Everything You Need to Know About Magnesium

Have you ever been woken up by a leg cramp that you can’t seem to shake? Suffered with muscle tightness no matter how much you stretch out.   Or find yourself plagued by regular migraines that leave you paralyzed for hours or even days? While these may lead you to believe that something is catastrophically wrong with your body, it could be something as simple as a deficiency. 

The Function of Magnesium 

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So what is this nutrient deficiency that can wreak havoc on the body? Magnesium is one of the most well-known, highly researched nutrients. It has 700 different functions, which is the most of any nutrient. Some believe that there may be more that have yet to be discovered.

While it could take a while to go through each of the 700 functions of this nutrient, here are just a few of the vital roles it plays within the body:

  • Regulates energy production by converting carbohydrates into ATP
  • Regulates hormone production and metabolizes estrogen
  • Aids in the electrical conductivity of the brain, body, and entire nervous system
  • Generates neurotransmitters
  • Aids in the cell membrane and protein production
  • Helps to detoxify the body
  • Activates Vitamin D
  • Regulates muscle contractility and tone

Where to Find Magnesium 

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While it is easy to turn to supplements to get the recommended intake, it is much better to rely on food. Nature has already provided the best form of magnesium that can be easily absorbed and used by the body. 

Some of the most common sources of magnesium include:

  • Red meat
  • Leafy greens – spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens, and beet greens
  • Wild-caught cold-water fish – harry mackerel and halibut
  • Almonds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Garlic
  • Figs

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Magnesium Deficiency

Because magnesium has so many roles within the body, it is easy to see how a deficiency can be detrimental to one’s health. A magnesium deficiency may manifest itself in a variety of ways and can even be misdiagnosed. It is important to be aware of how magnesium affects the body when receiving too little of this nutrient. 

The number one sign of a magnesium deficiency is muscle cramps and spasms. Since magnesium is intricately involved in the function of muscles, many of the signs of deficiency result from poor muscle activity.

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These include:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Heart problems
  • Fatigue
  • Poor flexibility
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • The inability to handle stress
  • Extreme PMS symptom (excessive bleeding, water retention, depression, and sugar cravings)

Causes of Deficiency

magnesium deficiency

So, apart from not ingesting enough magnesium, what could be causing a deficiency? Surprisingly, one of the most common causes of a deficiency relates to the intake of processed sugar. The body requires magnesium to break down the sugar one consumes; therefore, the more sugar consumed, the more magnesium expended. 

Additionally, chronic or prolonged stress, large intakes of caffeine, and even certain medications can deplete the stores of magnesium in the body. Medications that are most likely to do so include hypertension or blood pressure medication, birth control pills, and antacids when used regularly. 

magnesium deficiency

Gut Issues 

Another common cause of deficiency is gut or GI tract inflammation. Because vitamins and nutrients are absorbed somewhere along the GI tract (magnesium is absorbed in the small intestine), any inflammation will inhibit their absorption. People that may experience a deficiency due to gut inflammation include those with:

  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Gastritis
  • Esophagitis

Diseases Linked to Low Magnesium 

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While a lack of this vitamin may not cause disease, it is linked to as many as 60 different diseases. As mentioned, because of it’s intricate involvement in the muscular, nervous, and endocrine systems, most of these diseases tie into these three categories. Some of the diseases or disorders linked to low magnesium include: 

  • Heart disease – including high blood pressure, mitral valve prolapse, abnormal arrhythmic heartbeats, and increased blood viscosity
  • Muscular-skeletal diseases – fibromyalgia, myopathy, osteoporosis
  • Neurological diseases – neuropathy, depression, numbness, tingling, pain in the extremities, and migraines
  • Endocrine disorders – Type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, sex hormone deficiencies
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Testing

If ever diagnosed with these issues, prior to accepting medication to treat them, it may be beneficial to have testing done to evaluate the level of this nutrient in your body. Magnesium may not be the only solution to treating certain symptoms and diseases. It does, however, play a significant role and is an extremely more affordable treatment plan.

While there are several tests that can be run, one of the best is the Lymphocyte Proliferation test, which looks at the amount of the vitamin within the white blood cells. 

Another test to identify these levels is simply the Red Blood Cell Test. While not as accurate as the Lymphocyte Proliferation, it is still a good indicator, with an acceptable level being at a 6 or 6.5. If possible, avoid serum magnesium testing, as it is a poor indicator of actual magnesium levels.

Supplementation

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While food should always be the first option for obtaining nutrients, there may be certain situations which require supplements. In that case, it is best to be informed on which supplements are the best absorbed and most beneficial within your body. Once finding a suitable supplement, one’s daily intake should be between 200-1000 milligrams, spread throughout the day. 

There are several varieties of this type of supplement with two of the best being magnesium glycinate and citrate. Some people even enjoy magnesium oils or Epsom salt baths. This allows for absorption through the skin.

One supplement to avoid, however, is magnesium oxide, as it contains very little of the nutrient and is poorly absorbed by the body.

Avoiding Supplementation

While most people can benefit from adding this nutrient into their diet, there are a few groups that should avoid it. People experiencing a kidney disorder, kidney failure, or a poorly functioning kidney should not consider magnesium supplementation. As excess magnesium is released in bowel movements, a bowel obstruction could reach toxic levels if taking a supplement.

Fueling the Body

Bodies are amazing, complex mechanisms that require the right “fuel” to operate. When they don’t receive the proper care and nutrition, they can start to break down and not function correctly. If you start to experience negative changes in your body, it may be time to consider how you can improve your health through the addition of magnesium and other vital nutrients.

Quick Facts About Magnesium

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References on Magnesium:
  1. DiNicolantonio, James J et al. “Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis.” Open heart vol. 5,1 e000668. 13 Jan. 2018, doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668
  2. Al Alawi, Abdullah M et al. “Magnesium and Human Health: Perspectives and Research Directions.” International journal of endocrinology vol. 2018 9041694. 16 Apr. 2018, doi:10.1155/2018/9041694
  3. Schwalfenberg, Gerry K, and Stephen J Genuis. “The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare.” Scientifica vol. 2017 (2017): 4179326. doi:10.1155/2017/4179326
  4. A A A Ismail, Y Ismail, A A Ismail, Chronic magnesium deficiency and human disease; time for reappraisal?, QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, Volume 111, Issue 11, November 2018, Pages 759–763.

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