Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for human health. It is in fact one of the essential minerals that the human body needs for survival. Other essential minerals include calcium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus and chloride. Magnesium is involved in hundreds of body functions. For this reason, its deficiency can lead to many health problems.
But what causes magnesium deficiency? What are the symptoms of deficiency and how can deficiency be resolved?
These are the issues that we address in this discussion.
Functions of magnesium in the body?
Magnesium is required in more than 300 processes in the body including the following:
- Digestion of carbohydrate, protein and fat
- Production of energy
- DNA and RNA synthesis
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Reduction of inflammation
- Regulation of heart rhythm
- Detoxification of the body
- Release of neurotransmitters
- Regulation of blood sugar
- Synthesis of an antioxidant called glutathione
- Building and maintenance of bones
- Boosting immunity
To support these and other processes, everyone requires a daily intake of magnesium.
Recommended daily intake of magnesium
The amounts are different depending on age and sex. For newborn babies, 30 mg per day is adequate. The rate rises to 240 grams for children aged 9 – 13. Teenage girls require 360 mg daily while adult women require 310 – 320 milligrams daily. Teenage males require 410 mg and adult males require 400 – 420 milligrams of magnesium daily.
Causes of magnesium deficiency
Magnesium deficiency is a serious problem especially in western countries. In America, about 80 percent of the population has magnesium deficiency. While the main culprit is a diet composed mainly of fast foods instead of wholesome food, magnesium deficiency can occur due to the following:
- Absence of adequate vegetables in the diet
- Consumption of conventional foods that are deficient in magnesium
- Too much soft drinks
- Too much caffeine
- Excess sugar
- Excess alcohol intake
- Medications like some antacids, diuretics, corticosteroids and gentamicin
Besides these ordinary causes of magnesium deficiency, bodies of people with certain health conditions absorb less magnesium from food than normal. In these cases it may be necessary to take magnesium supplements.
People with the following conditions are more likely to have magnesium deficiency:
- The elderly
- Kidney disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Chronic alcoholism
- Gut diseases such as leaky gut, celiac and Crohn’s disease
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency
While low, short-term intake usually has no symptoms, in the long-term, low magnesium intake affects many body functions. This state of magnesium deficiency can be indicated by symptoms such as the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Heart palpitations
If these symptoms are not acted upon and magnesium deficiency continues, it can lead to serious health conditions including the following:
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Type 2 diabetes
- Hormone imbalance
- Premenstrual tension
- Heart attack
Magnesium Deficiencies And How To Resolve Them
While magnesium deficiency is widespread, most cases can easily be resolved by making dietary changes, taking supplements and avoiding some medications.
The Dietary Guidelines for American, recommends that you should get the bulk of your magnesium requirements from diet. This entails eating a diversified diet that leans more towards whole foods.
Deliberately choose organic over conventional foods. Conventionally grown foods are grown in soils that may be stripped off magnesium. They also contain fungicide and pesticides which may deplete magnesium and interfere with its absorption besides harming your body in other ways.
Avoid refined foods. Note that while some foods ordinarily contain magnesium, the refining process deprives them of most of the magnesium besides other minerals. This is the reason why eating fast foods provides only minimal amounts of magnesium. Avoiding fast foods is therefore one of the ways to reduce magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium-rich foods include:
- Leafy green vegetables like spinach and chard are some of the richest sources of magnesium.
- Seeds like pumpkin seeds
- Fermented dairy like kefir and yogurt
- Nuts like almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts
- Legumes like black beans
- Dark chocolate
- Goat cheese
To ensure that you get adequate amounts of magnesium in your diet, eat the above foods regularly. It is in fact necessary that you eat some magnesium containing food items every day to provide your daily intake.
In case of poor absorption of dietary magnesium, taking supplements can help. This may be necessary for the elderly and people with diseases of the digestive system, and those with alcoholism and diabetes type 2. If you need to take magnesium supplements, make sure that you go for the right types. Experts say that some magnesium supplements may do more harm than good.
Magnesium citrate, magnesium chelate, magnesium threonate, magnesium glycinate, magnesium chloride, magnesium citrate and magnesium oil are recommended. Avoid supplements based on magnesium oxide because it is poorly absorbed besides converting to magnesium hydroxide which harms the intestinal walls.
If you have a health problem such as diabetes type 2, kidney disease and digestive diseases, and/ or you regularly take medications such as antibiotics, diuretics and antacids; ask your doctor to have your magnesium levels tested. And if the test shows that you have magnesium deficiency or low magnesium, ask the doctor to prescribe medication that does not interfere with absorption of magnesium. The doctor may also need to recommend magnesium supplementation.
If you take a lot of alcohol and tests indicate that you have low magnesium or are deficient, reducing or stopping alcohol consumption can rectify the condition.
From this discussion, it is clear that magnesium is an essential mineral in the body. It is also apparent that magnesium deficiency can adversely affect many body processes and lead to mild and even serious health problems. The good thing is that magnesium deficiency can be resolved by taking a few steps. These include avoiding refined foods, fast foods, alcohol and some medications, eating wholesome, organic foods and taking with magnesium supplements.