Pain medicine pioneer Dr. Norman Shealy claims “Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency.” While I wouldn’t go that far, I must say that it really is an incredibly important mineral. And I can heartily agree with the second part of his statement. Magnesium, he says, is “the missing cure to many diseases.”
Magnesium is a macro mineral. That means it’s a mineral we need to eat in milligrams rather than micrograms. It’s used by every organ. It’s present in cells throughout our bodies. It’s necessary for hundreds of different physiological processes. And a lack of it can start a cascade of health problems that become progressively more serious the more deficient we are.
It’s estimated that less than a quarter of us get the recommended daily allowance of magnesium—310-320 mg for women and 400-420 for men. And the RDA is far from the optimal amount. The RDA is just the smallest amount necessary to ward off actual deficiency. This means that three-quarters of the population is not just low in magnesium but clinically deficient. And that could be playing an important part in our high rates of chronic disease.
In another article we discussed how magnesium deficiency is linked to heart attack. We talked about how it lowers the risk of strokes. But there’s much more to it than that. Magnesium also plays a role in regulating metabolism, and not getting enough of it raises your risk of diabetes. Low magnesium levels make hip fractures and osteoporosis more likely. Poor magnesium intake is even associated with some types of cancer.
So how do you know if YOU are getting enough of this essential mineral? Magnesium is primarily stored in your bones and organs, so a blood test to check your levels may be wildly inaccurate. However, the following symptoms could be a clue that you need more magnesium in your diet.
High blood pressure
Magnesium is incredibly important for heart health. As I’ve discussed in before, it protects against heart attacks. It lowers the risk of stroke. In fact, research suggests that a high-magnesium diet can lower the risk of stroke by a shocking 8 percent. And having a magnesium-poor diet can lead to irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation.
Studies also have shown that magnesium can lower blood pressure significantly. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the strong ties between high blood pressure and stroke, but it highlights the profound importance of adequate dietary magnesium. Calcium also plays a role in regulating blood pressure. Calcium and magnesium work synergistically, so if your blood pressure is high you may be deficient in both.
Leg cramps or restless leg syndrome
These are two of the most common symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Your body uses magnesium to make muscles contract and relax. It also needs it to send nerve signals. When you don’t have enough magnesium, both these systems can malfunction. This results in muscular problems like cramps and neurological symptoms like restless leg syndrome.
Type 2 diabetes
Inadequate magnesium in your diet raises your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. And if you’re already diabetic, the disease makes it more difficult for your body to absorb magnesium. While we’re not sure why, diabetics are 8-10 times more likely to be magnesium deficient than non-diabetics. Interestingly, low magnesium levels are not associated with:
- Or so-called “metabolic syndrome.”
which are the supposed “precursors” of diabetes.
There are many reasons we have difficulty sleeping. From the distractions of technology to plain old stress, sleep is sometimes elusive. Many people turn to melatonin to help them sleep. However, adding magnesium to the mix might be a good idea. A magnesium deficiency can lead to anxiety, restlessness, and racing thoughts that keep you awake. Magnesium is vital for the formation of certain brain chemicals which promote relaxation.
Like too many other pain complaints, we really don’t understand migraines. And while there are many possible migraine triggers, magnesium deficiency seems to be a cause in many cases. This may be due to its role in the formation of various brain chemicals. When there isn’t enough magnesium available, the body has a hard time making certain neurotransmitters. This, the speculation goes, may bring on a migraine. Whatever the mechanism, supplementing with magnesium reduces their frequency in about half of migraine sufferers studied.
Magnesium deficiency can also play a role in:
- Anxiety attacks.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Low blood sugar.
- Some forms of kidney disease.
- Chronic back pain.
- and fibromyalgia.
So what can you do? It’s difficult to get enough magnesium from food alone. Modern farming practices have led to a reduction of many trace minerals in the soil, and magnesium has been one of these casualties. Cooking and processing also reduce magnesium. And some common agricultural chemicals—such as glyphosate—interfere with plants’ ability to take in minerals from the soil. And on top of this, the move to drinking filtered water has removed a major source of dietary magnesium for many people.
Other aspects of our diets can affect our ability to absorb magnesium. A diet high in sugar leads to magnesium loss through urine, for example. All in all, this means that the only way to really ensure you’re getting enough magnesium is to supplement. I recommend taking 300-400 mg per day along with calcium and vitamin D (or adequate sun exposure). These three vitamins work synergistically, and are all nutrients we tend to not get enough of. All are readily available and inexpensive.
There are several forms of magnesium you can supplement with. Magnesium glycinate is the most easily absorbed, but is not as common as some of the others. Magnesium citrate is the most commonly found form, and is also easily absorbed. Magnesium sulfate, however, sold as a laxative (“milk of magnesia”) shouldn’t be used as a supplement because it’s easy to overdose on.
The most pleasant way to get more magnesium is by adding Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) to your bath. This form of magnesium can be absorbed through your skin, and forms the base of many types of “bath salts.” Try adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to a half cup of Epsom salts, then using it in a relaxing bath.