Magnesium deficiency is more common than most people and doctors think, and you have a 50% chance of being deficient. In this post, I talk about the importance of magnesium, symptoms of and causes of magnesium deficiency, magnesium rich foods, and magnesium supplements.
You might wonder what a gut show has to do with magnesium. If your gut is inflamed and not digesting or absorbing nutrients properly, you will have nutrient deficiencies. Magnesium needs adequate stomach acids to be absorbed (we talked about stomach acid on episode 4). Magnesium deficiency causes constipation, a major gut problem. And last, magnesium deficiency can lead to migraines, headaches, muscle pain, anxiety, and depression, which can also be triggered by gut imbalances. When helping my patients with a comprehensive healing program, it’s important to address all pieces of the puzzle, including magnesium, to make sure we’re not missing anything.
Magnesium Health Benefits
Magnesium deficiency worsens insulin sensitivity, which is how well your cells see insulin. Thus, insulin can’t do its job of forcing glucose into your cells. Studies show that magnesium supplements, ranging between 100 and 600 mg per day, reduce fasting blood sugar and improve markers of insulin sensitivity.
I have seen similar results in my practice. I recommend magnesium, in combination with few other supplements, for my patients with diabetes. They are effects at lowering stubborn HgA1C level that doesn’t rate a day reduced bone losses. Another study found that magnesium and calcium together improved bone density in postmenopausal women better than estrogen hormone replacement therapy.
Magnesium helps you absorb calcium and vitamin D and improves the sensitivity of your tissues to vitamin D. It’s possible to drive your magnesium levels down if you take high doses of vitamin D without magnesium. That’s because you use up all the magnesium to metabolize the high dose of vitamin D, depriving other tissues and pathways. You may not benefit from your vitamin D supplement if you’re deficient in magnesium.
The heart is a muscle. Calcium helps your muscles contract, while magnesium is needed for them to relax. A deficiency in magnesium can result in cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, and magnesium can reduce the risk for stroke, angina (chest pain), arrhythmias, and blood pressure.
Magnesium helps your muscles relax, and your digestive tract is made of a long smooth muscle that needs to relax properly for stool to pass smoothly.
Learn how to identify the REAL causes of your gut problems.
Magnesium citrate is one of my most helpful strategies for constipation. I talk about constipation relief in episode 7 of the Thank Gut It’s Fixed Show. My patients benefit from 300 to 600 mg magnesium citrate (don’t attempt 600 mg on your own as 300-350 mg per day is the safe upper limit).
Other types of magnesium, such as oxide and sulfate, may relieve constipation by giving you a laxative effect. However, I don’t recommend them because they don’t help with the root problem, which is the deficiency. If you just take a laxative, you might alleviate the constipation and cover up the symptom, but you never address why magnesium is deficient and you don’t allow the rest of the pathways in your body to benefit from adequate magnesium. Plus, the long-term use of laxatives can cause inflammation and irritation in the gut, as well as other nutrient deficiencies.
Migraines and headaches
Magnesium is involved in the release of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). If vasoconstriction leads to headaches and migraines, magnesium counteracts that as a vasodilator.
Magnesium supplements help reduce the severity and frequency of headaches and migraines. I recommend magnesium supplements, in addition to food sensitivity testing and plan, to cover all the pieces of the puzzle for people with migraines and headaches.
Muscle pain, including fibromyalgia
Again, magnesium helps your muscles relax and can help with muscle pain and fibromyalgia. I find that a combination of magnesium, calcium, and potassium is best for muscle cramps and stiffness.
Anxiety and sleep disruptions
Magnesium helps relax your nervous system, allowing you to relax better. It also reduce over-excitation and stimulation of the brain.
Magnesium can help improve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) by reducing mood changes and water retention that happen around your menstrual cycles.
What Causes Magnesium Deficiency
- A diet low in magnesium. Magnesium is found in leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains. If you don’t eat these foods, you may be deficient. We also don’t know the quality of the soil for every crop and produce we eat. Depletion of nutrients in soil can be a major reason why so many people are deficient.
- Lack of stomach acid and gut inflammation. Inadequate stomach acid interferes with mineral absorption, including magnesium. I talk more about stomach acid in episode 4. Gut inflammation, lack of enzymes, diarrhea, gluten sensitivity, gut infections, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease all interfere with digestion and absorption of magnesium. People who have had gastric bypass surgery are at high risk for developing magnesium deficiency.
- Increased magnesium losses in the urine. People with insulin resistance and high blood sugar lose more magnesium as their kidneys release more of it in the urine. This is very interesting because magnesium deficiency worsens diabetes, and diabetes worsens your body’s ability to retain magnesium.
- Older adults/aging. We all produce less digestive enzymes and stomach acid as we age, so it makes sense that older adults have magnesium deficiency. Older adults also tend to lose more magnesium from the kidneys in their urine.
- Certain medications cause magnesium deficiency. Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) that block stomach acid cause low magnesium levels. That’s because stomach acid is needed for absorbing magnesium. Some diuretic medications increase magnesium loss in the urine. Steroids (like prednisone) and tetracycline antibiotics also lead to magnesium deficiency.
Learn how to identify the REAL causes of your gut problems.
Testing for Magnesium Deficiency
Unfortunately, it’s not very easy or straight-forward to check for magnesium deficiency. Only 1% of the magnesium in your body is your blood, or serum. The body will keep its level stable in the blood at the expense of other tissues, so a traditional blood (plasma or serum) magnesium level tells you nothing about how much magnesium is available for your tissues.
Ask your doctor to check your red blood cells magnesium level, or RBC-magnesium. It’s a better indicator of magnesium status, but many doctors don’t (or won’t) order it. I use Spectracell nutrient deficiency panel, which allows me to see tissue levels of magnesium among other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and it’s a much more comprehensive and useful test.
If you have symptoms of magnesium deficiency and one or several of the causes of magnesium deficiency, then you’re probably deficient.
Magnesium in Food
The recommended daily allowance of magnesium for adults is 300 mg per day. You can get this amount by eating 1 ounce of almonds (22 pieces), 1 cup of cooked spinach, 1 cup of cooked beans, and ½ cup avocado.
However, that’s only in theory. What happens inside your body might be a completely different scenario. Foods that are high in magnesium also contain compounds that interfere with nutrient absorption: lectins, phytates (phytic acid), and oxalates. Lectins are found in legumes and whole grains. Phytic is found in seeds, grains, and legumes. And oxalate is found in spinach. All these compounds can prevent your body from absorbing magnesium (as well as calcium). So you might be eating enough, but not absorbing it well.
Because of the many roles and functions of magnesium and since the majority of the patients I work with have some sort of gut inflammation that disrupt its absorption, I recommend it often.
Typical daily multivitamin and mineral products do not provide enough magnesium. They also typically contain the cheap ineffective magnesium oxide form. If you’re going to try magnesium, you need to take it separately and choose the right form.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the forms available:
- Magnesium oxide: I never recommend it. It’s poorly absorbed, and may cause diarrhea. You might think it’s ok to use for constipation, but it doesn’t solve the root problem (see the note about magnesium sulfate)
- Magnesium citrate: I recommend it often for people with constipation. It’s also helpful for any of the symptoms or conditions I discuss. If you have diarrhea or soft stools, don’t use citrate.
- Magnesium glycinate: one of the best types. It’s absorbed well and can be used for all the symptoms. If you have diarrhea or loose stool, choose magnesium glycinate over citrate.
- Magnesium malate: seems to be highly effective in people with muscle pain
If you want the products I use and recommend, you can sign up to my supplement store and contact us and let us know that you’re looking for a recommendation.
The citrate, malate, and glycinate are often derived from corn. My patients who test positive for in their food sensitivity test (see more about food sensitivity test) only tolerate magnesium supplements that are corn-free. They are not easy to find in retail stores or online, but I do recommend and use medical grade corn-free magnesium products. If you want a recommendation, contact us here.
A note about magnesium sulfate: it’s a laxative and I don’t recommend using it. It’s the type of magnesium found in Epsom salts that you’re supposed to soak in, not eat. Magnesium sulfate as a laxative might give you constipation relief but it doesn’t fix the root cause of your symptom, which is a deficiency. In general, if you depend on a laxative to poop, it’s a problem.
How much Magnesium Should you Take?
Since the upper limit of magnesium for adults is 350 mg, that should be the highest dose you take on your own. I sometimes recommend more, but it’s only when working with people individually.
Magnesium supplements may interact with other medications, so like with other supplements, it’s important to discuss with your doctor. When people work with me privately, I check and review their complete medication and supplement list to make sure I’m recommending properly.