Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with severe muscle cramps in your leg and severe pain that renders you unable to breathe? This is a classic symptom of magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is an element widely spread on the earth and in our bodies. It is considered the 9th more common element in the planet and the 7th more common element in our bodies. It is a highly active element and can’t be found by itself on the earth or in the body. Magnesium is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the organism. To understand magnesium better, we should understand that magnesium offers different functions according to the element that bounds to it. In the body, 60% of magnesium is located in the bones, the rest is inside the cells, and only 1% is located in the blood. The most common form of magnesium is bound to phosphate to activate ATP, which is the primary energy source in all body cells.
We should focus more on magnesium deficiency because it is a constantly overlooked health condition. Magnesium deficiency affects 15% of the general population and interferes with the patient’s daily life. The main problem with magnesium is that its levels can appear to be normal in a blood test in patients suffering from magnesium deficiency. Keep on reading to know why and how to solve this problem.
Why magnesium and what’s its benefits?
There are general benefits for magnesium, for instance:
○ Helps with asthma
It relaxes the bronchial muscles, which improves the quality of breathing.
○ Supports bone health and prevents osteoporosis
60% of magnesium is found in bones, and it helps with the absorption and deposition of calcium in the bones.
○ Boosts energy
Magnesium initiates enzyme reactions responsible for energy production.
○ Decreases premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
Research shows that magnesium helps to relieve premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, mood swings, cramps, and headaches as it controls muscle contractions and nerve functions.
Magnesium benefits differ according to the element that binds it. There are many forms of magnesium and here are some of them and their benefits:
○ Magnesium citrate
It is a mixture of magnesium and citric acid and is better to use it at night to improve the quality of sleep and enhance relaxation. Magnesium citrate pills are used as laxatives to treat constipation and before major surgery to empty the gut. It should not be used as a daily supplement because it interferes with calcium function in the muscle and dysregulates iron functions.
○ Magnesium glycinate
It is a combination of magnesium and glycine, an amino acid. It is the most bioavailable form of magnesium, and it is the best choice if you need a daily supplement to treat magnesium deficiency.
○ Magnesium threonate
○ Magnesium malate
It has magnesium and malic acid, and it is used to treat fibromyalgia and muscle pain. It also enhances energy production and detoxification as a part of malic acid ability to infiltrate the mitochondria with glucose and other substances.
○ Magnesium sulfate
It is an inorganic salt, and it is known as Epsom salt. It can be used internally in pills to treat hypertension and prevent seizures in pregnant women with eclampsia and pre-eclampsia. Externally, it is used as bath salt to draw toxins from the body, ease aches and pain and to promote relaxation.
○ Magnesium carbonate
It contains 45% of magnesium and used as antacids to neutralize stomach acid, reduces heartburn, and improves digestion.
○ Magnesium taurate
It comprises magnesium and the amino acid glycine. It reduces the excitation of the nervous system and prevents migraines.
○ Liquid magnesium
It is a magnesium chloride salt dissolved in water, and it is a good option for those who don’t tolerate pills.
Where can I get magnesium from?
– Green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, basil, chives, dill, okra, chard, and lettuce, because magnesium is a component in chlorophyll that gives the plants their green color.
– Whole grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and rice, because magnesium is found in bran, the outer layer in most grains.
– Seeds, nuts, nut milk and peanut butter, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, flax seeds, watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
– 80 grams of dark chocolate has half of the recommended daily intake of magnesium.
– Magnesium also found in avocado, soy products, beans, legumes, and fortified food.
Here are some of the highest magnesium sources and the amount of magnesium in 100 grams of each source:
- Dark chocolate: 213 mg, 50% of daily magnesium intake
- Spinach: 157 mg, 37% of daily magnesium intake
- Pumpkin: 156 mg, 37% of daily magnesium intake
- Lime beans: 126 mg, 30% of daily magnesium intake
- Tuna: 109 mg, 26% of daily magnesium intake
- Brown rice: 86 mg, 20% of daily magnesium intake
- Almonds: 77 mg, 18% of daily magnesium intake
- Avocado: 58 mg, 14% of daily magnesium intake
- Yogurt: 47 mg, 11% of daily magnesium intake
- Bananas: 41 mg, 10% of daily magnesium intake
How do our bodies absorb magnesium?
30-40% of the ingested magnesium is absorbed, but the absorption of magnesium depends on the amount being ingested. The amount of absorbed magnesium is inversely proportional to ingested magnesium. The higher magnesium in ingested food, the lower its absorption and vice versa. Some foods increase or decrease magnesium absorption and here are some of them:
Avoid calcium supplements and calcium-rich food for at least 2 hours before or after magnesium-rich meals or magnesium supplements because both will compete against each other for their absorption in the intestine.
Avoid zinc supplements and zinc-rich food because they combine to magnesium in the intestine and decreases their absorption.
3) Coffee and tea
Avoid drinking coffee and tea after meals as they contain tannic acid. Tannic acid combined with magnesium, forming a complex which interfere with magnesium absorption.
4) Vitamin D
It plays a significant role in magnesium absorption, as it encourages the intestinal cells to absorb more magnesium. Magnesium deposition in the bones is affected by vitamin D. Thus, the levels of the vitamin should be normal to protect against or treat magnesium deficiency. Sun is a natural source of vitamin D especially during midday, and that will help with elevating vitamin D level, which will increase magnesium absorption.
People who drink too much alcohol increase their magnesium elimination in the urine.
6) Raw food
Cooking or blanching vegetable causes magnesium to disintegrate by the heat. It is better to consume magnesium-rich food raw to maintain their nutritional value.
How much magnesium do I need daily?
Daily recommendations of calcium differ according to age, sex, daily activity, the person’s status of health, metabolic, and medical conditions. But, the recommended calcium amount according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is:
- From birth to 6 months: 30 mg
- Infants from 7 to 12 months: 75 mg
- Children from 1 to 3 years: 80 mg
- Children from 4 to 8 years: 130 mg
- Children from 9 to 13 years: 240 mg
- Teen boys from 14 to 18 years: 410 mg
- Teen girls from 14 to 18 years: 360 mg
- Male adult from 19 to 30 years: 400 mg
- Female adult from 19 to 30 years: 310 mg
- Pregnant teens from 14 to 18: 400 mg
- Pregnant women from 19 to 30: 350 mg
- Pregnant women from 31 to 50: 360 mg
- Breastfeeding teens from 14 to 18: 360 mg
- Breastfeeding women from 19 to 30: 310 mg
- Breastfeeding teens from 14 to 18: 320 mg
- Male adults from 31 years and older: 420 mg
- female adults from 31 years and older: 320 mg
People at risk of magnesium deficiency may need more than the daily magnesium recommendation.
Who is at risk of magnesium deficiency?
Pregnancy and breastfeeding women are at a higher risk because of the nutritional demand of the infant, which increases magnesium requirements, and may cause magnesium deficiency when this is not prevented with supplements or by increasing magnesium intake in food.
• High intake of coffee and tea
Coffee and tea contain tannic acid, which combines with magnesium, forming a complex which interfere with magnesium absorption.
• Malabsorption and digestive system diseases
Patient with an intestinal disease that decreases magnesium absorption such as celiac and Crohn’s diseases should consider magnesium supplements and these conditions must be treated to avoid magnesium deficiency.
• Chronic diarrhea
Diarrhea increases magnesium loss in the stool and also decreases its absorption.
In Chronic alcohol consumption, these patients constantly increase their magnesium elimination in the urine, which depletes the magnesium stores in the body.
When do you consider magnesium deficiency?
Healthy magnesium levels range between 1.5 to 2.5 milliequivalents Per Liter (mEq/L). If the test results are lower than 1.5 mEq/L, magnesium deficiency is diagnosed. A blood test is not the best way to recognize magnesium deficiency because there are only tiny amounts in the blood, and the rest is stored in the bones and inside the cells. Some tests can measure magnesium levels in the body more accurately, as in EXA tests, which measures magnesium levels inside the cells. There’s also a urine test and magnesium level measurements in red blood cells.
How do you know that you have a magnesium deficiency and when you need to seek professional advice?
Magnesium deficiency affects 15% of general population, and its symptoms are different according to the duration of the issue.
Early signs of magnesium deficiency:
♦ Weakness and fatigue
This is because ATP the primary energy source for body cells needs magnesium to become active. Without magnesium, the production of energy decreases, leading to weakness and fatigue.
Magnesium plays a role in regulating and reducing nerve signal transmissions and stimulation. Research shows links between headache, migraine, and magnesium deficiency.
♦ Bone ache
Magnesium maintains a healthy bone, as it is an essential mineral in bone composition along with calcium. So, bone ache may be considered as a sign that you may have a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiency affects the bone similar to calcium deficiency because both are important minerals for bone health.
♦ Premenstrual syndrome
Magnesium reduces muscle cramps as it interferes with calcium within the muscles. It also stimulates the brain to secrete chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, responsible for elevating and regulating brain functions. When magnesium levels drop, this affects both the brain and the muscles, leading to the classic symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Late signs of magnesium deficiency
All late signs have the same causes as the earlier signs but more severe due to the prolonged effect of magnesium deficiency. We can list among the symptoms a numbing sensation, muscle cramps, mood changes, heart abnormalities, and irregular heartbeats, also known as arrhythmia.
How to maintain magnesium at a healthy level and prevent magnesium deficiency?
– Eat food that rich in magnesium like green vegetable including: spinach, broccoli, basil, chives, dill, okra, chard and lettuce, whole grains including: wheat, barley, oats and rice, nuts and seeds including: almonds, peanuts, cashews, brazil nuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, flax seeds, watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, dark chocolate avocado, soy products, beans, legumes and fortified food.
– Treat and prevent vitamin D deficiency by daily exposure to the sun, especially during midday for 10 to 30 mins, maintain healthy body weight with outdoor walk or jogging to get your daily exercise and sun exposure.
– Treat any medical condition that affects magnesium metabolism.
– Use magnesium supplements, specially in people how are at risk of magnesium deficiency as pregnant and breastfeeding women.
– Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of osteoporosis.
– Avoid calcium and zinc-rich food for 2 hours before or after magnesium-rich meals.
– Avoid drinking coffee and tea after meals.
How can you treat a magnesium deficiency?
– You should elevate magnesium levels in the blood by working on the same points as in the prevention of magnesium deficiency. You can ask your doctor as he may recommend magnesium supplements to increase its levels. Magnesium supplements are available over the counter, and for most adults, the recommended daily allowance is 400 mg.
– Always ask your doctor before taking supplements, even if it is available over the counter. Magnesium supplements can cause toxicity and should be monitored closely.
– Magnesium supplements may cause stomach upset, nausea, and vomiting.
– It is better to increase magnesium levels by food intake because it will never cause magnesium toxicity, unlike supplements.