Magnesium deficiency is quite common!
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ most recent Health Survey reveals about 1 in 3 adult Australians don’t have an adequate intake of magnesium and 1 in 4 are vitamin D deficient.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is critical for proper function of a number of body systems. For example, if levels of magnesium present in the nervous system fall below certain levels, it can’t function effectively resulting in anxiety, irritability, tension, stress and many other systemic disturbances.
It also functions as a co-factor in more than 300 enzyme reactions and is required for energy production and other vital metabolic processes. Importantly, magnesium has the ability to affect musculoskeletal system in multiple ways as it is essential for muscle relaxation and contraction, including the heart muscle, hence any deficiency will affect the entire cardiovascular system.
Main causes of magnesium deficiency
- Dietary choices and food restriction (e.g. calorie restricted diets)
- Decreased dietary intake, particularly in Western diets (e.g. low oxalate diet)
- Food processing (e.g. frying significantly decreases the magnesium content of green vegetables compared to boiling)
- Malabsorption conditions (e.g. chronic diarrhoea, Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, ulcerative colitis)
- High alcohol consumption
- Poorly controlled diabetes
- Kidney disease
- Endocrine imbalances (e.g. hyperthyroidism, hyperaldosteronism, hypercalcaemia)
- Medications (e.g. antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, diuretics, chemotherapeutic agents)
- Parasitic infections (e.g. Blastocystosis hominis)
Although severe magnesium deficiency is less common, I find sub-clinical deficiency (i.e. not detected by tests) is quite prevalent among many of my clients, as excessive or chronic stress experienced by many of them significantly increases the need for magnesium.
Screening for chronic magnesium deficiency has its limitations given a normal serum level may still be associated with moderate to severe deficiency. To date, there is no simple and accurate laboratory test to determine the total body magnesium status in humans (6). Risk factors, symptoms and signs questionnaires, nutrition analysis and clinical examination are the most reliable assessment tools.
Functions of magnesium – studies examples
There are MANY more magnesium requirements and benefits for the body, and a large number of studies confirm just how important it is for health and wellbeing. Examples of important studies related to the nervous and cardiovascular system functions include the following:
- Deficiency induces anxiety and related behaviours thus adequate intake is needed for excessive or chronic stress (1).
- Chronic deficit is linked with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure suggesting that an increased intake will reduce the risk as well as symptoms (2).
- Vitamin D requires magnesium as a co-factor to work in the body. In addition, hepatic and renal vitamin D conversion into the active, hormonal form is also magnesium dependent (3). This is also confirmed by my clinical experience. For some people it’s really difficult to raise their levels of vitamin D, despite of supplementing with high doses over a longer period of time (3-6 months). I find that supplementing magnesium and vitamin D together facilitates an increase in vitamin D levels in majority of people.
- A study found that high magnesium intake was associated with reduced risk of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency in the general population(6).
- Osteoporosis and bone thinning – research has also found that consuming the recommended daily intake (RDA) of magnesium may be more effective in preventing bone-thinning than vitamin D supplementation given magnesium’s relationship with potentiating vitamin D activities via possibly increasing its absorption and utilisation.In previous studies, magnesium deficiency was found in 84% of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis diagnosed by low magnesium trabecular bone content and magnesium load testing.
- It plays a role in lowering blood pressure. Researchers concluded that “magnesium supplementation appears to achieve a small but clinically significant reduction in BP” (4).
Majority of people who have a long standing magnesium deficiency need to supplement for 3-4 months at therapeutic (higher) doses as needed per their condition, to replenish the stores. This process must be supervised by a knowledgeable health professional who will select an optimal dose and the right type of magnesium for your condition.
Importantly, most of over-the-counter supplements contain cheap and poorly assimilated forms plus they don’t provide enough of elemental (pure) magnesium to make a real difference.
After the magnesium is replenished, the dose is reduced and many people are able to get enough from a well-designed diet and some supplementation, when required e.g. at times of increased stress.
Short magnesium deficiency self-assessment
Take the opportunity to test your magnesium levels by completing the short self-assessment below to determine if your magnesium level is likely to be low. The questionnaire is based on my experience treating magnesium deficiency and includes the most common symptoms I came across in my clinical practice. Select options that apply to your circumstances.
Risk factors / contributing factors
|High stress, anxiety and irritability||5|
|High weekly levels of exercise with heavy sweating||5|
|High coffee intake – more than 3 per day||5|
|Daily alcohol use||5|
|Regular consumption of soft drinks containing caffeine (> 2 days/ week)||5|
|Frequent diarrhoea or vomiting||5|
|Oral contraceptive pill use||5|
|Chronic occupational exposure to loud noises (e.g. traffic related)||5|
|Diuretic, laxative, antacid, ACE inhibitor, oral corticosteroid use||5|
|Diet lacking in leafy green vegetables||5|
|Diet high in processed and takeaway foods||5|
Results: If your total score is more than 20 points, you are likely to be magnesium deficient
|Muscle cramps, spasms, or pain – e.g. leg/ foot cramps, back and neck ache||5|
|Muscle twitches (e.g. eyelids), ticks or jerks, and/ or muscle weakness||5|
|Muscle tremors – e.g. involuntary shaking of hands or arms||5|
|Poor mood and irritability||5|
|Anxious, agitated | irritable | having panic attacks||5|
|Heart palpitations | arrhythmias||5|
|Elevated blood pressure||5|
|Breathlessness | chest tightness||5|
|Insomnia | difficulty falling asleep or frequent waking up during the night||3|
|Fatigue | frequent sighing | poor exercise endurance||3|
|Sensitivity to loud noises or sudden bright light||3|
|Headaches | migraines||3|
|Menstrual cramps | pain||3|
|Frequent chocolate craving – dark chocolate is high in magnesium!||3|
Results: If you selected more than five symptoms, especially out of the first 10, you are likely to be deficient
(i.e. score of 20+)
Recommended daily doses of magnesium
According to the nutrient reference values for Australia and New Zealand, the recommended amount of magnesium is as follows:
- 400 mg/day for adult men aged 19-30 years
- 310 mg/day for adult women aged 19-30 years.
- 420 mg/day for adult men aged 31 and over
- 320 mg/day for women aged 31 and over
Please note that you may need higher doses of magnesium to correct any deficiencies. This needs to be assessed and supervised by a skilled therapist.
Rich food sources of magnesium
Fortunately, magnesium is found in a wide range of foods with plant foods being the richest sources. Foods high in magnesium include:
- Green leafy vegetables (contain large amounts of magnesium) – spinach, kale, parsley, silver beet
- Other vegetables including beetroot, broccoli, bok choy and sea vegetables such as kelp, arame, wakame, nori
- Nuts and seeds – sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, Brazil nuts
- Grains (unprocessed) – quinoa, millet, buckwheat, brown rice (only gluten free grains are included here)
- Other foods – organic molasses, beans and lentils, dried figs and apricots, dark chocolate (containing more than 70% cocoa, the higher % of cocoa the better)
- Animal sources – prawns, sardines, mackerel, bee pollen
As outlined above, eating foods containing magnesium on a daily basis is easy and vital to prevent deficiencies; however, you also need to absorb and utilise magnesium from your diet by having your digestion working well.
Otherwise even if you eat the best organic foods, you will not be able to extract the full goodness out of them and continue to be deficient.
Complete the self-assessment questionnaire to gauge if you likely have the need for more magnesium in your body and thus your diet.
Feel free to contact me for further help assessing your magnesium requirements (and the levels of other synergistic nutrients magnesium needs to work properly in the body), as well as to assess your gut and digestion health and discuss the most suitable supplementation, if required.
Natural and Lifestyle Medicines for Chronic Diseases
Naturopath || Herbalist || Nutritionist || Reiki Practitioner
1) Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Sartori SB, Whittle N, Hetzenauer A and Singewald N, 2012, Neurophamacology, Volume 62, Issue 1, January, Pages 304-312. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390811003054#
2) Magnesium and the Cardiometabolic Syndrome. Barbagallo M and Dominguez LJ, 2012, Curr Nutr Rep 1:100–108. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13668-012-0010-%206#page-1
3) Magnesium deficit – overlooked cause of low vitamin D status? Zittermann A, 2013, BMC Medicine, 11:229. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/11/229
4) Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis. Kass L, Weekes J and L Carpenter L, 2012, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66, 411–418.
6) DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson W. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart. 2018;5(1):e000668. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668.
Check out other relevant posts here:
- Vitamin D deficiency: Do you know your current vitamin D level? Check here if you are deficient
- Vitamin D, DHA and EPA (in fish oils) can reduce pain
- Antioxidants explained – what are antioxidants plus a list of best sources
- Top nutrition tips for insomnia and interrupted sleep
- How to drink enough water daily to improve your health: Dehydration
Joanna Sochan is a Natural Medicine Practitioner and founder of Naturimedica Holistic Health & Wellness. She has a passion for helping her clients transform their lives by becoming healthy and well naturally. Joanna is an adrenal fatigue, sleep and gut health expert helping tired, stressed or unwell individuals to regain their energy, sleep better and be happier, more relaxed and calm. Joanna practices in Sydney and Lake Macquarie, Australia and also conducts Skype / phone consultations for clients Australia-wide. View full bio.