Magnesium is popular as an element used in the preparation of alloys and compounds, but not many people know of its role in the maintenance of good health. Although magnesium is a micronutrient that constitutes only 0.05% of your body weight, it is still involved in several enzymatic processes required for the smooth functioning of your body. Ideally, your blood magnesium levels should be between 0.75 and 0.95mmol/L, but this is only 1% of the magnesium in your body, as the rest of the 99% is stored in your bones and soft tissues.
If these miniscule figures make you wonder, why make a mountain out of a molehill with all of this fuss around a nutrient that forms only a small part of my body? Well, you have probably missed the whole point about this ‘Master Mineral’, because Magnesium certainly deserves much more credit than what it actually gets from conventional physicians, who have reduced it to a mere laxative used in the treatment of constipation and indigestion. After all, this tiny amount of magnesium manages to accomplish a lot more than most other nutrients in the vast and intricate workings of the human body.
In the last decade or so, several medical advances and scientific studies have given us a better perspective about the importance of magnesium as a nutrient. We now know that magnesium is essential for regulating calcium, potassium, and vitamin D levels, bringing about normal heart functions, and that any disruptions in its concentrations could lead to a heart attack. In addition to being a muscle relaxant, magnesium is also crucial for normal kidney and brain functions.
Hence, we cannot afford to ignore magnesium deficiencies anymore, since they can cause just the same amount of chaos as any other vitamin or mineral deficiency. Unfortunately, the only source through which we can get enough magnesium is our diet and even that isn’t a reliable option anymore, because the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other modern farming techniques have collectively led to a decrease in the quality and mineral content of soil world over.
As a result, most of us today are deficient in Magnesium. However, what’s all the more distressing is the fact that blood magnesium tests can’t portray an accurate picture of a magnesium deficiency, unless one suffers from a severe magnesium deficiency, mainly because most of it is stored in our bones and not in our blood.
Despite all of this, how do you know if you really have the right levels of magnesium in your body? You can do this by noting the causes of low magnesium levels, and by paying attention to the signs your body sends out indicating a magnesium deficiency, because every vitamin or mineral deficiency manifests a fixed pattern of symptoms, and magnesium is no exception.
Causes of Low Magnesium Levels
Frequent use of antibiotics, cyclosporine, laxatives, phenytoin, diuretics, digoxin, and insulin can reduce your magnesium levels. People using such drugs for a long time should certainly monitor their magnesium levels closely. Also, since your body absorbs magnesium through your gut, any disruptions in your digestive process such as, irritable bowels, viral or bacterial infections that cause diarrhea and vomiting, and ulcerative colitis could lead to momentary magnesium loss from your body.
Some additional factors that often result in magnesium deficiency are diseases such as, pancreatitis, type-2 diabetes, and hyperthyroidism, and excessive consumption of carbonated drinks, coffee, alcohol, and salt. In fact, a malfunctioning kidney, prolonged stress, heavy menstrual bleeding, and excessive perspiration could lower your magnesium levels too.
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Your doctor will not diagnose you with a magnesium deficiency or hypomagnesaemia, unless your blood magnesium levels are lower than 0.75mmol/L. Nevertheless, if you experience one or more of the following symptoms, perhaps you are deficient in magnesium despite a blood magnesium level above this benchmark, because it is indeed possible to ascertain if your ill health is actually a result of an underlying magnesium deficiency by observing your symptoms alone.
Magnesium is a vital component of your muscles and is helpful in keeping them strong and operational. If you suffer from frequent muscle spasms, probably an inherent magnesium deficiency is what’s bringing them on so often. Low magnesium levels can bring about a spasm in your muscles with the slightest tension, such as from sneezing, prolonged standing, or over-stretching to reach out for an object. These spasms also come up in the middle of the night compelling the sufferer to stand or walk in order to get rid of them.
Abnormal Heart Rhythms
Magnesium and calcium are required for your heart to beat rhythmically, mainly because the heart’s muscles bring about this activity. Moreover, magnesium present inside these muscles helps them maintain the normal rhythm of your heart, and abnormal magnesium levels can end-up disrupting this rhythm. Thus, it isn’t surprising that intravenous magnesium is one of the treatments for atrial fibrillation and cardiac arrhythmias. If you experience a flutter in your chest or miss a heartbeat often, it is quite likely that you have an arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm.
Several studies conducted as far back as 1921 state that magnesium deficiency could cause brain damage and neurological dysfunction leading to depression. Recently, in 2008, another study substantiated these findings by showing magnesium to be as effective as anti-depressants, and even better considering the lack of side effects with magnesium therapy, in the treatment of depression in diabetics.
Researchers believe that individuals suffering from frequent bouts of migraine often have lower levels of magnesium in their blood and tissues. Besides, other important factors that trigger migraines such as neurotransmitter release and constriction of blood vessels tend to increase with low magnesium levels too. As a result, deficient magnesium levels are quite likely to increase the frequency of your headaches.
Magnesium deficiency can also show itself with minor and vague symptoms such as loss of appetite, weakness or fatigue, nausea, vomiting, tremors, high blood pressure, personality changes, mental confusion, and poor memory. Some experts also believe that restless legs syndrome that causes sudden and involuntary movements or jitteriness of the legs at night could be a result of low magnesium levels.
What should you eat to improve your magnesium levels?
The type of foods we eat today and a lifestyle full of stress are not very conducive towards maintaining optimal magnesium levels. As a result, most people hardly manage to fulfill their body’s magnesium requirements through their diet. The recommended daily allowance of Magnesium for adults above 18 years of age is 400-420 mg for males and 310-320 mg for women.
However, these levels generally vary depending on various factors such as pregnancy, lactation, age, underlying medical illnesses, etc. Even if you manage to meet these requirements, other factors such as alcohol, soda, coffee, and salt in your diet, or gastro-intestinal disorders are probably making it difficult for your body to absorb all of this magnesium. So, what should you eat and how much of it should you eat to give your body enough magnesium? Here’s a table of foods rich in dietary magnesium and their exact magnesium content to help you take informed decisions.
|Food||Magnesium content/ serving|
|Almonds, 1 ounce dry and roasted||80|
|Spinach, ½ a cup boiled||78|
|Cashews, 1 ounce, roasted||74|
|Peanuts, ¼ cup roasted||63|
|Soymilk, 1 cup||61|
|Whole wheat bread, 2 slices||46|
|Avocado, 1 cup||44|
|Low fat Yoghurt, plain, 8 ounces||42|
|Brown rice, cooked, ½ cup||42|
|Breakfast cereals, fortified with magnesium||40|
How do you correct or prevent Magnesium deficiencies?
If you have hypomagnesaemia, or you fall in one of the high-risk groups likely to develop a deficiency, and/or you suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned above, then you probably need to supplement with magnesium to correct its levels in your body. Even if, your doctor has been unable to determine the cause of your symptoms and discomfort, and the enumerable blood exams you have had to undergo have all come back with normal results, there’s a slight chance that magnesium’s the one creating all of this havoc.
Nevertheless, it is always prudent to first check if you are consuming enough magnesium through its dietary sources before turning to oral supplements. If not, then select a good quality magnesium supplement to make-up for the inadequate magnesium stores in your body, as it might just be the right solution to all of your health problems. Make sure you consult your doctor about the appropriate supplement for you, especially if you suffer from underlying heart disorders, as unsupervised magnesium intake can be potentially dangerous in such scenarios.
So, don’t wait for someone to tell you that you are magnesium deficient, instead make the necessary changes in your diet and lifestyle to feel the difference.