Magnesium (Mg) is a major mineral and is needed by the body in larger quantities to perform vital functions responsible for healthy life. It is found in food sources like kelp, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, millet, tofu, brown rice, figs, collard greens, parsley, beans and garlic. Magnesium levels can be depleted by excess alcohol, salt, coffee and soda intake, profuse sweating, stress, some prescription drugs, and even the wrong amount of calcium.
According to the National Institutes of Health, our bodies use magnesium in more than 300 metabolic reactions. Remarkable examples are:
- Normal muscle and nerve function
- Steady heart rhythms
- Immune system support
- Blood sugar level regulation
- Blood pressure stabilization
Yet, one recent government study shows that 68% of Americans do not consume the recommended daily intake (RDI) of Mg (around 400mg for a healthy adult).
Magnesium’s Relationship with Calcium
The commonly used rule of everything in moderation applies to these two minerals. Too much calcium can deplete magnesium levels, and vice versa, so striking a proper balance is critical. Calcium excites nerves, while Mg calms them down. Additional magnesium supports the body’s “relaxation” functions, as increased calcium supports “contraction”.
Both are so essential to life that your body keeps significant stores of each mineral on-hand to maintain a constant blood level whether or not you’re getting them in your diet.
However, just like a lack of calcium in the diet leads the body to pull calcium out of the bones, a lack of magnesium leads the body to pull this mineral from the muscles. The trouble is that muscular reservoir of Mg isn’t just packed away in storage boxes; it’s being used, required for the muscle to stay relaxed and supple. When the muscles (including the heart muscle) have their reservoirs dry up, it creates a number of problems.
Some common health problems sometimes caused by low Mg levels are:
- Digestive complaints, especially constipation or straining
- Chronic muscle tension and discomfort
- Anxiety, insomnia, or feeling “tense” and unable to relax
- Grinding your teeth at night or clenching your jaw during the day
Magnesium from Dietary Sources
Eating a balanced diet can help ensure your body gets the nutrients you need. Most nuts, seeds, and legume are replete with Mg. However many modern diets include highly processed foods and these processes deplete mineral content. For your consideration:
- Nearly 85% of the magnesium in grains is lost during milling.
- Soaking and boiling foods leaches minerals into water, so that the “pot water” may be better for you than the fresh green beans you cook in it.
- Oxalic acid in vegetables such as spinach and the acids in some grains may form insoluble salts with magnesium, causing it to be eliminated rather than absorbed.
- Drinking soft water decreases magnesium intake.
- Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar all cause Mg loss.
- Diuretic drugs often eliminate magnesium before the body can absorb it.
- Meals high in protein or fat decrease levels. In fact, experts suggest that if you eat more than two meals of fast food per week, your magnesium level is probably too low.
- Supplements of Vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus can proportionately alter Mg levels. As discussed earlier, if you supplement calcium and not magnesium, your magnesium levels will be “out of kilter” which may result in that “out of sorts” feeling that haunts your day.
The Argument for Magnesium Supplementation
There’s one major problem with relying on whole foods for Mg and other minerals. Plants’ mineral content is determined by the mineral content of the soil in which they’re grown. These days even organically grown veggies are shown to contain significantly fewer minerals than they did in the beginning of the century.
Magnesium can also be difficult for the body to absorb from food if you have any digestive problems.
So, most experts absolutely recommend eating magnesium-rich foods. But if you’re struggling with multiple symptoms connected to Mg deficiency, you may need to consume well above the RDI. If you just consume the recommended amount, you’ll prevent further deficiency but won’t have any extra magnesium leftover to put back into storage like the reservoirs in your muscle tissue.
If you are experiencing serious medical issues, please consult with your doctor before beginning any new supplement.