Health and Nutrition

Low Magnesium: The Most Under-Diagnosed Deficiency

Gregg Carroll - Thursday, March 14, 2013

Unexplained fatigue, muscle aches, migraine headaches, premenstrual stress and sleeplessness are some common complaints we might experience, but did you know that individuals suffering from the aforementioned conditions could in part be the result of poor magnesium levels in the body? It might be hard to believe, but magnesium deficiency is one of the most under diagnosed and misdiagnosed deficiencies around the world. It is estimated that nearly 70% of the U.S. population alone suffers from magnesium deficiency.


What Does Magnesium Do for Us?

Magnesium participates in numerous biochemical reactions in our bodies -- nearly 300 of them -- including glucose absorption, energy release, the maintenence of nerve health and of a regular heart rhythm, and many others. Here is a quick look at the role of magnesium in our bodies:

Energy release: The presence of magnesium is crucial in the metabolism of glucose in our bodies. It is a part of the enzyme and catalyst biochemistry that activates carbohydrate metabolism, aiding in the release of glucose from food to supply energy to cells.

Electrolyte transport: Magnesium maintains the balance of the electrolytes potassium and sodium, and efficiently manages their transport into and out of cells. This influences bodily functions such as muscle contraction, the conduction of nerve impulses, and heart rhythm. A deficient state of magnesium can lead to muscle spasms, chronic pain, irritability and headaches due to improperly conducted nerve impulses.

Calcium status: Magnesium is vital for maintaining bone health, teeth formation, and the prevention of osteoporosis, as it has a significant role in the skeletal frame work. One study reported that magnesium deficient osteoporotic patients had brittle bones and larger bone crystals than non-osteoporotic women with normal magnesium levels. Magnesium triggers the secretion of parathyroid hormones and indirectly influences blood calcium levels. Parathyroid hormones are responsible for moving calcium from bones into the bloodstream and also signal kidneys to prevent calcium from being excreted in the urine.

Facilitates wound healing: Magnesium helps in the process of cell migration, cell signaling, and protein turn over which are vital steps in the healing of wounds.

Promotes insulin sensitivity: Many clinical studies indicate that the presence of magnesium positively influences insulin sensitivity, and efficient glucose uptake by cells. Low magnesium levels were directly associated with poor insulin response among subjects. Researchers of a double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled study concluded that optimal magnesium levels prevent insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus.


How Do We Identify a Magnesium Deficiency?

Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is hard to detect through routine blood examination. Blood serum magnesium levels -- whether in a healthy or deficient individual -- remain the same at 1%. An average adult human body contains about 25 grams of magnesium with 60% concentrated in the skeleton, about 25% in muscles, 7% in other cells, and less than 1% in the blood. Hence, serum magnesium levels are not a good indicator of an individual's overall magnesium levels. Since physician miss detecting a deficient state of this crucial mineral in routine analysis, they often ask patients to recall previous medical history including pain and other symptoms.


What should you look for?

• Sudden, throbbing headaches, migraines.

• Sensitivity to light and sound.

• Twitching and frequent muscle spasms.

• Chronic muscle pain.

• Unexplained fatigue.

• Irregular heart rhythm.

• Depression.

• Poor attention to details, irritability, hyperactive state.

• Chronic muscle pain progressing to frequent numbness, pins and needles in feet, head, and hands.

• Nervousness, muscle weakness.

• Lack of sleep, anorexia.


Epidemiological data underscores that in the last two decades magnesium intake from standard western diet has decreased by 30-40%. This is largely due to high intake of refined and processed foods, poor fruit and vegetable consumption, and decreasing levels of magnesium in our soil. A 2005 study published in the Journal of American College of Nutrition revealed worrying data that nearly 19% of the US population do not consume even half of the government’s recommendation for daily magnesium.


Magnesium facts:

• “Hard” water contains more magnesium than “soft' water.

• Processed and refined foods are low in magnesium.

• Conventional cooking lowers dietary magnesium.

• Whole grains, spinach, seeds and nuts are a great way to increase dietary magnesium intake.

• Magnesium is an “anti-stress” mineral.

• Protects against diabetes, stroke, heart problems and high blood presure.


Magnesium rich foods:

• Nuts

• Seeds

• Spinach

• Legumes, lentils

• Whole grains

• Avocado

• Cocoa

• Soy

• Algae, sea weed


Causes of deficiency:

• Chronic stress

• Poor intake from natural sources

• High intake of processed food

• Over consumption of alcohol, caffeine

• 80% loss in cooking and processing


Magnesium is also called the “master mineral” due to its diverse and varied role in human health. Humans have evolved around this important mineral, obtaining it directly from natural resources such as rivers, streams, lakes and plants grown from mineral-rich soil. Fortunately, there is an emerging interest in the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.

If corrective measures are taken to prevent magnesium deficiency, it can help to prevent many ailments and decrease the need for prescription drug treatment. Consuming foods that are naturally rich in magnesium is the first step towards preventing a deficiency. Nature has provided us with an abundant, natural magnesium in the form of plant foods, which also come with additional beneficial additives such as antioxidants and phytonutrients that help to prevent ailments and decrease the risk of disease.

It has been observed that in a number of economically poor countries where greens, nuts, seeds, lentils and legume consumption is high, there is an absence of magnesium deficiency. On the other hand, affluent nations that rely more heavily on processed foods report a prevalence of magnesium deficiency. Nature is our incredible healer, we are connected to the therapeutics of plants, and when we return to this connection we can liberate ourselves from ailments, disorders and diseases.

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