Magnesium is an essential nutrient and one of the most common deficiencies in our culture. It is involved in many metabolic functions, such as:
- 1. Activating enzyme systems within cells;
- 2. Regulating acid/alkaline balance;
- 3. Ensuring the proper utilization of B vitamins;
- 4. Enabling the conversion of blood sugar to energy;
- 5. Regulating & controlling nerve impulses, especially heart beat; and
- 6. Relaxing the muscle cells by a repelling action upon calcium
Those last two functions are examples of many ways that calcium and magnesium are closely related. In fact, if these two nutrients are out of balance with each, certain neuromuscular and metabolic functions may be hindered. The ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium is 2:1.
The Optimal Daily Allowance for magnesium is 500-700mg per day. Most people don’t get half of that amount. Magnesium is widely distributed in foods and especially in green leafy vegetables, eggs, cheese, meat, fish and seafood, brown rice, legumes, raw nuts and seeds, oats, squash, cocoa, and black molasses.
One of reasons we are so deficient in this essential nutrient is because it is one of the first nutrients our bodies use up when under stress. Other factors that contribute to magnesium deficiency are poor lifestyle habits such as heavy caffeine use, smoking, and alcohol use. Certain pharmaceutical drugs including diuretics, certain antibiotics, anticoagulants, corticosteroids, and oral contraceptives may also lower magnesium levels in our bodies.
So how do you tell if you are deficient in magnesium? There are some very common symptoms that are fairly easy to identify. You may have a magnesium deficiency if you frequently experience any of the following symptoms:
- 1. Constipation – defined as not having a full bowel evacuation every day
- 2. Chronically tight muscles or muscle tension
- 3. Chocolate cravings
- 4. Irregular heart beat
- 5. Muscle twitching, spasms, cramping, or tremors
- 6. Kidney or gallstones
- 7. Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- 8. Bad foot odor – related to acid-alkaline imbalance
If you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis, you might consider supplementing with magnesium. However, please be aware that not all magnesium supplements are created equally. Some are made with inferior forms, such as magnesium oxide, and are made with cheap binders, which can inhibit absorption. The chelated forms of magnesium, such as glycinate and aspartate, are better absorbed. Using chelated magnesium will maximize absorption and ensure you are getting what you pay for.
The best way to figure out how much magnesium you need is to initially take it to bowel tolerance. For example, if you have a 250 mg capsule, take two tablets three times a day with meals. Increase the dose by one tablet daily until your stools become loose. You want to end up with a dose that allows you to have regular, but well-formed stools. Because magnesium can serve as a laxative, your body will tell you when you have had enough. It’s the same approach with vitamin C, but for a different reason.
Stay tuned for a future post on the role of calcium—magnesium’s sister nutrient—and how to identify and address calcium deficiency.