Saturday, 17 January 2015

Magnesium - Importance, deficiency and what to do about it.

It's not new news to you that Magnesium is a very important mineral for our body.
Magnesium has been found to be used in over 350 known biochemical processes. A normal healthy adult has about 25 grams in their body and it is stored mainly in deep tissue and bones.

Magnesium has a relationship with calcium and vitamin D in the body as well.
For example if you have a severe magnesium deficiency then you will also be deficient in calcium. However if you supplement with calcium you won't increase your body's levels of calcium without increasing magnesium levels first.
If you increase your magnesium levels alone though your calcium levels will also increase.

If you have hypocalcemia (hypo - for low or lacking and hyper- for too much) also supplement with magnesium. Often calcium supplements also contain magnesium but it is often quite small amounts of the RDA.

If you have a magnesium deficiency then you may suffer from the following:

  • seizures
  • headaches
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • vertigo
  • vision changes
  • insomnia
  • unrefreshed sleep
  • mental fatigue
  • aches and pains
  • disorientation
  • anxiety
  • hyperactivity
  • constipation
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • jitters
  • pins and needles
  • muscle pain
  • tooth decay
  • carbohydrate intolerance
  • extreme thirst
  • dry itchy skin
and the list goes on and on. Suffice to say that if anything is wrong, there's a good chance that magnesium might be playing a role in it. 

Magnesium deficiency - How does it happen?

Well it's not as simple as saying that we don't eat a magnesium rich diet. In fact we don't. The WHO estimate that 75% of Americans have a magnesium intake that falls below the RDA. 
The RDA for men is 420mg.

We don't eat enough magnesium is a fact. But it's not as simple.
We need to understand the absorption or lack of, retention and elimination of magnesium in the body.

Here are some of the main sources of magnesium in the diet. It can be hard to remember all the sources of magnesium but in most instances foods that are high in fiber are also higher in magnesium.

Dark leafy greens such as spinach: 1 cooked cup provides 157mg
Nuts and seeds: 1/2 cup 600mg
1 Avacado: 15% of RDA

Here is an article with detailed amounts of magnesium per food types and it's worth checking if a few simple changes in foods eaten could help. Perhaps adding fish to your evening meal or an Avacado for a snack during the day. There is no doubt that the best way to get all our vitamins including magnesium is from our food. But in most cases it just isn't possible to get all our nutrients that way. That's where deficiency comes in and the need for some supplementation or very deliberate food choices every day.

If you have magnesium deficiency the RDA might not be enough for you. You may even need to take up to double the RDA because you are lacking and below what the RDA was based on.
The RDA recommendations are based on a "normal" person whose magnesium levels aren't deficient.

The use of Magnesium in our body depends on it's Absorption, Retention and Elimination.


Like all things that we consume there is always some particles that are left undigested and therefore not absorbed. The same is true of magnesium. Some supplements are barely absorbed, and even the highly absorbable forms can lack effectiveness if we are not in a good place to accept them. Here's why.
Everything we digest goes into our gut. The gut is also known as the microbiome.  A destinct home of micro organisms / bacteria that breaks down our food. In some ways we are a walking bag of bacteria. They outnumber the cells in our body 10:1!

If our gut home is out of order, lacking or damaged in some way, then it's ability to extract all the goodness from foods and nutrients is deminished and malabsorption will occur.

The gut can become damaged or leaky if it is irritated or inflamed, this can happen because of gut overgrowths like candida, or from foods that we are in some way allergic to.
The lining of the gut becomes inflamed and then the gut itself can leak and we poison ourselves to a degree and have a poorly performing digestive system.
So it is important to make sure that we don't have a leaky gut that is being damaged by gluten or some other allergen that we can't cope with.

But there are several tools to make absorption better in the gut. It may be improved by the use of prebiotics and probiotics.
Prebiotics and probiotics can help to feed the good bacteria within our gut.

Another method of absorption is the use of topical magnesium solutions. Epsom salts baths are magnesium baths. The Epsom Salt Council recommends soaking 3 times week for at least 12 minutes in standard warm water bathtub with 2 cups of Epsom Salt added. However even though beneficial, absorption rates differ from person to person and as a result quantification of levels is difficult. It's a good excuse for a hot relaxing bath though!


Research has shown that a deficiency of vitamin B6 and taurine causes a greater lack of retention of magnesium.
Vigourous exercise also increases losses of magnesium along with the usual alcohol, caffeine, sugar and foods high in oxalates.

Choosing supplementation

That's where supplementation comes into play. But for the best results it's best to choose your magnesium wisely. There are many forms that magnesium comes in, and what is important is the packing agents used and the bioavailability of the magnesium. Basically how much of it will be absorbable and how much will just pass through your system and out the other end?
A full explaination of all magnesium types is explained in this link!

Magnesium chloride and amino acid chelates offer 80-90% availability, on the other hand cheaper magnesium oxide capsules only offer 4%!
Experts also say to take magnesium by itself and not with calcium or other vitamins because of their complex inter-relationships.
It is also recommended to supplement only 350-400mg per day. Magnesium is important but overdosing on magnesium can be dangerous. If you feel that you are very deficient it is best to seek medical advice and even to have blood testing to verify levels before increasing levels beyond the RDA. Saying that, there is no harm in taking the RDA plus lots of healthy magnesium rich foods.

Antiobiotics also are resticted in their use when magnesium is taken, so if you are very sick and are taking antibiotics then perhaps reduce the amount of supplementation until your treatment has finished. Remembering all the while that antibiotic use effects the good gut bacteria in the microbiome and repeated use will cause damage and thus malabsorption of nutrients and minerals.

A comprehensive list of the RDA for men, women and children of different ages can be seen on a chart here from the WebMD website.


Heidi Collins MD EDS Syndrome

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