Magnesium is a crucial electrolyte for your body, but did you know that many people are deficient? While you can get magnesium from food, you may need to supplement to get sufficient amounts. Here’s why magnesium supplementation is important, and what you should look for when choosing supplements.
While you can get many vitamins and minerals through diet, chances are you may not be getting enough of them. But have you ever wondered what a magnesium deficiency may mean for your health? Muscle cramps and arrhythmias are some side effects caused by low magnesium levels, but they can be remedied through diet and supplementation.
Before discussing different nutrition strategies, let’s talk about what causes magnesium deficiency, and why getting enough is important for health.
Why is magnesium important?
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, and is extremely important because every cell in your body contains it and needs it to function. It’s vital in over 300 biological processes, and is a crucial element in the metabolism of energy production . Additionally, magnesium is needed to create DNA, proteins, and to regulate your muscle contraction, blood, pressure, insulin metabolism, and heart and nerve function .
Studies show that the average American gets less than 50% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for magnesium . Here are the recommended RDIs for each age group:
- 80mg/day for children 1-3 years old
- 130mg/day for children 4-8 years old
- 240 mg/day for males 9-13 years old
- 420 mg/day for males 31-70 years old
- 360 mg/day for females 14-18 years old
- 320 mg/day for females 31-70 years old
What causes magnesium deficiency?
Despite the fact that magnesium is an essential mineral, you may not be getting enough of it, even if you eat a healthy diet. Dietary magnesium insufficiency is quite common due to the soil having less magnesium than it did years ago thanks to the use of fertilizers for farming. The increased intake of processed foods have also led to declining levels of magnesium in the American diet . Low levels can ultimately lead to an increased risk of developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, migraines, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) .
While you can get magnesium through diet and supplements, there are 3 groups who may be more likely to struggle with their magnesium intake:
- Those with Type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that 15% of people with type 2 diabetes struggle with hypomagnesemia (low magnesium) . According to research, there is an inverse relationship between magnesium levels and glycemic control . The hormone insulin is responsible for the proper functioning of cells taking in sugar and magnesium, and since insulin resistance can impair this function, this leads to decreased uptake of magnesium from the diet . It is important to track insulin resistance in its earliest stages before there is any noticeable increase in fasting glucose.
- Use of Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) medications. Medications such as Protonix, Prilosec, and Nexium are often prescribed for acid reflux, but be careful, as the FDA warns that the use of PPI medications can lead to hypomagnesemia . PPI medications reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, and when this occurs, it becomes more difficult for minerals that are bound to amino acids within food to be broken down and absorbed . Moreover, the change in pH reduces your pancreatic enzymes which are also necessary to breakdown your food and absorb nutrients .
- Those who take diuretics. Diuretics work by increasing the amount that you urinate, thus reducing swelling that can be caused by other medications taken for high blood pressure (like beta blockers) . With increased urination comes increased loss of electrolytes, including magnesium . This can create a viscous cycle, as magnesium and potassium are crucial in maintaining a healthy blood pressure .
You can get magnesium through many food sources, such as :
- Green vegetables: Veggies such as swiss chard, spinach, and edamame are a major source of magnesium due to their high chlorophyll content.
- Water: Drink up–water can make up ~ 10% of your daily intake.
- Nuts: Almonds, cashews, and peanuts are a good source of magnesium, so add them as a crunchy topping to your oatmeal or yogurt bowl.
- Avocado: This incredibly nutritious fruit is a tasty source of magnesium, as it provides 15% of the RDI.
- Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel and halibut are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium, making them a great addition to your weekly meals.
- Dark chocolate: Satisfy your sweet tooth with a magnesium rich treat that offers 16% of the RDI in a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving.
Unfortunately, the Western diet predisposes us to magnesium deficiency, as processed foods, fat, refined flour and sugars are all devoid of magnesium . To boost your levels, try to limit these types of foods, and opt for more natural food options instead.
Which type of magnesium supplementation is best?
Since many people are deficient in magnesium, it may make sense to add a supplement to your routine. However, there are many different types of supplemental magnesium, so how do you know which one is best? Here are some forms of magnesium supplementation, as well as what they are used for:
- Magnesium citrate: This form of magnesium is great if you frequently suffer from constipation. It works by causing more water to be retained with the stool, and as a result, the stool is softened and the number of bowel movements per day increase . Magnesium citrate can lead to a bowel movement anytime from 30 minutes – 6 hours after taking it, but it can take a few days to build up to full efficacy [4,5]. You can start by taking 300-400mg with dinner to help with a bowel movement the next morning .
- Magnesium glycinate or malate: These forms of magnesium are great to use if you suffer from muscle spasms, tension, tightness, and headaches . These forms of magnesium are chelated, meaning that they will not affect the GI tract as much and will not increase the number of bowel movements .
- Magnesium threonate: This form of magnesium is great to use if you deal with attention deficit, anxiety, panic, or are easily startled. This form of magnesium can easily penetrate your blood-brain barrier, and provides threonine, an important amino acid for calming the nervous system and promoting healthy sleep . We recommend starting with ~200 mg of magnesium threonate and building up as needed. You can time your intake with your symptoms. For example, if you have daytime anxiety, take it in the morning and if you have restless leg syndrome, trouble sleeping, or thoughts that keep you awake, take in the evening .
- Magnesium taurate: This form of magnesium is especially great for those who have cardiovascular disease related concerns (such as atrial fibrillation). The amino acid chelate in this form is taurine, which is a calming neurotransmitter . Taurine is also a building block for bile productions within the liver and has also shown to be effective at preventing cardiac arrhythmias . It is especially effective when combined with arginine or citrulline .
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NOTE: Magnesium supplementation should always be done under the guidance of your healthcare provider.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is important for your brain and heart health. Many people don’t get enough of this mineral in their diet, which is why magnesium supplementation may be recommended. Before starting on any supplement routine, consult with your healthcare provider for advice on which form to take, and in which dosage.
For other health and wellness content, check out these other blogs:
- Gröber, U., Schmidt, J., & Kisters, K. (2015). Magnesium in prevention and therapy.Nutrients, 7(9), 8199–8226. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7095388
- Pham, P.-C. T., Pham, P.-M. T., & Pham, P.-T. T. (2012). Patients with diabetes mellitus type 2 and hypomagnesemia may have enhanced glomerular filtration via hypocalcemia.Clinical Nephrology, 78(12), 442–448. https://doi.org/10.5414/cn107525
- Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (n.d.).Low magnesium levels can be associated with long-term use of ppis. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-drug-safety-communication-low-magnesium-levels-can-be-associated-long-term-use-proton-pump.
- Pursue wellness magnesium blog
- S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.).Magnesium citrate: Medlineplus drug information. MedlinePlus. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a619019.html.
- Eby, G., & Halcomb, W. W. (2006). Elimination of cardiac arrhythmias using oral taurine with L-arginine with case histories: Hypothesis for nitric oxide stabilization of the sinus node.Medical Hypotheses, 67(5), 1200–1204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2006.04.055