What does magnesium do for the body? Do you have low magnesium? If you live in the U.S., it’s likely that you are not getting enough of this important mineral. Research shows that 68% of adults in the U.S. fall below the recommended dietary allowances for magnesium. That means that two-thirds of all adult Americans suffer from “magnesium inadequacy.”
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What Does Magnesium Do For Your Body
Magnesium is said to be crucial for optimal health because this it is required for over 300 enzyme systems in the human body to function properly. It plays a significant role in cellular processes and protein synthesis. It’s also important for proper maintenance of your bones, nerve function, muscles, digestive system, and many other parts of your body.
Magnesium works together with calcium. It helps flush it out of the cells when calcium has served its function. When magnesium is depleted, calcium levels in the cells can rise, causing hyperexcitability in the nervous system, calcification, and cell dysfunction.
It can even kill cells. Elevated levels of calcium in the cells can lead to muscle twitching, cramping, and in severe cases to seizures or convulsions. Additionally, it can contribute to some of the more serious health issues listed below.
The George Mateljan Foundation breaks down magnesium’s many roles into 5 main categories:
- Creating and maintaining bone integrity. In fact, even a mild but ongoing deficiency can result in bone loss.
- Enabling energy production so your cells can function properly. Without proper amounts of magnesium, certain chemical reactions that impact enzymes cannot take place. Enzymes are needed throughout your body. Without proper energy production, you can experience fatigue.
- Balancing the nervous system. Because magnesium helps to maintain balance in the nervous system, it can impact brain functions. It impacts a receptor in the brain called NMDA so when levels are low, there is an increased risk of depression. And research shows that magnesium can help alleviate depression.
- Enhanced control of inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to risk of diseases such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
- Enhanced control of blood sugar. Magnesium is involved with blood sugar and glucose metabolism.
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Are You At Risk For Magnesium Deficiency or Inadequacy?
The NIH states that true deficiencies are rare in healthy people because your kidneys limit how much of it is expelled from your body. However, there are certain health conditions that can lower your levels by either reducing the amount of magnesium that your body absorbs or increasing its loss from the body. They include:
- People with gastrointestinal disorders, renal disorders, Crohn’s disease, or kidney disease.
- People who suffer from chronic alcoholism.
- People with parathyroid problems.
- Other diseases that can impede the absorption of magnesium include stomach infections, immune diseases, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Additionally, certain medications can put you at risk for abnormally low levels of magnesium, including:
- Some antibiotics.
- Medications for cancer.
- Bisphosphonates used for osteoporosis.
- Diuretic medications for diabetes.
- Certain drugs called proton pump inhibitors,which are prescribed for acid reflux, such as Nexium or Prilosec.
If you fall into any of these groups or take these medications, you may be at risk for magnesium deficiency. Seniors are also at risk for reduced magnesium levels as well. Talk to your doctor about testing your levels.
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium
For the rest of us, the bigger problem is falling below recommended levels. Here are the recommended levels as outlined by the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board:
The Health Risks of Low Magnesium Levels
Unfortunately, low levels can have serious implications on your health. People with low levels of magnesium are at least 1.5 times more likely to have elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.
Low magnesium levels are linked to cardiovascular disease and also play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and other age-related disorders. Deficiency has also been shown to increase the risk of osteoporosis and metabolic disorders such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and Type 2 diabetes.
Signs of Deficiency Or Inadequacy
If you are deficient or not getting recommended levels of magnesium, the signs can be very confusing since they include common symptoms. For example, early signs of deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. As the deficiency goes on, you can also experience seizures, numbness, tingling, seizures, and even personality changes.
Symptoms of low magnesium can also include:
- Muscle weakness
- Low blood calcium or potassium
The most advanced symptoms, however, are far more serious:
- Cardiovascular issues including irregular heart rhythm
- Muscle cramping, spasms, and twitching
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Migraine headaches
If you don’t suffer any of these symptoms or are not in one of the high-risk groups mentioned above, you may be getting sufficient amounts of magnesium from your diet. If so, you can try increasing your intake of foods rich in magnesium to see if they make a difference.
Blood lab tests can determine if you have inadequate levels of magnesium but they are not reliable unless your levels are low. That’s because you may have enough in your blood but not in your cells. Remember, magnesium provides energy that allows your cells to function properly.
There are two other options. The red blood cell (RBC) magnesium test is a better indicator and the white blood (WBC) test is the most accurate. Unfortunately, the WBC is complicated and few labs will perform it.
Common Problems Caused by Low Levels
Here are the most common health problems caused by inadequate levels of magnesium:
Cardiovascular Disease And Irregular Heartbeat
Magnesium deficiencies have been linked to cardiovascular issues, including arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat). In fact, low levels could even be a predictor of heart disease because it is associated with all its known risk factors, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, plaque build up on the arteries, diabetes, and hardening of the arteries. What precisely does magnesium do for the circulatory system? Research is showing, it can do a lot!
Low levels mean calcium buildup, which can calcify the arteries. This narrows the passage and impedes blood flow, enabling plaque build up. That can lead to heart attack, heart failure, and heart disease.
However, we also see that people who routinely drink hard water have a lower mortality rate from cardiovascular disease. Hard water is frequently high in magnesium as well as calcium and fluoride, making it difficult to ascertain which element contributes the most. If you filter your water (and most of you probably should!) be sure you are getting enough magnesium in your daily food choices.
Deficiency may predispose people to irregular heartbeat when potassium levels are also low. We see that impact on the circulatory system is profound.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Research shows that those with a low dietary intake of magnesium have a higher incidence of high blood pressure. This is important because hypertension is a major risk factor for both heart disease and stroke. While magnesium supplements have been shown to reduce blood pressure, it only makes a small contribution.
Diuretic medications are often prescribed for high blood pressure, further depleting magnesium levels as well as other key minerals. A better option is making sure you are eating enough in your diet along with other minerals that can help lower blood pressure. Look at essential oils for high blood pressure, and choose healthy meat options to help naturally manage blood pressure as well.
To understand how magnesium is important for good bone health, you should understand bone mineral density (BMD), or the “amount of mineral in a given area of the bone,” according to Oregon State’s Micronutrient Information Center. BMD is used to diagnose osteoporosis, which means that bones are more fragile than they should be and are at risk of fracture.
Low levels of magnesium can contribute to an increase in bone loss. Studies show that people with higher levels in their diet had better levels of BMD, thereby protecting against osteoporosis. However, these same foods often contain high levels of potassium, so it’s not clear which mineral is providing protection. Once again, we see the benefits of balanced, mineral-rich diet.
People suffering from recurring migraine headaches have been shown to have lower levels. While there is conflicting data about whether magnesium supplements can help alleviate migraines, The American Migraine Foundation considers this a relatively safe treatment, particularly if you have aura with your migraine.
Magnesium comes in many varieties as a supplement. For migraines, you should try magnesium citrate. You can also try magnesium oxide supplements but it does leave the body quickly. Side effects may include diarrhea and abdominal cramping so check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your health regimen.
Type 2 Diabetes
Magnesium helps the body process glucose and insulin. Low magnesium can contribute to metabolic syndrome, also called insulin resistance syndrome resulting in many of the diseases we’ve discussed. Studies show that low levels are found in people with type 2 diabetes. Additionally, other research shows that increasing levels with food or food and supplements decreases the risk of diabetes.
A supplement might be a helpful solution if you are on a restricted diet. You can try magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, or magnesium taurate, as well as magnesium theonate.
Choose supplements from a high-quality, reliable company. You can try trust worthy brands – we like Natural Vitality for magnesium supplements if needed. Of course it’s best to use wise food choices whenever possible to help maintain healthy levels, but these supplements can help keep your body in balance!
What Magnesium Supplements Does Mama Z Use? There are two of these Natural Vitality supplements she uses. Cherry Flavor Natural Calm she’ll use in the morning. In the evening she’s more likely to use Natural Calm Calmful Muscles to help her sleep after a busy day gardening and chasing kids.
What Foods Are High In Magnesium?
The foods that provide the richest sources of magnesium are:
- Pumpkin Seeds – 1/4 cup, 190mg (45% DV)- See a delicious way to use pumpkin seeds in a healthy nut butter recipe!
- Organic Spinach – 1 cup, 156mg (37% DV)- You’ll love this healthy spinach salad for a nutritious energy boost!
- Swiss Chard – 1 cup, 150mg (36% DV)
- Organic Soybeans – 1 cup, 148mg (35% DV) (Note soy is one of the most frequently modified foods. Look for GMO-free sources if you choose soy.)
- Sesame Seeds – 1/4 cup, 126mg (30% DV)
- Black Beans – 1 cup, 120mg (29% DV)- Not only high in magnesium, see how black beans fight cancer!
- Quinoa – 3/4 cup, 118mg (28% DV)- Learn more about the health benefits of quinoa.
- Cashews – 1 cup, 115mg (23% DV)
- Sunflower Seeds – 1 cup, 98mg (27% DV)
- Beet Greens – 1 cup, 98mg (23% DV)
Enjoy Mama Z’s cleansing beet juice recipe!
Add these to a nutritious diet, rich in clean meats and fish, whole foods and produce, while limiting or eliminating white sugar and processed food. Many other nuts, green vegetables, and legumes are good sources as well. Additionally, oats, tofu, and millet are also beneficial as are roasted chicken and grass-fed beef.
It’s important to select and cook foods that are as close to their natural state as possible when you are attempting to renew your body’s magnesium stores with diet. Cooking or processing food, including as milling flour or roasting nuts, can deplete magnesium. Eat as fresh and as raw as you can for the best nutrition.
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Side Effects of Magnesium
Magnesium does not generally pose any risk in a healthy individual since the kidneys flush out any excess. The exception includes supplements, which can result in diarrhea or constipation. However, it can be toxic at very high levels – 5,000mg or more per day. Generally, that can only be achieved by taking too high of a supplement. Be careful that you stick to recommended guidelines with dosage unless otherwise recommended by your physician.
However, people with impaired kidney function or diseases such as chronic kidney disease or renal disease can be at elevated risk from magnesium toxicity since the kidney is not properly cleaning out the excess. This is called hypermagnesemia. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, neurological impairment, flushing, headache, and low blood pressure, also called hypotension. When severe, this can cause cardiac and muscular problems.
You are also at risk for hypermagnesemia if you have one of these conditions:
- Addison’s disease
- Milk-alkali syndrome
- Familial hypocalciurichypercalcemia
Elevated magnesium levels can be treated by removing any excess sources of magnesium and then following up by treating symptoms with intravenous calcium. Medication is then used to rid the body of any remaining excess.
How Does Magnesium Help Health Concerns?
Magnesium is also used to treat certain conditions, including the following:
Problems During Pregnancy
- Preeclampsia: Elevated blood pressure and severe swelling can be very dangerous, leading to seizures and eclampsia, which poses a high risk of death. Treatment with intravenous magnesium sulfate has been shown to be more effective at preventing seizures and death than the standard pharmaceutical treatment of diazepam. We recommend you request this treatment if you are diagnosed with this condition. Additionally, babies born after eclampsia treatment had higher Apgar scores.
- Protecting the child’s brain in the womb during prolonged pregnancy or anticipated premature delivery. Research shows that treating mothers before birth with magnesium therapy lowered the risk of cystic fibrosis and gross motor dysfunction.
Cardiovascular disease: Shown to help heart disease patients with exercise. It can also open up blood vessels when needed.
High blood pressure: Oral supplements have also been shown to lower blood pressure. Consider combining proper nutrition with essential oils for high blood pressure if this is something you’re struggling with.
How Will Magnesium Help General Wellness?
The benefits of magnesium don’t end with its use as a low-risk medical intervention. It can aide in:
- Detoxing your body. Magnesium seems to aid detoxification pathways and neutralize toxins, protecting us from acidic conditions and heavy metals in the body.
- Reducing stress and depression. High stress can reduce your body’s levels of magnesium as well. Studies have shown that low magnesium may also impact mood and contribute to depression.
- Teeth and dental care. We talked about the positive effects of magnesium on your bones, in concert with calcium. Those benefits include your teeth and oral health according to research.
- Preventing dementia. More recently, magnesium levels have been linked to Alzheimer’s and other dementias. More research needs to be done but this is certainly a great argument for getting safe amounts into your diet
Concerned about oral health? If oral health is a concern for you be sure to see our tips for how to do oil pulling – it’s a great way to improve the health of your mouth!
Safe Ways To Add More Magnesium To Your Routine
- Topical treatments are helpful for people who cannot get enough magnesium in their diet and want a simpler choice than supplements. Consider making a magnesium oil spray-on recipe.
- Baths with Epsom salt are a great way to relax and soothe aches and pains from a variety of causes, from working out to fibromyalgia. In water, Epsom salt breaks down into magnesium and sulfate and then it gets absorbed into your skin. Use Epsom salt in our DIY essential oil bath bomb recipe.
As you can see, magnesium is a very important mineral for our bones, nervous system, and proper functioning of our cells. Make sure you’re not missing out on this wonderful nutrient.
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