Many of us have a low level of magnesium in our bodies, and we don't even know it. In fact, many of us don't even know that we are supposed to care. As a society, we are onboard with making sure we get enough calcium, Vitamin B12, potassium, etc., but let's admit it – we have overlooked magnesium at a time when studies show many of us are undersupplied with magnesium, termed the "master mineral" because it's a part of more than 300 metabolic processes in our bodies, per naturalsociety.com.
Take calcium, for instance. Millions of people, especially women, take supplements and structure their diets around calcium for bone strength and (hopefully) warding off osteoporosis. Here's the thing, though: calcium is highly dependent on magnesium to do its job. Magnesium is chief among the nutrients that transport calcium throughout the body for the calcium to get into bone matter. A magnesium deficiency will hinder calcium's effectiveness.
It's not just about calcium and strong bones, though. As webmd.com points out, magnesium is a key electrolyte when it comes to the proper function of our muscles, nerves, and enzymes. It assists our bodies in how energy is used, and it's needed to move other electrolytes such as sodium and potassium into and out of cells. Essentially, a body low in magnesium is not firing on all its cylinders.
How do we know if we have a magnesium deficiency (also typically known as hypomagnesia)? First, it helps to know the symptoms. More than a dozen have been identified, and they include:
- Poor heart health
- Muscle cramps
- High blood pressure
- Respiratory issues
- Swallowing difficulties
- Poor memory
Granted, some or most of these symptoms could be indicative of some other health condition. If, however, you have many of these symptoms and want to find out what's going on, a visit to your physician for testing is in order. A blood test is a good start, but often such a test won't detect a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium functions on a cellular level, assimilating into organ and nerve tissue, thus being "hidden" from blood tests (only about 1 percent of the magnesium in our bodies is stored in the blood). Other types of magnesium tests, per ancient-minerals.com, include "challenge testing," "load testing," and a more recent measure known as the ExaTest, a noninvasive intracellular tissue analysis of mineral electrolytes.
When it comes to the sources of magnesium deficiency, there are plenty. One of the more intriguing low-magnesium causes is as intriguing as it is disturbing: the widespread depletion of the mineral content, including magnesium, in much of our topsoil, a claim made by naturalsociety.com. This has been attributed to modern farming methods highly dependent on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.
The many causes of clinical magnesium deficiency, per the National Institutes of Health, generally fall into one of two categories: "diminished intake of magnesium, and enhanced losses of magnesium, either through the gastrointestinal tract or through the kidneys. Examples of the first category include alcoholism, starvation, anorexia due to neoplastic disease and/or chemotherapy. Examples of the second category include severe diarrheal states, gastrointestinal fistulae, malabsorption, diuretic therapy and gentamicin therapy."
Let's dig into some of those causes a bit more – in the process, translating some of this into plainer English:
- Low-magnesium diets. Not exactly a shocker. Loading up on fries, burgers and milkshakes isn't going to cut it. Foods known to be rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens (raw spinach, etc.), nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds, etc.), fish, beans and lentils, and whole grains.
- Soft water. This refers to water that has been treated for the removal of calcium, magnesium and certain other metal "cations" from hard water. The resulting soft water is believed to be more compatible with household cleaners, such as soap, and it extends the lifetime of plumbing. If you have any questions about your water, contact your city or whoever your water source is to get details on what sort of water treatment they are using and how it affects magnesium content.
- Overabundance of calcium. Yes, some calcium supplements are helpful in staving off bone loss, but too much calcium increases the body's need for magnesium, as explained earlier here.
- Certain medications. Prescribed medications known to deplete magnesium levels include diuretics, antibiotics, painkillers and cortisone – they can reduce magnesium levels by impeding absorption or by increasing excretion by the kidneys. Other medications on this list include estrogen, corticosteroids, some anti-cancer drugs and asthma medications.
- Illness, stress and aging. Conditions that can render us more susceptible to magnesium deficiency include surgery, burns, liver diseases, diabetes and hormonal imbalances, says ancient-minerals.com. Also, the Nutritional Magnesium Association has cited a study that shows a correlation between chronically stressed individuals and lower magnesium stores, according to activationproducts.com.
- Addiction and alcoholism. Related complications such as liver disease, vomiting and diarrhea can mean a rapid depletion of magnesium. Addiction treatment in which withdrawal is experienced can complicate things even more.
- Diseases. The list is long. It includes Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, tubular disorders, and Bartter's syndrome.
Today's lessen: Don't skimp on magnesium, and keep it in mind.