Magnesium is an essential mineral for life—and, it is the 4th most common mineral found in the body. Magnesium is also required for all other animal and plant life. In an ideal world, most of our magnesium would come from green, leafy plants, because plants take up magnesium from the soil. Unfortunately, farming practices have depleted a lot of the magnesium in the soils around the world and the result is that the levels of magnesium in foods has decreased. This is a problem because well over 300 human enzymes require magnesium in order to function properly.
Magnesium is necessary for the biochemical reactions that release energy from food; in the synthesis of DNA and RNA and other complex molecules; in maintaining the structure of bone and cells; in the communication network between cells; in nerve transmission and muscle movement.
Outright severe magnesium deficiency is relatively rare, but many people around the world may be showing signs of mild deficiencies. Poor nutrition, medications, gastrointestinal diseases and kidney diseases can all result in lower body stores of magnesium and put you at risk for heart problems and problems with your immune system.
What are the Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency?
Magnesium deficiency can show up in various ways because it is such an important mineral and involved in so many different functions—some of the common signs of magnesium deficiency are gastrointestinal disorders (chronic constipation, nausea and vomiting); edema (a swelling due to retention of water); symptoms such as muscle weakness, tremor or spasms; insomnia and personality changes.
Lab tests in severe magnesium deficiency can show decreased calcium and potassium levels with increased sodium levels—and these changes put an individual at risk for heart attacks, high blood pressure seizures and other serious conditions. Moderate or mild magnesium deficiency can lead to a number of problems as well.
Constipation and insomnia are the most common symptoms. Mild to moderate magnesium deficiency can also be associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Other studies have indicated that the intestinal inflammation which can potentially lead to Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome and disease is correlated with decreased magnesium level. On top of that, various heart conditions, including arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), how well the heart can pump and congestive heart failure, have all been associated with low magnesium levels. Magnesium may also play an important role in maintaining healthy blood pressure. Other problems can include restless leg syndrome and other neuromuscular disorders.
Do I need to Take Extra Magnesium?
So how can you tell if you need supplemental magnesium? Not very easily—the tests for blood levels of magnesium don’t reflect the actual total body stores very well.
The symptoms of deficiency are non-specific and common to a number of other problems. For example, constipation can be caused by a lack of fiber or water and insomnia can be caused by stress, menopause and hormonal imbalances.
One recommendation is to take a good, high quality multivitamin—double-check the label to see how much magnesium you are getting. The US uses DRIs (Dietary Reference Intakes) to recommend daily levels of various nutrients.
For adult males, the DRI is about 400-420 mg per day.
For adult females, the DRI is 310-360 mg per day. Another approach is to take a small (about 100mg) dose of a magnesium supplement for a few days—and see if your constipation goes away, if you sleep better or if your muscle tics get better!
Always talk to your health care professional first, though! As far as which type of magnesium salt to supplement with, one study comparing the different forms of magnesium, magnesium lactate and magnesium chloride were best absorbed.
Magnesium is very safe—the main side effects are an upset stomach and diarrhea—usually these occur at doses greater than 300 mg.
So, talk to your health care professional about the need to take magnesium as a supplement—especially if you are having problems with constipation, sleep or muscle tics and spasms.