If it seems like everyone is talking about magnesium lately, there is a good reason. Magnesium deficiency is rampant: One survey found that there has been a gradual decline of dietary magnesium from 500 mg/day in 1900 to barely 225 mg/day today, which is well below the U.S. RDA of 400 mg.
Pair that with the fact that that many people in the developed world have disorders that increase magnesium requirements, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and you can see that we have something of a problem:
Magnesium is required for insulin signaling and our low intake is one reason that diabetes rates are skyrocketing out of control.
Magnesium calms the nervous system and impacts blood vessel function, which means that a deficiency is associated with increased risk of heart disease.
Magnesium is necessary for the function of kinases—the largest superfamily of human enzymes—that protect against disease and play a role in everything from protein synthesis to fat burning.
Magnesium is necessary for the metabolism of cortisol and our low levels may be one reason anxiety and stress levels are getting out of control.
Magnesium needs to be balanced with calcium for healthy bones and blood pressure function. Nowadays everything is fortified with calcium, but magnesium has been forgotten, which has resulted in problems such as osteoporosis and plaque deposits in the arteries.
You’re probably wondering why magnesium deficiency is so widespread and what you can do to counteract it. This article will explain the causes of magnesium deficiency and provide strategies for getting your levels up to par.
Why Are We Lacking In Magnesium?
#1: Reduction Of Magnesium In Food & Soil
You might wonder if there is any truth to the rumor that foods and vegetables grown decades ago were more nutritious than those available today. In fact, there is. The main culprit in this trend is soil depletion. Modern agricultural methods have stripped the soil of essential nutrients, resulting in lower vitamin and mineral levels in the food we eat.
A report published in 1997 found a 35 percent decrease in magnesium in vegetables and 11 percent decrease in fruit. Values for other nutrients such as calcium, copper, and vitamins A, B6, E, and iron also decreased significantly. Other surveys show variations on this theme with a notable decrease in the nutrition available in many plant and animal products.
#2: Low Intake of Foods Containing Magnesium
Magnesium is a part of chlorophyll, the green pigment found in plants. Leafy greens are an excellent source: Kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are all high in magnesium.
Despite the current obsession with kale, the sad truth is that most people rarely eat leafy greens and they tend to pass on other foods high in magnesium such as nuts, beans, and grains. It ends up that the decreased nutrition availability in most fruits and vegetables is not the biggest factor contributing to our current magnesium deficiency.
Surveys show that the greatest source of magnesium in the American diet is from grains, such as oatmeal or rice. One problem is that in order to get sufficient magnesium from grains, whole grains with the husk on would have to make up a large part of your diet.
This would provide a high dose of carbohydrates and more calories than most people need. Even then, grains are unlikely to fulfill your magnesium requirements because, as you will learn in #3, the magnesium in grains is poorly absorbed, exacerbating the problem of deficiency.
#3: Poor Intestinal Absorption of Magnesium
You can take all the magnesium you want but if your body is not absorbing it, it does no good. This is the case with magnesium oxide, a form of magnesium that is poorly absorbed in the gut, often causing diarrhea. Check your multi-vitamin label, and it is likely to contain magnesium oxide. Why do supplement companies do this?
All minerals are bound with another compound for stability. An easy way for companies to decrease costs is to use mineral salts, like oxide, carbonate, or sulfate for binding. Unfortunately, mineral salts are poorly absorbed, making supplementation largely useless.
Mineral absorption can be greatly improved by choosing minerals that are bound with amino acids because they will be treated by the body like proteins and are easily digested. Examples include magnesium that is bound to taurate, glycinate, orotate, arginate, citrate, and lactate.
Another issue is that other minerals such as calcium compete with magnesium for digestive enzymes, lowering absorption of magnesium. Magnesium and calcium need to be in a near equal ratio in the body for optimal health, however, most of us get too much calcium and not enough magnesium. Foods are never fortified with magnesium whereas calcium is added to many processed foods, diary, and even juice.
The other reason for poor absorption is that many of the most popular magnesium-rich foods in the American diet contain phytates. Humans are unable to digest phytates, and they impair absorption of the minerals the foods contain. Phytates are found in grains, seeds, and nuts. Cooking or soaking can deactivate phytates, however, if your magnesium level is already compromised, proper preparation of phytate-containing foods is unlikely to make that much of a difference.
#4: High-Carbohydrate Intake
When you have a high carbohydrate intake (both as a total percentage of your diet and from high-glycemic foods), you increase your magnesium requirements significantly. Magnesium is required for insulin signaling, playing a role in the function of insulin receptors on cells and affecting the expression of GLUT 1 and 4—molecules that act like buses, shuttling glucose into cells to be used for energy.
Studies indicate that a lack of magnesium is implicated in the progression of insulin resistance and diabetes. For example, in a recent large-scale study, magnesium was protective against the development of diabetes. Individuals with the highest dietary magnesium had the lowest diabetes rates. Those who consumed the least magnesium had the highest risk of diabetes over the course of the study.
#5: Conditions That Hamper The Body’s Ability To Retain Magnesium
If you know anything about the human body, you’re aware that it has various mechanisms allowing it to achieve homeostasis of nutrients even if dietary sources are lacking.
Normally, the body is able to avoid excessively low magnesium levels even with a low intake by reabsorbing magnesium through the kidneys. However, certain factors can significantly affect the reabsorption step. Insulin is a key regulator of magnesium homeostasis, impairing reabsorption and increasing loss of magnesium stores via the kidneys.
Alcohol intake also doubles the rate of excretion rate of magnesium. GI problems such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome are other factors that increase magnesium loss.
How Can You Avoid A Magnesium Deficiency?
For most of us, the first step is to test magnesium levels to get a starting place for supplementation. When testing for magnesium, you need to do a red blood cell magnesium test. The standard test used by medical doctors for magnesium is ineffective because it measures serum magnesium levels in the blood. Only about one percent of magnesium is found in the blood. Rather, about 66 percent is found in bone and 33 percent is found in skeletal and cardiac muscle. Testing red blood cell magnesium reflects how it is used by the body.
It’s important to know that there are two varieties of magnesium deficiency that are recognized:
1) Acute Hypomagnesaemia is an electrolyte imbalance that represents low extracellular magnesium levels. There are a wide range of symptoms associated with it including severe cramps, dizziness or vertigo, cardiac arrhythmias, and eclampsia in pregnancy. Acute magnesium deficiency is often readily solved with IV magnesium treatment.
2) Chronic Hypomagnesaemia reflects reduced levels of magnesium within cells and bone. Blood serum levels are often normal, leading to low diagnosis. This is the type of magnesium deficiency that most people at risk of.
Can you solve chronic magnesium deficiency with food?
Although there are many delicious magnesium-rich foods, most people will benefit from supplementation due to the various reasons mentioned above. Supplementation should happen slowly so that the body can adjust. Magnesium has a relaxing effect on the bowel and if you take too much too quickly, it can lead to diarrhea or urgency going to the bathroom. Start with 100 mg, increasing by 100 mg weekly until you reach your recommended dose.
For most people, the optimal dose will be around 10 mg/kg of body weight of magnesium daily (400 to 1,200 mg).
When supplementing, remember to choose magnesium chelates that are bound with an amino acid. Chelates such as glycinate, taurate, arginate, and orotate are a few that are more easily absorbed than oxide.