Are you anxious, depressed, and crampy? If so, you might not be getting enough magnesium in your diet. Other tell-tale signs of magnesium deficiency are poor sleep, chronic pain, and facial tics.
Magnesium (Mg) is a chemical element with atomic number 12 if you want to get technical. It happens to be the ninth most abundant element in the UNIVERSE and it comes from exploding supernovas. Pretty cool, huh? Mg is the eleventh most abundant element by mass in the human body and is an essential part of healthy nutrition.
Adults have about 25 grams of magnesium in their bodies, with 50-60 percent in the bones and almost all the rest in soft tissues.
How do know your body is low on magnesium? Odds are you aren’t getting enough. Studies show that less than 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are meeting their daily need. One in five (20 percent) get only half of what is required to maintain good health.
You can get a serum blood test to find out how much magnesium is inside you – but there is actually very little Mg in the blood – one percent – and even less (0.3 percent) in blood serum. So this type of test may not really be accurate to determine scientifically your body’s overall magnesium level. Normal serum magnesium concentrations range between 0.75 and 0.95 millimoles (mmol)/L.
The good news is that magnesium is found in all sorts of food.
The list below shows how much of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) eating these Mg-rich foods will provide. (The RDI is “the daily intake level of a nutrient that is considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of 97–98% of healthy individuals in every demographic in the United States.”)
- Pumpkin seeds: 46% of the RDI in a quarter cup (16 grams)
- Spinach boiled: 39% of the RDI in a cup (180 grams)
- Swiss chard boiled: 38% of the RDI in a cup (175 grams)
- Dark chocolate (70–85% cocoa): 33% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Black beans: 30% of the RDI in a cup (172 grams)
- Quinoa, cooked: 33% of the RDI the in a cup (185 grams)
- Halibut: 27% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Almonds: 25% of the RDI in a quarter cup (24 grams)
- Cashews: 25% of the RDI in a quarter cup (30 grams)
- Mackerel: 19% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Avocado: 15% of the RDI in one medium avocado (200 grams)
- Salmon: 9% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
Since most magnesium is inside cells or in bone and therefore hard to gauge, if you have any of the symptoms described at the outset of this article – insomnia, constant pain, facial tics, anxiety, depression, and muscles cramps – check the list below. If you engage in these dietary and lifestyle “bad practices,” you might indeed have a magnesium deficiency:
- Crave chocolate. Maybe it’s the midnight munchies – or maybe your body is telling you it needs more magnesium. Look back at the foods listed above and you’ll note that dark chocolate with over 70 percent cocoa content provides a whopping one-third of your daily requirement. Your body knows best but, of course, be moderate with any chocolate consumption.
- Quaff carbonated drinks regularly. Almost all dark-colored soda pop has phosphates which block the body from using it by chemically binding with magnesium that is present in the gut. Fizzy beverages will actually flush magnesium from the food you are eating before your body can use it.
- Have a sweet tooth. Refined sugar – the main ingredient in many bakery treats that is also present in all kinds of processed foods – provides no Mg. Worse, it forces the body to excrete it through the kidneys.
- Stress about life or from medical recovery. The burdens of daily life or the trauma of recovery from a major medical operation remove Mg from your body. Paradoxically, too little magnesium creates stress and stress lowers magnesium levels. You can see why so many people are low on Mg. The body uses magnesium in stressful conditions (chronic or acute) and needs replenishment. Low levels of this important element have been linked with stress and anxiety.
- Caffeinate regularly. As mentioned before, the kidneys play a major role in processing magnesium in the body by filtering and excreting it, along with other minerals. Caffeine triggers the kidneys to release Mg, further lowering your levels.
- Imbibe in eight or more alcoholic drinks weekly. Alcohol acts as a diuretic and increases the excretion of magnesium via the kidneys. Too much booze slows the digestive system and creates a vitamin D deficiency, both of which can lower Mg levels.
- Supplement calcium without 1:1 magnesium. Calcium taken as a dietary supplement is excellent for bone health but, unfortunately, reduces the body’s ability to absorb and retain magnesium. Fortunately, supplemental magnesium increases how much calcium the body can use. Researchers are still figuring out the optimum ratio between these two nutrients but lean toward one-to-one calcium to magnesium blend.
- Have an irregular heartbeat. Magnesium is vital for proper muscle function. This includes the heart. Low Mg levels can make it hard for the coronary muscle to contract.
- Suffer from constipation. Low magnesium levels cause the intestines to contract which constricts waste materials, backing up the plumbing. The benefits of Mg for proper elimination is two-fold: first, it helps to relax the bowel muscles; second, it uses osmosis to pull water into the bowel tissues which “slickens the slide” for easy passage.
- Have high blood pressure. You partake of a well-balanced, nutritious diet and you exercise regularly, but you still have high blood pressure. This might indicate a magnesium deficiency. Mg dilates and relaxes blood vessels so not having enough does the opposite. Constricted blood vessels drive up the blood pressure.
Medicinally, magnesium compounds are used in common laxatives and antacids to relax the digestive tract. Perhaps you’ve experienced the pleasure of spooning down some Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia® in the past?
Likewise, formulas to reduce heartburn and a stomach upset by acid indigestion, like the antacid product Extra-strength Rolaids®, are high in magnesium (note that Tums contains none).
Magnesium also stabilizes abnormal nerve excitation or blood vessel spasm in medical conditions such as eclampsia (seizures during pregnancy).
Whether from food or supplements, do yourself a favor and stock up on some good sources of magnesium. Boost those all-important Mg levels and feel better fast!