Do you ever have difficulty sleeping, even though you feel exhausted? Feel anxious, but you’re not sure why? Have cravings for sugar and salt no matter how much you eat? These could be signs of a deficiency in a specific nutrient: magnesium.
It is one of the most abundant minerals on Earth and responsible for over 300 biochemical functions in the human body, such as regulating heartbeat rhythms and helping neurotransmitter functions.
Magnesium is found in numerous food sources but modern lifestyles and diets have reduced our intake meaning the majority of people do not get the recommended daily allowance. It’s estimated that around 80% of adults are deficient in this vital mineral.
So what happens if you’re deficient?
In simple terms magnesium is used to relax the body, where calcium is used to contract or excite the body. Therefore too little magnesium can result in negative symptoms, including:
- Muscle aches / spasms
- Poor digestion
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia and trouble sleeping
- Kidney and liver damage
- Behavioural disorders and mood swings
- High blood pressure
- Restless leg syndrome
- Other nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin K, vitamin B1, calcium and potassium
So why is it that magnesium deficiency is so common?
There are a few factors at play:
- Due to modern farming methods soil is magnesium depleted, meaning plants growing on the soil (both vegetables and grass) are unable to uptake magnesium from the soil
- Digestive disorders that lead to malabsorption of magnesium and other minerals in the gut
- High rates of prescription medication and antibiotic use that damages the digestive tract to the point that magnesium cannot be absorbed and properly utilised from food
How can we get more magnesium?
Magnesium is found in various foods and in supplement form. Because magnesium can be absorbed through the skin, you can also use magnesium oil or Epsom salts to get your daily magnesium boost.
It’s always advisable to add magnesium-rich foods to your diet, as foods naturally contain other important balancing nutrients, before considering taking a magnesium supplement.
Which foods contain magnesium?
It’s found in foods such as green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, melon, legumes, nuts, seeds and certain whole grains. A good rule of thumb is that if a food contains dietary fibre, it also probably provides magnesium.
The top 12 foods high in magnesium are:
- Swiss Chard
- Black Beans
- Mung Beans
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Brussels Sprouts
While it’s always recommended you get as much as you can from magnesium-rich food sources, magnesium supplements can help some people and it’s often recommended that adults take supplements regularly to prevent a deficiency.
If you do chose to take a magnesium supplement, it’s worth doing some research as the absorption rate differs depending on the type of supplement. Usually types that dissolve in liquid are better absorbed in the gut that less soluble forms. It’s believed that magnesium in citrate, chelate and chloride forms are absorbed better than magnesium supplements in oxide and magnesium sulfate form.
What are the health benefits of magnesium?
- Helps Increase Energy
Magnesium is used to create “energy” in your body by activating adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP. This means that without enough magnesium, you don’t have the energy you need and can suffer from fatigue more easily.
- Calms Nerves and Anxiety
Magnesium is vital for GABA function – a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages through the brain and the nervous system, which produces “happy hormones” like serotonin. Certain hormones regulated by magnesium are crucial for calming the brain and promoting relaxation, which is one reason why a magnesium deficiency can lead to sleeplessness or insomnia.
- Treats Insomnia and Helps You Fall Asleep
Magnesium supplements can help quiet a racing mind and make it easier to get a good night’s sleep.
- Helps with Digestion by Relieving Constipation
Magnesium helps relax muscles within the digestive tract, including the intestinal wall, which controls your ability to go to the bathroom. Because magnesium helps neutralise stomach acid and moves stool through the intestines, taking magnesium supplements is a natural way to help improve bowl movement.
- Relieves Muscle Aches and Spasms
Magnesium has an important role in neuromuscular signals and muscle contractions. When you don’t acquire enough magnesium, your muscles can actually go into spasms. Magnesium helps muscles relax and contract and also enables you to move around.
- Regulates Levels of Calcium, Potassium and Sodium
Together with other electrolytes, magnesium regulates diverse biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes. This makes magnesium vital to nerve impulse conductions, muscle contractions and normal heart rhythms.
- Important for Heart Health
Magnesium is very important for heart health. The highest amount of magnesium within the whole body is in the heart, specifically within the heart’s left ventricle. Magnesium works with calcium to support proper blood pressure levels and prevent hypertension. Without a proper balance of magnesium to other minerals like calcium, a heart attack can even occur due to severe muscle spasms.
- Can Prevent Migraine Headaches
Because magnesium is involved in neurotransmitter function and blood circulation, it can help control migraine headache pain by releasing pain-reducing hormones and constriction of the blood vessels that raises blood pressure.
- Can Help Prevent Osteoporosis
Magnesium is needed for proper bone formation and influences the activities of osteoblasts and osteoclasts that build healthy bone density.
Magnesium also plays a role in balancing blood concentrations of vitamin D, which is a major regulator of bone homeostasis.
Our bodies lose stores of magnesium every day from normal functions, such as muscle movement, heartbeat and hormone production. Although we only need small amounts of magnesium relative to other nutrients, we must regularly replenish our stores either from foods or magnesium supplements in order to prevent deficiency symptoms.
If you do a lot of exercise, you are more likely to be magnesium deficient, as exercise causes increased magnesium excretion in the urine and sweat. Low levels of magnesium will then impair an athlete’s ability to build and repair muscle, get energy from food and efficiently transport oxygen around the body, all of which is essential to athletic performance.
So all in all, magnesium is really quite important for all of us, and research suggests many of us are not getting the amount we need for optimal health.
Whether you try to increase amount of magnesium rich food in your diet, opt to take a supplement or use Epsom salts to increase your magnesium levels, this marvellous mineral can have a positive effect on your long-term health.
For further advise, talk to one of our Osteopaths at Kinesis Clinic who can direct you to a recommended nutritionist for further information.