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Magnesium & Magnesium Deficiency

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in many important metabolic functions in the body. It is a vital catalyst in enzyme activity, especially the activity of those enzymes involved in the production of energy.

About half of your body's magnesium stores are found inside cells of body tissues and organs. The other half is combined with calcium and phosphorus in the bone. Only 1% of the magnesium in your body is found in the blood.

The challenge is most of us have a magnesium deficient diet which can result in:

• Restlessness
• Migraines
• Anxiety
• Fidgety legs
• Muscle cramps
• Not getting a good night sleep
• Low energy levels

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Magnesium deficiency...

Dietary surveys suggest that many of us do not consume enough magnesium for our daily requirements. When a magnesium deficiency does occur, it is usually due to:

  1. Excessive loss of magnesium in the urine
  2. Gastrointestinal system disorders that cause a loss of magnesium or limit magnesium absorption or
  3. A chronically low intake of magnesium

A deficiency of magnesium interferes with the transmission of nerve and muscular impulses, causing irritability and nervousness among other symptoms.

Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency...

  • Muscular weakness, twitching & cramps
  • Muscle twitches around the eyes
  • Spasms in the muscles of the arms or legs
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • PMS
  • Problems relating to the heart such as an irregular heart rhythm
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Bone and teeth problems
  • An inability to unwind properly
  • Depression
  • Dizziness, disorientation and confusion
  • Nervousness, apprehensiveness and irritability
  • Lack of coordination
  • Personality changes
  • A deficiency interferes with nerve and muscle impulses

Conditions which can cause a loss of magnesium in the body...

Loss of magnesium through urine

  • Treatment with diuretics, some antibiotics and some medicine used to treat cancer, can increase the loss of magnesium in urine.
  • Diabetes increases the loss of magnesium in the urine, causing a depletion of magnesium stores.
  • A high alcohol intake has been associated with magnesium deficiencies, due to alcohol increasing the excretion of magnesium in the urine.

Gastointestinal problems

  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as malabsorption disorders, can cause magnesium depletion of this mineral, by preventing the body from being able to use the magnesium in food.
  • Chronic or excessive vomiting and diarrhoea may also result in magnesium depletion. As can a high dietary intake of calcium, which can cause an imbalance of this essential mineral.

Who may need magnesium supplements...

Healthy adults, who eat a varied diet, do not generally need to take a magnesium supplement. However, due to the additional pressure put on the body in some situations, magnesium can be essential for athletes, people under regular stress and pregnant women.

Magnesium supplementation is usually indicated when a specific health problem or condition is indicative of low magnesium status.

Extra magnesium may be required by individuals with conditions that cause:

  •     Excessive urinary loss of magnesium
  •     Chronic malabsorption
  •     Severe diarrhoea and steatorrhea
  •     Chronic or severe vomiting

How Magnesium is used by your body...

  • Soft tissue - Magnesium is essential to help prevent the calcification of soft tissues in the body. This often overlooked mineral protects the arterial linings from stress, caused by sudden blood pressure changes.
  • Bones - Magnesium plays a role in the formation of bone, as well as carbohydrate and mineral metabolism.
  • Heart & Muscles - Magnesium works with calcium in the contraction and relaxation of muscles, including the heart muscle. Increasing evidence reveals that a magnesium deficiency is the likely culprit in sudden death from a heart attack.
  • pH Levels - Magnesium aids in maintaining the body's proper pH levels, reducing an acid state. Your body works very hard to keep blood levels of magnesium constant.
  • Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps the heart rhythm steady and the bones strong. It is also involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.

Magnesium and healthy blood pressure regulation...

Evidence suggests that magnesium may play an important role in regulating blood pressure. Diets that provide plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of potassium and magnesium, are consistently associated with a lower blood pressure.

The DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) suggested that high blood pressure could be significantly lowered by a diet high in magnesium, potassium and calcium and low in sodium and fat.

Low levels of magnesium and heart disease...

Magnesium deficiency can cause metabolic changes that may contribute to heart attacks and strokes. There is also evidence that low body stores of magnesium increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, which may increase the risk of complications associated with a heart attack.

Population surveys have associated higher blood levels of magnesium with lower risk of coronary heart disease. In addition, dietary surveys have suggested that a higher magnesium intake is associated with a lower risk of stroke.

Magnesium deficiency and osteoporosis...

Magnesium deficiency may be a risk factor for postmenopausal osteoporosis. This may be because a magnesium deficiency alters calcium metabolism, as well as the hormone that regulates calcium levels. Several studies have suggested that magnesium supplementation improves bone mineral density. In fact, it is one of the major factors in bone metabolism.

Magnesium supplements for diabetes...

Magnesium is important to carbohydrate metabolism. It may influence the release and activity of insulin, the hormone that helps control blood glucose levels. Elevated blood glucose levels increase the loss of magnesium in the urine, which in turn lowers blood levels of magnesium. This explains why low blood levels of magnesium (hypomagnesemia) are seen in poorly controlled Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Magnesium may help with migraines...

Migraine suffers can often benefit from taking magnesium. Migraine triggers and the causes of migraines are often a mystery. Fortunately magnesium can benefit migraine sufferers and as naturopaths we would always suggest a magnesium supplement.

Which foods contain magnesium?

  • Bran, rice, wheat and oats
  • Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, provide magnesium because the centre of the chlorophyll molecule contains this mineral.
  • Nuts (Brazil, almonds and cashews), seeds (sunflower and sesame) and some whole grains are also good sources of magnesium. 

Although magnesium is present in many foods, it usually occurs in only small amounts. As with most nutrients, daily needs for magnesium cannot be met from a single food.

The magnesium content of refined foods is usually low. Whole-wheat bread, for example, has twice as much magnesium as white bread because the magnesium-rich germ and bran are removed when white flour is processed. Over 80% of magnesium in grains is lost in the refining of wholefoods. 

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium...

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98 %) individuals in each life-stage and gender group.

The 1999 RDAs for magnesium for adults, in milligrams (mg) are:

Life-Stage Men Women Pregnancy Lactation
Ages 14 - 18 410 mg 360 mg 400 mg 360 mg
Ages 19 - 30 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg 310 mg
Ages 31 + 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg 320 mg

With the progressing degradation of our food, daily magnesium intakes have progressively declined in many countries, including New Zealand.

Magnesium Supplements

At healthyonline, we stock a number of different supplements containing magnesium. Our two favourite magnesium supplements recommended by our naturopaths are below;

Superior Magnesium Capsules from Xcel Health
Superior Magnesium Tablets from Xcel Health
Mega Magnesium Powder from Ethical Nutrients

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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

If you need help or advice, please email our naturopathic team with your health question.  Please allow 48 hours for a response.

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