As an integrative doctor, one of the things I’m acutely tuned into is nutrient deficiencies. I cannot overstate how important it is to give your body the nutrition it needs. Several times over my career, I saw firsthand how reversing a deficiency saved patient lives.
One of the nutrients I’m increasingly concerned we don’t get enough of is magnesium.
In addition to being one of my Awesome Foursome nutrients for heart health, magnesium is a vital player everywhere in the body. More than 300 different enzymatic reactions depend on it.
That’s a lot, in my book!
How Magnesium Helps Maintain Your Health
Don’t worry; I won’t inundate you with all of the reasons why it’s important to keep your magnesium level up. But I will share a handful of important ones…
- Magnesium helps keep your heart beating in a predictable rhythm
- Magnesium regulates your electrolyte balance, which keeps nerves and muscles working normally
- Magnesium helps the body absorb calcium, which keeps bones strong
- Magnesium is needed to produce glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant
- Magnesium helps regulate the breakdown of sugars and fats during digestion and manage your blood sugar level
- Magnesium is involved in the synthesis of DNA and RNA
Perhaps most importantly, though, magnesium helps raise cellular energy and vibration. That’s because it’s a vital nutrient in producing ATP, which is literally the “energy of life.” This is why it’s one of my Awesome Foursome and why I take it every day, without fail.
5 Common Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
It’s easy to see why you don’t want to become deficient. Yet far too many of us are.
Unfortunately, you can’t rely on a simple blood test to know if you have a magnesium deficiency. Only a small percentage of the total magnesium in your body circulates in the blood. The rest is in your cells and other tissues.
That doesn’t mean, though that your body won’t send you signals that your levels are low. It often does. Here are a few to be on the lookout for…
One of the great benefits of magnesium is that it helps us relax, muscles especially.
Healthy muscles—the kind that work when and how we need them to—depend on having the right balance of magnesium, calcium, and potassium inside muscle cells. When magnesium levels are low, too much calcium gets inside. That overstimulates the cells and makes them jumpy. So, if you’re prone to charley horses or muscle twitches, a magnesium deficiency could be why. Every year I go fly fishing in the Bahamas, walking the flats sometimes several miles a day. Taking magnesium at bedtime has been a lifesaver for preventing cramps while I sleep!
Fluttering, racing, and skipping beats are a few of the ways people tend to describe heart palpitations, which admittedly are one of the scarier signs you may be low on magnesium. Again, it’s important to recognize that the heart is really just a big muscle—and it needs a lot of magnesium to make sure its cells contract in a smooth, rhythmic way. A deficiency can lead to some unsettling and even dangerous changes.
If you feel palpitations, be sure to get them checked out. Magnesium deficiencies are just one cause. You’ll want to rule out more serious cardiac issues.
High Blood Pressure
When it comes to blood pressure, magnesium’s biggest job is to relax the smooth muscle cells in artery walls. This helps the arteries dilate and stay flexible. When the opposite happens, and arteries become tense and rigid, blood pressure goes up (along with your heart attack risk). Gradually rising blood pressure can be a sign of many things, low magnesium levels among them.
Fatigue and Weakness
Given the vital role magnesium plays in cellular energy production, it’s easy to see how fatigue may be a sign that your levels are low. Just being tired, though, probably doesn’t mean you have a problem. If you’re deficient, your muscle strength will suffer, too.
Depression, Anxiety and/or Insomnia
If you suffer from depression, anxiety, and/or insomnia, it could be due, in part, to low magnesium. Magnesium affects the body’s ability to use an amino acid called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is active in the brain. GABA has a calming effect and it’s been linked with both anxiety and insomnia. Since magnesium helps your body use GABA more effectively, a deficiency may make it harder for you to relax—both during the day and at night. In the rat model, supplementing with magnesium has been shown to lessen depressive or anxious behaviors, and researchers have noted that this could have to do with magnesium’s role in moderating the stress response.
I also want to add here that stress—which itself is a cause of anxiety and insomnia— is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to depleting our magnesium stores. If you’re under pressure, I would definitely up your intake of magnesium to help stop nutrient loss. In addition, it’s been demonstrated that magnesium supplements can also help improve heart rate variability, a tangible measure of stress and cardiovascular risk.
How to Heal a Magnesium Deficiency
What should you do if you suspect your magnesium levels are low?
First off, add more magnesium-rich foods to your grocery list. Avocado, nuts and seeds, and dark leafy greens like spinach a few good places to start. (Check out my full list of foods that will raise your magnesium levels.)
Second, and probably most importantly, add a magnesium supplement to your vitamin regimen.
Eating more magnesium-rich foods will certainly help you. But if you really want to get your magnesium level up—and keep it there—you’re going to need some nutraceutical help.
Industrialized farming has slowly reduced the amount of magnesium that’s naturally in the soil, which means foods don’t absorb as much as they once did. Combine that with a situation where most of us are already low on magnesium, and you can see why an extra boost is so important.
How to Choose (and Use) a Magnesium Supplement
Now, what to buy… There are a wide range of magnesium supplements available and a wide range of magnesium types, some of them incredibly cheap. Don’t let price be your guide, though. If you really want to feel the benefits of higher magnesium levels, you’ll want to make sure you buy the product that’s most absorbable.
I like a broad spectrum supplement that combines these four forms of magnesium: orotate, citrate, glycinate, and taurinate.
These specific forms are effective at helping boost cellular energy production—and the more energy your cells produce, the faster they vibrate and the healthier you are. They’re also more absorbable than other forms.
As far as dosage goes, I recommend 400–800 mg a day. If you have cardiovascular issues, you’ll want to stay toward the high end of that range.
There’s only one group of people who shouldn’t take magnesium supplements, and that’s anyone with kidney issues. If you have any renal insufficiency, don’t start a magnesium supplement without first talking to your doctor about the risks and benefits.
Even if you don’t have magnesium deficiency symptoms, there’s no harm in adding it to your supplement regimen. In fact, I’d recommend it. With this nutrient, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
- Abbasi B et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec;17(12):1161-9.
- Bilbey DL and Prabhakaran VM. Muscle cramps and magnesium deficiency: case reports. Can Fam Physician. 1996 Jul;42:1348-51.
- Boyle NB, Lawton C, and Dye L. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 Apr 26;9(5). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452159/
- Möykkynen T et al. Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors. Neuroreport. 2001 Jul 20;12(10):2175-9.
- Song Y. Dietary magnesium intake and risk of incident hypertension among middle-aged and older US women in a 10-year follow-up study. Am J Cardiol. 2006 Dec 15;98(12):1616-21.
- Wienecke E and Nolden C. Long-term HRV analysis shows stress reduction by magnesium intake. [Article in German] MMW Fortschr Med. 2016 Dec;158(Suppl 6):12-16.
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