardiovascular Disease and a Public Health Crisis,” published in the Open Heart journal. According to the authors:
“… ‘Various studies have shown that at least 300 mg of magnesium must be supplemented to establish a significantly increased serum magnesium concentrations …’ In other words, most people need an additional 300 mg of magnesium per day in order to lower their risk of developing numerous chronic diseases.
So while the recommended … (RDA) for magnesium (between 300 and 420 mg /day for most people) may prevent frank magnesium deficiency, it is unlikely to provide optimal health and longevity, which should be the ultimate goal.”
A scientific analysis of 40 studies published between 1999 and 2016, involving more than 1 million participants in nine countries, also found that, compared to those with the lowest intakes, those with the highest magnesium intakes had:
- A 10 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease
- 12 percent lower risk of stroke
- 26 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes
Increasing magnesium intake by 100 mg per day lowered participants’ risk for heart failure by 22 percent; stroke by 7 percent; diabetes by 19 percent and all-cause mortality by 10 percent. While the analysis was based on observational studies and did not prove a direct link, the researchers noted the results support the theory that increasing your magnesium intake may provide overall health benefits.
An earlier review, which included studies dating as far back as 1937, suggests low magnesium may in fact be the greatest predictor of heart disease.
While you may still need magnesium supplementation (due to denatured soils), it would certainly be wise to try to get as much magnesium from your diet as possible. Organic unprocessed foods would be your best bet, but if they’re grown in magnesium-depleted soil, even organics could be low in this vital mineral. Dark green leafy vegetables lead the pack when it comes to magnesium content, and juicing your greens is an excellent way to boost your intake. Greens with the highest magnesium levels include:
|Spinach||Swiss chard||Turnip greens||Beet greens||Collard greens|
|Broccoli||Brussels sprouts||Kale||Bok Choy||Romaine lettuce|
Other foods that are particularly rich in magnesium include:
Raw cacao nibs and/or unsweetened cocoa powder
One ounce (28.35 grams) or raw cacao nibs contain about 65 mg of magnesium.
One cup of avocado on average (values differ depending on whether they come from California or Florida) contains about 44 mg of magnesium. Avocados are also a good source of potassium, which helps offset the hypertensive effects of sodium.
Seeds and nuts
Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds score among the highest, with one-quarter cup providing an estimated 191 mg, 129 mg and 41 mg of magnesium respectively. Cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts are also good sources; one-fourth cup of cashews contains 89 mg of magnesium.
Interestingly, fatty fish such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon and mackerel are also high in magnesium. A half-fillet (6 ounces) of salmon can provide about 52 mg of magnesium.
Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices pack lots of nutrients in small packages and this includes magnesium. Some of the most magnesium-rich varieties are coriander, chives, cumin seed, parsley, mustard seeds, fennel, basil and cloves.
Fruits and berries
Ranking high for magnesium are papaya, dried peaches and apricots, tomato and watermelon. For example, 1 cup of papaya can provide nearly 30 mg of magnesium; 1 cup of tomato gives you 17.
Organic, raw grass fed yogurt and natto
Yogurt made from raw organic grass fed milk with no added sugars; 1 cup of natto yields 201 mg of magnesium.
Don’t Let Subclinical Magnesium Deficiency Take You Down
If you’ve not been paying attention to your magnesium status before, make a point of doing so this year. Chances are, your health is being silently undermined by a lack of magnesium. Remember, this mineral is required for hundreds of enzymatic processes, healthy cellular metabolism and mitochondrial function, which in turn are crucial for optimal health and disease prevention.
Also, while the RDA for magnesium is around 310 to 420 mg per day depending on your age and sex,many experts believe you may need around 600 to 900 mg per day. As noted in Open Heart:
“Investigations of the macro- and micro-nutrient supply in Paleolithic nutrition of the former hunter/gatherer societies showed a magnesium uptake with the usual diet of about 600 mg magnesium/day … This means our metabolism is best adapted to a high magnesium intake … In developed countries, the average intake of magnesium is slightly over 4 mg/kg/day … [T]he average intake of magnesium in the USA is around 228 mg/day in women and 266mg/day in men …”
Personally, I believe many may benefit from amounts as high as 1 to 2 grams (1,000 to 2,000 mg) of elemental magnesium per day. The reason why I believe the higher dose is warranted is because most of us have EMF exposures that we simply are unable to mitigate, and the extra magnesium should help lower the damage from that exposure.
Be careful when using higher magnesium doses though, as magnesium is a powerful laxative. In some ways, this is good — it’s hard to overdose on magnesium as excessive magnesium is simply flushed out. If you decide to do a five-day water fast, be careful to stop all your oral magnesium, or you’ll end up with “disaster pants.”
You may want to use magnesium threonate to provide at least some of your magnesium, as it appears to be most efficient at penetrating cell membranes, including your mitochondria and blood-brain barrier. Another effective way to boost your magnesium level is to take Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths, as the magnesium will effectively absorb through your skin.
I actually prepare a supersaturated solution of Epsom salts by dissolving 7 tablespoons of the salt into 6 ounces of water and heating it until all the salt dissolves. I pour it into a dropper bottle and then apply it to my skin and rub fresh aloe leaves over it to dissolve it. This is an easy and inexpensive way to increase your magnesium and not suffer from the major laxative side effect of most oral magnesium dosing schedules, especially at the higher levels.
*Article originally appeared at Mercola. Reposted with permission.