Magnesium may be small but it is mighty. It doesn’t take up much room in the body - about 25 g of magnesium is in an adult body - but it’s the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, and helps the body function in almost every capacity. Specifically, it helps keep the heart beat steady, keeps bones strong, maintains normal nerve and muscle function, regulates glucose levels, and supports a healthy immune system. It contributes to energy production and the composition of teeth. It also helps regulate other nutrients within the body, like calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D.
Research also suggests that magnesium can help those with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes to control blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, may prevent temporary or permanent hearing loss for individuals exposed to very loud noise, may prevent asthma, lower the risk of colon cancer, is associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death, lower blood pressure, and decreased symptoms related to PMS (such as bloating, breast tenderness, and weight gain). Magnesium has also been shown to alleviate or prevent migraine headaches - one-half of migraine sufferers have a magnesium deficiency. There is also a new area of research that suggests magnesium could potentially have positive effects on memory during aging. So all in all, magnesium is a powerhouse and people should start paying attention to it...especially considering an estimated 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium.
Could You Be Magnesium Deficient?
There are a myriad of ways that one can become deficient in magnesium - weight loss dieting, regularly consuming too much alcohol, undergoing bypass surgery, having an overactive thyroid, and drinking “soft” water, which lacks minerals. Also, regular activities, such as prolonged exercise, excessive sweating, and lactation can cause a great loss of magnesium, as does stress and certain prescription drugs.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include: trouble sleeping; muscle aches and spasms (probably the most noticeable symptoms); dizziness; anxiety and depression; poor digestion; poor memory; irritability; abnormal heart rhythms; anemia; and abnormal blood pressure.
Despite the fact that the majority of Americans don’t get enough magnesium, many doctors don’t test for magnesium deficiency. For the few doctors that do test for magnesium deficiency, they typically test the serum magnesium, which isn’t an accurate portrayal of magnesium levels in your blood. If magnesium inside the heart cell goes down, the body tries to compensate for it by increasing the serum magnesium, so your magnesium could read as high while the red blood cell (RBC) magnesium is actually low. Also, serum contains less than 1% of our total magnesium; the majority of magnesium in our bodies lives in our cells. The RBC test is considered more accurate than the serum test because when you are low in magnesium your body takes it from cells for use elsewhere. So if these red blood cells are lacking magnesium then you have an early indicator of deficiency. That is why the most accurate magnesium test is the Red Blood Cell (RBC) essential mineral test.
How to Get More Magnesium in Your Body
If you are magnesium deficient, there are many roads you can take to up your magnesium intake.
Food & Water
This is the road we always suggest starting with because you can have the most control over it, there are typically no side effects, and often times the best sources of nutrients are food. Plus, it’s way more fun than swallowing a pill. Small changes can make a big difference, and regularly monitoring your blood can help you see if dietary changes are making a difference. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium ranges from 400 mg for adults 19-30 years and 420 mg for adults 31 and older. Some women may require less - anywhere from 310-400 depending on their size, whether they are pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Some great food sources of magnesium are: Note: DV=Daily Value, which was developed by the U.S. FDA to help consumers compare the nutrient contents of products within the context of a total diet. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient.
Vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables (1 cup of cooked spinach has 157 mg or 40% of the DV of magnesium and chard has 154 mg or 38% DV in 1 cup)
Nuts (1 oz of roasted almonds has 80 mg or 20% of the daily recommended requirements)
Legumes (Peas and beans) (½ cup of cooked black beans contain 60 mg or 15% of recommended DV)
Seeds (⅛ cup pumpkin seeds contain 92 mg (23% DV)
Soy products (½ cup of cooked, shelled edamame contains 50 mg or 13% DV)
Whole grains (½ cup of cooked brown rice contains 42 mg or 11% DV)
Fruit (1 medium avocado contains 58 mg or 15% DV, and 1 medium banana contain 32 mg or 8% DV)
Dairy (1 cup of plain yogurt contains 50 mg or 13% DV)
Assuming your water supply is “hard,” drinking more water can be a great and easy way to add dietary magnesium. It’s just one more reason to start drinking more H2O.
If dietary changes aren’t enough to meet your magnesium needs, you can always turn to supplements. As with all supplements, be aware of what you are buying. Magnesium oxide supplements will be the cheapest but aren’t absorbed by your body very well - typically only 4% is absorbed through the body and the rest goes through your intestines (in other words, grab a magazine and a lot of toilet paper because you will be in the bathroom for a while).
Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium (meaning that the minerals have been combined chemically with amino acids to form “complexes”). This form typically has the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability (meaning the proportion of a drug or other substance that enters the circulation when introduced into the body so it has an active effect). It is considered the best option for people trying to correct a deficiency.
Magnesium threonate is an emerging type of magnesium supplement that appears to be promising because of its powerful ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane.
Remember, in general, magnesium can have laxative effects, so start slow and slowly increase up to 250 mg a day, as most experts would suggest. If loose stools still plague you and you aren’t into that (hey we don’t judge if you are), you can try Maginex, which supposedly doesn’t cause loose stools, is sugar-free and is very readily absorbed. Some experts also suggest taking magnesium without calcium and with a protein-rich meal to improve absorption.
If you are unsure of or new to supplementation, it can be a good idea to consult with a doctor before supplementing vitamins and minerals, especially since some medications shouldn’t be used in conjunction with certain supplements. If you have heart disease or kidney problems, be sure to consult with a doctor because magnesium supplements can make certain conditions worse.
Epsom Salt Baths
Baths, in general, can be a relaxing way to reduce stress and soothe aching muscles. Taking regular Epsom salt baths is a great way to get magnesium into your body since magnesium sulfate absorbs through the skin. Similarly, magnesium oil can also be used topically on your skin, absorbing in the same way epsom salts do in a bath.
A topical oil that is sprayed onto the body is a great way for the oil to absorb into the skin. The body absorbs it pretty quickly since it goes straight into the blood and tissues rather than the kidneys. You can make your own magnesium oil or buy one. If you have concerns about using anything topical, please consult your doctor.
Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Magnesium
If you have any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, be sure to get an RBC Magnesium test and take the necessary steps to ensure proper magnesium absorption. As always, we recommend starting with small, easy changes, like diet and baths. You can re-test after several weeks of lifestyle changes and if you are still deficient, you can look at other routes, like topical solutions or supplements. Just remember to take care of yourself, listen to your body and be proactive.