Here we are in the 21st century, with so much new information and so many amazing discoveries that keep us healthy and living well. It’s hard to imagine that simple magnesium deficiency can destroy our good health, but the fact is, it can and it does.
Magnesium is a critically important, yet often overlooked, electrolyte mineral affecting the health of every cell in our bodies. It works directly with calcium, potassium, and sodium in the electrical signalling systems. Magnesium functions as a regulator of calcium metabolism and storage in the muscles and bones. It is crucial in protecting the heart from the build-up of calcium which can lead to heart disease.
It is also crucial for hundreds of chemical reactions for which magnesium is essential. Most people are not aware of magnesium’s importance, or that magnesium deficiency is so wide-spread.
Magnesium is an essential component of energy production. Deficiency can lead to insomnia, fatigue, depression and many other serious chronic conditions. Magnesium deficiency may be a major indicator or precursor of type 2 diabetes.
How Common is Magnesium Deficiency?
Magnesium deficiency is extremely common. More than 80% of Americans are not getting enough magnesium. Dr. Joseph Mercola calls it “the invisible deficiency” due to the vast lack of education and understanding of its critically important role by the modern medical establishment.
According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, recently updated in a new 2017 edition, magnesium may be one of the most overlooked and important minerals for improved human health in the modern age.
As the description of the 2017 edition states
“Magnesium is an essential nutrient, indispensable to your health and well-being. By adding this mineral to your diet, you are guarding against—and helping to alleviate—such threats as heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and asthma. But despite magnesium’s numerous benefits, many Americans remain dangerously deficient. Updated and revised throughout with the latest research, this amazing guide explains the vital role that magnesium plays in your body and life. “
Dr. Dean has been researching the many roles of magnesium in optimal health for close to two decades. She has a long-standing record of producing pioneering work on the many roles of magnesium as well as magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium is responsible for so much in the body, why haven’t we heard much about it?
Perhaps because it’s not a drug, and it’s not a medication. So it’s not something most medical doctors learn about in medical school, where drugs and symptoms are the focus for the modern medical standards of care.
But magnesium is such a critical mineral for human health that everyone needs to be aware of its importance and how to make sure they are getting enough of it. I included an entire chapter on magnesium in my upcoming book for this reason. It is impossible to talk about a healthy diet or the critical elements of good nutrition without including magnesium in the conversation.
To get an idea of what I mean, take a look at just a sampling of the roles magnesium plays to keep us healthy:
- Over 700 enzyme systems in the body depend on magnesium to operate properly.
- Every cell in our body requires magnesium to produce energy. The molecule ATP transports energy in the body. It must bond with a magnesium ion in order to do so. Six of the eight steps of the Krebs cycle require magnesium. Without magnesium, mitochondria are unable to function.
- The production of RNA and DNA in the body requires magnesium for the structural integrity of nucleic acid.
- Calcium requires magnesium to enter the cells. Without magnesium calcium cannot enter the cell. Insufficient magnesium can cause calcium to become a health risk. We now know that over-consumption of calcium is a risk factor for magnesium deficiency. Experts now recognize that a potential health risk for post-menopausal women is the over-prescription of calcium supplements without additional magnesium and vitamin K2. The body requires sufficient vitamin K2 and magnesium to properly assimilate calcium and keep it out of the bloodstream.
Some Common Misconceptions Leading to Magnesium Deficiency
Incredibly, the USDA does not even list magnesium as a “nutrient of concern”. Even more bizarre, they do list calcium. And yet the modern diet is far more likely to provide an overabundance of calcium and far too little magnesium to safely balance out the excess calcium we may be getting. This is particularly true for older Americans when doctors prescribe calcium to prevent bone loss.
Indeed, electrolyte screening include testing for potassium, sodium, and calcium without even testing for magnesium. This is partially due to the way magnesium functions in the body. The body releases stored magnesium into the bloodstream in response to many environmental triggers. But there is no excuse for not having adjusted the modern electrolyte screening to include an accurate assessment of magnesium levels in the body.
This lack of adequate testing and understanding of the role of magnesium has led to overuse and over-prescription of calcium, and a massive and growing deficiency in magnesium for people engaged with the modern health care system.
Too Much Focus on Calcium, Less on Magnesium
Too much calcium leads to excess contraction and cramping of muscles without the release of contraction. This is particularly true for the heart and is a leading cause of heart attack. Excess calcium can build up in the cardiovascular system when there not sufficient magnesium. The popularization of calcium supplementation for post-menopausal women has led to an increase in the risk of heart attacks in recent decades.
Over-consumption of calcium also leads to imbalances between calcium and magnesium which actually promote bone loss, and evidence over these same recent decades indicates that osteoporosis or loss of bone density, particularly in women, has seen a significant increase as well.
The over-consumption of calcium was further exacerbated by a misquote of French researcher Jean Durlach, who stated that calcium should never exceed twice the amount of magnesium being given. Now, instead of understanding that calcium should be at close to relative par with magnesium in supplementation, it is routinely found that supplements of calcium and magnesium are precisely dosed at the two to one calcium to magnesium ratio, which is too high in calcium.
Making the Case for Magnesium Supplementation
As Dean rightly points out, the higher incidence of calcium in the modern diet makes it nearly unnecessary to supplement at all. Conversely, magnesium content in our food has dropped by more than 50 percent since the mid-20th century due to modern farming practices. These farming practices strip minerals from the soil and do not replenish them. In the past, we got up to 500 mg of magnesium per day from a healthy diet. Today we are lucky to get 200 mg. And in fact, these numbers won’t go up even on an all organic diet. Only foods grown in mineral-rich soils using biodynamic, re-mineralization and other high nutrient density farming practices contain increased magnesium. So, unless we are actively supplementing with magnesium, most of us have magnesium deficiency.
Common Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency Look a Lot Like Our Modern Chronic Health Problems Today
Common symptoms of magnesium deficiency can include heart palpitations, charley-horse style leg cramps, so-called ‘restless leg syndrome’, loss of bone density, panic attacks, anxiety, asthma, and more. In Dr. Dean’s 2014 edition of The Magnesium Miracle, she cites 22 different health-related adverse conditions or areas of health challenge which can be symptomatic of magnesium deficiency, among them are:
- Bowel diseases
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Musculoskeletal conditions (fibromyalgia, cramps, chronic back pain, etc.)
- Nerve problems
Just reviewing this list, it’s clear that magnesium supplementation could very well be a way for many people to regain optimal health and restore their bodies to a healthier state.
It seems almost unfathomable that so much illness can come from such a supposedly minor mineral deficiency. But then, as we’ve already seen, over 700 enzyme systems in the body depend on magnesium. There are also over 3,000 proteins in the human body with binding receptor sites for magnesium. Magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker. That means it is used by the body to balance and remove excess calcium from the body.
Magnesium has also been implicated in protecting the health of our telomeres. Those are the DNA sequences found at the ends of our chromosomes. The length of our telomeres is said to determine how long we will live. Damage to the telomeres reduces longevity.
Considering all the ways magnesium works in the body it’s not hard to see how it might become depleted and cause magnesium deficiency. But there’s so much more to the story.
Here’s an Overview of How and Why we Become Magnesium Deficient:
Magnesium is a primary anti-inflammatory. You’ve heard a lot about the important role of anti-inflammatories in the body lately, and in fact, it is now surmised that nearly all modern diseases are caused by one form of inflammation or another. So, if magnesium is anti-inflammatory and we are full of inflammation, then magnesium is being ‘used up’ fighting that inflammation on a regular basis.
But that’s not all. Magnesium is also what comes to the rescue to fight stress. The more stressed we are, the more of it we burn up. And we burn it up out of our storage sites, which in large part are in our bones and muscles. In our bones, it keeps bone density high by playing a key role in balancing calcium, among other things. And once we burn it up, it’s gone, unless we replenish it.
Other Roles of Magnesium in Defending the Body
Magnesium also plays a major role in defending the body against any calcium build up, which is why there is always a steady amount of magnesium in the bloodstream. This is also why testing magnesium levels with a serum blood test is more or less pointless. The body will always maintain adequate magnesium in the blood so long as there is any magnesium in the body available for that purpose.
Stress and other modern assaults on the immune system burn up magnesium quickly. Also, magnesium acts as a laxative.
How The Body Reacts to Magnesium Overload
Dean surmises that our development close to the oceans is responsible for our body’s natural laxative response to magnesium overload. This is such a well-established phenomenon that it is a sort of modern joke. “Feeling ‘stopped up’? Just take a little ‘Milk of Magnesia!” This is a ‘fail-safe’ response to excess intake of magnesium that most likely developed due to the relatively high ratio of magnesium to calcium in the oceans, where magnesium is three times more abundant than calcium.
This is also why seafood and particularly seaweeds and ocean vegetables are excellent sources of magnesium. But in our pre-history, living along the coastal waters of the world, this innate response of the body to hold on to and bind calcium while releasing magnesium was a match to the high magnesium ocean conditions.
This natural adaptation to high levels of ocean magnesium does not serve us well in the modern age, particularly as magnesium sources in our soils and drinking water diminish, and our dietary sources of calcium increase.
More Recognition for Magnesium is Imminent
We can now recognize the need to increase our stores of magnesium and balance these two minerals.
In 2012 Dr. Dean received an award for her work with magnesium. The Arrhythmia Alliance Outstanding Medical Contribution to Cardiac Rhythm Management Services Award which recognizes, as it states, a significant contribution to the management of cardiac rhythm, in this case in patients with arrhythmia in the United Kingdom. The award was given by the Heart Rhythm Society of the UK, a rather large and prestigious allopathic medical organization. So recognition of the role of magnesium in improved heart health is beginning to spread, and at least it is hopeful that, with time and more widespread acceptance of the underlying principles and medical evidence, increased topical and dietary supplementation of magnesium will become more well known and practiced.
Getting the Magnesium You Need
There are a lot of ways to get magnesium into your body, and different ways work better for different people.
For those who are sensitive to the laxative effect of magnesium, getting enough magnesium can be tricky. This is particularly true for magnesium oxides. They have a low absorbency rate to start with (4%) but also tend to trigger the laxative effect. For this reason, many people cannot get a therapeutic dose with magnesium oxide supplementation. Magnesium citrate, especially as a powder you can mix with water, may do better for this reason, but even magnesium citrate may only get to about 20 percent absorbed in the body.
Sipping a magnesium citrate powder in water throughout the day may be one way to get better absorption. Additionally, topical magnesium offers additional ways to get magnesium into the body.
There is also a new form of magnesium supplement on the market called ‘pico meter’ magnesium. This magnesium is a purified and ionized magnesium chloride supplement of very high potency and absorbency introduced by Dr. Dean some years back. This supplement is designed to deliver ultra absorbent magnesium to the cells directly, and bypass the laxative effect that passing through the colon causes. Learn more about Picometer Magnesium here,
Topical Sprays and Lotions
You can apply sprays of ‘magnesium oil’ which is magnesium chloride in a topical application directly to the skin. While some people find this can cause a temporary itching or burning sensation, generally the sensations are short lived. Also, as magnesium levels rise, these sensations tend to dissipate.
Some topical magnesium chloride application include aloe vera and other ingredients to help soothe the skin and relieve reactivity.
Epsom Salt Foot Soaks and Baths
Epsom salt baths and foot baths are another excellent way to increase magnesium in the body. And using baking soda and Epsom salt together can alkalize the body and supplement with magnesium at the same time.
A foot bath is very effective and is easy to do as a regular practice without creating much disruption. A simple dish tub of warm water and Epsom salt and baking soda can relax tired feet, soften the skin and supplement with magnesium all at the same time.
High Magnesium Foods
While it is true that magnesium is depleted in our soils and groundwater supplies, it is also true that magnesium is present in some foods at much higher levels than others. This short list of magnesium-rich foods can provide a great place to start for anyone interested in increasing the magnesium in their diet.
The list is divided into three main groups. These are raw fruits and vegetables, other foods (which includes nuts, fish and others) and herbs. In each case the amount of magnesium per 100 g or 3.5 oz is shown and the total daily value for that amount.
Obviously, no one is going to consume 3.5 ounces of sage, for example, probably ever. But seeing the magnesium values for the same quantities of food really highlights how much magnesium is available from herbs. So by all means, if you’re not including herbs in your diet on a regular basis, their magnesium content is reason enough to start.
|Food||Magnesium per 100g/3.5oz
|%DV (Daily Value)|
|Fruits and Vegetables|
|Wheatgrass, Barley Grass||111||28%|
|Cashews, dry roasted||261||65%|
|Pumpkin Seeds, roasted||261||65%|
|Peanuts, dry roasted||175||44%|
|Navy Bean Sprouts, raw||101||25%|
How to Get an Accurate Measure of Your Magnesium Levels
As noted in the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service release of November 2017, “Magnesium”
The serum magnesium blood test is an inaccurate measure of magnesium in the body, which is why magnesium is not even on a standard electrolyte panel. In a review paper, Long and Romani wanted to “advocate for the necessity of identifying easy and reproducible methods to assess serum and cellular magnesium levels and to identify magnesium deficiency in order to alleviate related pathological conditions.” They acknowledged that serum magnesium is a “poor predictor of tissue magnesium content and availability.”
The reason this is so critical to the understanding of magnesium levels and serum magnesium levels is that the serum levels are the levels that the intricate feedback mechanisms of the body use to maintain a steady serum magnesium level at approximately 1%. This serum magnesium level is critical to the proper functioning of the heart. So, the body will ‘rob’ magnesium wherever necessary in order to maintain that 1% level in the blood. This makes any serum magnesium test useless for measuring the actual levels of magnesium in the body as a whole.
Alternate Ways to Check for Magnesium Levels
As of this writing, the definitive Ionized Magnesium Blood Test is not available to the public. Therefore, the only reliable way to get an accurate test for magnesium levels is with an RBC test (red blood cell test). One can ask for one from their doctor. The RBC test can be used to establish magnesium levels by re-testing over several months to establish a baseline.
However, Dean cautions that most doctors will be fine with a reading in the 4.2 to 4.5 range. Whereas, she recommends a 6.5 reading maintained over time. This value demonstrates adequate magnesium in the muscles, bones, and cells of the body.
Should you be unable to have a doctor order the test for you, the RBC test can be ordered directly by anyone wishing to ascertain their current magnesium levels using the publicly available services at requestatest.com.
So long as the FDA insists that any substance which remediates any major health condition must be labeled as a drug and extensively tested, before any such benefits can be ‘extolled’, magnesium can only be discussed as an important component to many health systems in the body.
But isn’t that a good enough reason to learn more about it? Don’t you want to make sure you’re getting enough of it to stay healthy? Makes perfect sense to me, not unless you want to have magnesium deficiency!
Contraindications for Magnesium
As with all things, no one size fits all and magnesium is no exception. Use your own judgment and consult your health professional before assuming anything about your current health situation.
Although you may suspect you have a magnesium deficiency, there are situations and conditions in which magnesium is contraindicated. That is, it can present an additional problem rather than a solution.
These situations include situations where muscles are weakened, such as in the illness Myasthenia gravis. This is also true for those who may have an excessively slow heart rate. Again, because magnesium works to release the tension and contraction of muscles. Anyone with kidney failure also cannot take magnesium. Bowel obstructions are another reason to avoid magnesium, as the bowel is the elimination pathway for excess magnesium. All of these contraindications involve rather serious disorders. They have in common the weakened or low functioning of muscles and failure of elimination and electrolyte balancing pathways.