Nutrition, Health & Wellness

Why Magnesium Deficiency Is a Problem (+3 Natural Magnesium Deficiency Remedies)

Did you know that magnesium is responsible for many of your bodily functions? From regulating your heart rate to helping your body eliminate toxins, it’s a crucial mineral for everyone. But as important as it is, over half of all American adults don’t have enough in their bodies. And magnesium deficiency symptoms are becoming more and more common—from fatigue and insomnia to high blood pressure and asthma.

So, let’s take a closer look at what magnesium is, why it’s important, what magnesium deficiency symptoms you may be experiencing, and some top natural remedies you can use to make sure you have sufficient levels of magnesium in your body.

 

Why Is Magnesium Important and What Is Magnesium Deficiency?

Magnesium is an important mineral that has over 800 different essential roles within the body. Your body simply can’t function without it. It’s necessary for many bodily processes, including regulating blood pressure, blood sugar control, and building proteins.

It’s also a co-factor in over 300 enzymes—which means that it is essential for making those enzymes work properly. Basically, any process that requires energy requires magnesium.

Most of the magnesium in your body (about 50–60 percent) is found in your bones. The rest is in the soft tissues and blood serum.

The kidneys are the main player in maintaining an appropriate balance of magnesium in the body.

 

What Does Magnesium Do?

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body. It keeps your heart beating steady, maintains regular muscle contraction, breaks down your food into glucose for energy, and assures you are firing nerves appropriately. It even produces cellular energy for your body to build tissues as well as breakdown and eliminate toxins.

Here is a list of the primary actions of magnesium and how they can relate to the symptoms you may be experiencing.

 

  1. Magnesium activates over 300 enzymes in your body.

In order for your body to harvest energy, build new tissue, remove waste, and create new DNA, it needs magnesium to drive the reaction. The less magnesium available, the slower the reaction. A great example of this is the term “slow metabolism.” Without proper magnesium, all metabolic processes will slow down. And the slower they are, the more you develop symptoms of disease.

 

  1. Magnesium gives you cellular energy.

It does this by breaking down the food you eat into potential energy, called ATP. Think of ATP like a coin you have to insert to play a video game: To keep playing, you need to keep adding coins. Without any magnesium, you are “broke,” and your body will remind you of this by causing fatigue, muscle cramps, possible constipation, and weight gain.

 

  1. Magnesium builds proteins.

Your body requires magnesium to produce amino acids, which make up protein as well as almost every neurotransmitter in your body required for mood regulation. A lack of magnesium means you have a lack of amino acids and proteins in your body, resulting in malnourishment. It also causes anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, and depression.

 

  1. Magnesium is essential in the production and repair of DNA.

Here’s the bottom line: If DNA is damaged, it causes problems. If you want to repair damaged DNA and replace it with a new strand (a key process to fight aging), your body must have sufficient magnesium.

 

  1. Magnesium helps you stay rich in other minerals.

Magnesium helps transport potassium, calcium, and sodium into and out of your cells, which helps to maintain proper electrolyte balance. In fact, an electrolyte imbalance is often linked to heart rhythm abnormalities. This mechanism is also why magnesium supplementation can assist in lowering blood pressure associated with elevated sodium levels. This concentration of imbalanced sodium and potassium impacts nerve cells as well, causing anxiety, insomnia, migraines, twitching, and increased sensitivities to noises.

In addition, I’ve often found that potassium deficiencies are actually the result of an underlying magnesium deficiency. Have you been told to take potassium for muscle cramps? You may be surprised to learn that it’s actually magnesium that will relieve your cramps by favorably impacting calcium and potassium levels, which are responsible for muscle contraction.

Magnesium deficiency - Dr. Pingel

Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesemia) simply means that an individual has low levels of magnesium in their body. It is important to note that becoming deficient in this mineral is a process that occurs over time, and levels can be slowly decreasing before then. This often results in symptoms that could be mistaken for other issues, such as insomnia, restless legs, anxiety, fatigue, poor thyroid utilization, sore muscles, rapid heart rate or “skipping” a beat, and more!

Often, these conditions are treated with medications that can lower your mineral absorption even further. If you suffer from any of these conditions, always consider magnesium (and other mineral deficiencies) before starting new medications.

The reality is here is that, as a nation, we are not getting enough magnesium. It’s estimated that about 60 percent of adults don’t consume the average dietary intake (ADI) of magnesium. In addition, 45 percent of Americans are estimated to be deficient in magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency symptoms are associated with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, asthma, and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, migraine headaches, and restless legs syndrome (RLS).  [1, 2, 3, 4]

Studies have shown that low magnesium intake may also increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. [5]

Currently, serum magnesium levels are traditionally checked with a blood test. However, this provides limited information because most magnesium in the body is found in bones or cells rather than in the bloodstream.

In many cases, a combination of tests and a clinical evaluation may be needed to get a better idea of a patient’s magnesium levels. [6] One of the best ways to associate a symptom with magnesium deficiency is to supplement the proper form of magnesium and see if the symptoms resolve. Just remember to consult with your physician on the proper way to do this before trying it at home.

There are a variety of magnesium deficiency causes, which I describe in more detail in the next section.

 

Magnesium Deficiency Causes

A lack of magnesium is one of the potential causes of many chronic symptoms and diseases. Often low magnesium is at a subclinical level, so it is not detected with laboratory testing.

However, even though the levels aren’t “officially” too low, they are still low enough to cause serious negative health consequences. [7] But what causes magnesium deficiency in the first place?

There are several potential causes of magnesium deficiency symptoms, ranging from a poor diet to health conditions that either affect the body’s ability to absorb magnesium or cause it to eliminate too much magnesium. Stress is also a major player here.

Chronic alcohol abuse is also associated with magnesium deficiency, as a result of related factors such as not getting enough magnesium in the diet, gastrointestinal problems like vomiting, and a higher rate of renal magnesium (higher levels of magnesium in the urine). [8]

 

Magnesium deficiency causes may include: [9, 10, 11, 12]

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Adrenal stress
  • Celiac disease
  • Diabetes mellitus (types 1 and 2)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD; Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, etc.)
  • Polyuria (excessive urination)
  • Mineral depletion in soil
  • Poor diet filled with processed foods
  • Pancreatitis
  • Renal disease
  • Certain medications, including diuretics, chemotherapeutic drugs, antacids such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), aminoglycoside antibiotics
  • Excessive sweating
  • Problems with thyroid hormones

 

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

Magnesium deficiency symptoms can include gastrointestinal difficulties, neurological symptoms, and cardiovascular problems. In fact, if magnesium deficiency is low enough, it can even cause death. [13]

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency may vary depending on how long someone has been deficient. Below is a quick list of early and later magnesium deficiency symptoms.

 

Early magnesium deficiency symptoms

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle spasms, cramping, and weakness
  • Twitches
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depressed mood
  • Restless legs
  • Brain fog
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Constipation
  • ADHD
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma

 

Later magnesium deficiency symptoms

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Changes in personality
  • Seizures
  • Arrhythmia and heart muscle spasms
  • Osteoporosis

 

Other magnesium deficiency symptoms include anxiety and a heightened response to stress. [14] In fact, magnesium deficiency and stress are more closely related than you may realize.

 

The Magnesium and Stress Connection

Believe it or not, mineral deficiencies and stress actually fuel each other! When your body is under stress, it basically tells your kidneys to remove minerals from your system via your urine. This results in your body having lower levels of these health-promoting minerals. And one of these key minerals is magnesium.

As magnesium levels drop in your blood, it causes further stress on your body. Why? Well, magnesium is highly involved in producing  “calming” neurotransmitters and stress-related hormones used for stress management (such as cortisol). It’s also important to note that when your body is stressed, it suppresses digestion, resulting in less nutritional absorption of magnesium from your small intestine.

Without magnesium you can’t properly manage stress. And when you’re stressed, you have lower magnesium levels. It’s a vicious, and far too common, cycle.


3 Natural Magnesium Deficiency Remedies

  1. Soak in an Epsom salt bath.

Epsom “salt” is also known as magnesium sulfate. Using Epsom salt for magnesium deficiency can be a pleasant home remedy to help with magnesium deficiency symptoms such as muscle pain, stress, and fatigue. [15, 16]

To enjoy an Epsom salt bath, blend 1 to 2 cups into running bath water, as warm you can tolerate it.

You may also want to add some essential oils for added benefit and relaxation. Some options to try are lavender (calming and relaxing), peppermint (energizing and helpful for easing pain and sore muscles), and eucalyptus (soothing and a great antimicrobial).

Sit and soak for 20 to 30 minutes.

 

  1. Include more food sources of magnesium in your diet.

Eating a plant-based diet (with mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds) can be a great way to ensure that you’re getting plenty of foods high in magnesium.

Magnesium-rich foods include:

  • Nuts such as almonds, peanuts, and cashews
  • Pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds
  • Dark chocolate (preferably vegan)
  • Spinach
  • Black beans
  • Avocados
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Kidney beans
  • Bananas
  • Salmon (Pacific wild-caught)

For a scrumptious treat that includes several foods that contain magnesium, try my Vegan Chocolate Tart recipe. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring!

 

  1. Try magnesium supplements.

It’s difficult to enough magnesium from your diet, and this is especially true if you suffer from a health condition that makes it difficult for your body to either absorb or retain enough magnesium. As a result, you may want to consider taking magnesium supplements. You can also try a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that includes magnesium.

The biggest problem you may face when buying a magnesium supplement is the wide variety available. For example, magnesium sulfate, which is great for topical use (such as in a bath), is not absorbed well when taken orally.

If you decide to try a magnesium supplement, look for magnesium glycinate or magnesium orotate, which offer the best absorption. Start with the dosages listed on the bottle. If your bowel movements remain normal, increase this dosage until they become loose. This is called “bowel tolerance” and is your personalized therapeutic dose. As your body retains more magnesium, less supplementation will be required to hit your tolerance. If you can’t find these particular forms, consider magnesium citrate.

As with other dietary supplements, seek the medical advice of your healthcare provider before starting magnesium supplements.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Many bodily processes rely on magnesium, making it an essential mineral for your body.
  • Low levels of magnesium can lead to many health problems, from constipation and anxiety to diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and more.
  • Stress, poor diet, soil depletion, and malabsorption are just some of the causes of magnesium deficiency.
  • Magnesium deficiency symptoms may include fatigue, muscle spasms/cramps, anxiety, insomnia, and headaches, among others.
  • Boost your magnesium intake with a healthy, balanced diet, magnesium supplements, and even bathing in an Epsom salts bath. Speak with your healthcare provider first, especially if you have any medical conditions or if you are taking other medications and supplements.

 

You might also enjoy: Dr. Pingel’s 7 Best Home Remedies for Cold and Flu

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