Magnesium deficiency is so common that it warrants a bit more of an explanation. At any one time the body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, about 12 grams of which is contained in the bones, with the rest in the nerves, organs and blood. It is an essential mineral, and has many functions:
- It enables healthy cell replication and repair.
- It is essential in hormonal production.
- It activates B vitamins.
- It is necessary for bone health.
- It is involved in at least 300 enzyme processes.
- It helps with transmission of nerve impulses.
- It relaxes muscles.
- It has a role in the production of insulin.
- It is needed for production of ATP (adrenosine triphosphate), which is responsible for cellular energy.
A chronic deficiency of magnesium is common, where the body does not have adequate stores in the cells. More and more research is revealing that having enough magnesium reserves in your body is essential not only for preventing and managing certain diseases but also for having enough physical energy.
Magnesium is absolutely essential for the human body to function. Intensive farming methods and the consumption of refined foods is resulting in a large-scale deficiency, insidiously degrading many people’s health
Even though the RDA of vitamins and minerals is often far too low for most people, studies have shown that many people don’t even meet the RDA requirement for magnesium.
An example is a study conducted on patients in intensive care units which revealed that two-thirds were deficient in the mineral (Weisinger and Bellorin-Font 1998).
Magnesium deficiency is associated with heart disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue and depression and many other disorders. Magnesium plays a crucial role in:
- dilating the bronchioles (useful in childhood asthma)
- preventing hardening of the arteries
- maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
- regulating the rhythm of the heart
- promoting healthy detoxification of cells
- producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that gives us a sense of wellbeing
- flushing toxins such as heavy metals from cells.
Magnesium researcher Paul Mason states: ‘Magnesium deficiency appears to have caused 8 million sudden coronary deaths in America during the period 1940–1994.’ He is campaigning for all bottled drinks to be supplemented with magnesium.
The symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- calcification of tissues
- cold extremities
- chronic fatigue
- high blood pressure
- kidney stones
- muscle cramps, tics, twitches, tremors
With any of these symptoms and conditions, magnesium levels should be checked to see if it has a role to play. Magnesium deficiency affects people on all kinds of diets; however, the more refined the diet the more deficient one tends to be.
Research by Cox et al. has shown that people with fatigue have low levels of red blood cell magnesium. In the same study, when levels were appropriately restored, many of those with fatigue felt an increase in energy as well as being more able to deal with their emotions.
A study in China by Slutsky et al. 2010 showed that high levels of magnesium supplementation improve cognitive brain function and the brain’s ability to adapt and cope with stress.
The dynamic duo
So much is talked about calcium and it is frequently the main concern when people change their diet, especially if they are avoiding dairy. However, the question is never, ‘Will I get enough magnesium?’ There is a careful balance between calcium and magnesium in the body. These minerals compete for absorption. It is considered that our calcium/magnesium need is a ratio of 2:1. Cow dairy has a ratio of 12:1, which is why some practitioners conclude that a high consumption of dairy products could result in magnesium deficiency.
Where calcium causes muscles and nerves to contract, magnesium relaxes. Magnesium allows calcium to be absorbed into the bones rather than it building up in the soft tissues of the body. Common results of a high calcium and low magnesium intake in the diet are kidney stones, calcium spurs and hardening of the arteries, yet the bones may still be weak. So in some cases of osteoporosis, using calcium as a supplement will not help, as it could further upset the mineral balance of the body. We need the correct amount of magnesium in order for the heart to function properly. Calcium supplementation without the intake of magnesium will upset the balance. This would explain why, when a group of older women who took calcium supplements were studied, it was discovered that they were at greater risk of heart attacks. (Bolland et al. 2011; Cox, Campbell and Dowson 1991; Slutsky et al. 2010)
Reasons for magnesium deficiency include:
- Low dietary magnesium. Intake is simply not enough. This is likely, especially as the soil in so many areas is depleted in minerals.
- Insufficient stomach acid. Many people, especially those with chronic disease, do not have a strong enough concentration of acid, resulting in poor protein metabolism as well as mineral deficiencies such as iron.
- Stomach acid concentration can decrease as we get older, decreasing the absorption of minerals.
- Sweating and exercise. Athletes and those doing intense exercise have a greater need for magnesium. Many believe it is magnesium deficiency that causes ‘sudden death syndrome’.
- Stress. At times of acute stress the need for magnesium is greater.
- Diuretics. These leach magnesium from the body. In addition to medication, diuretics also include tea and coffee.
- Alcoholics and diabetics all have a greater need for magnesium.
Sources of Magnesium:
- Seaweeds. High in magnesium.
- Chocolate. High in magnesium. In my experience people who crave chocolate are almost always magnesium deficient.
- Nuts and seeds. Cashews, almonds, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
- Chlorophyll. At the centre of the chlorophyll molecule is a magnesium atom. Chlorophyll gives plants their green colour, so the greener the better. Ideal sources are wheatgrass, kale and spinach as well as ‘superfoods’ like spirulina and chlorella.
Overall, magnesium is a safe supplement. It comes in a variety of forms, the most common being magnesium oxide, although I have found magnesium citrate to be a very absorbable form.
In the European Union, the RDA of magnesium is 375 mg a day. If a healthy person overdoses on magnesium it will result in diarrhoea. However, depending on individual biochemical factors, an individual might need more than the RDA. Testing is the most reliable way to determine what you need.
Taking homeopathic remedies can help to increase the absorption of certain minerals. The homeopathic tissue salt ‘Mag Phos’ can be taken to increase the absorption of the mineral and is especially good for when someone is getting cramps and spasms. Magnesium supplementation is not recommended for people with kidney disease.
An easy and very effective way to replenish your levels of magnesium is by soaking in an Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) bath. In this way magnesium can be absorbed into the body through the skin.
Although Epsom salts baths have been used medicinally for hundreds of years, only in the last 20 years have there been studies of its properties. Researchers at Birmingham University, measured the increase of magnesium in blood plasma after soaking in a bath of Epsom salts. They found that it is best absorbed when the solution is approximately 1 per cent Epsom salts to water. This equates to 500–600 grams of salts for the average domestic bath, a concentration that feels slightly soapy. There were no perceived side-effects in the study and two of the volunteers taking part reported that their rheumatic pains disappeared.
The researchers concluded that, ‘Bathing in Epsom salts is a safe and easy way to increase magnesium levels in the body’ (Waring 2004).
Tips to improve magnesium levels
- Have an Epsom salts bath once a week.
- Eat chlorophyll-rich food in the form of wheatgrass, spirulina, chlorella and leafy green vegetables.
- If you are taking a calcium supplement make sure you also take magnesium.
- Add black pepper to your meals. Studies have shown that it can massively increase the absorption of what it is eaten with.
- Make sure you are eating enough good fats and a diet high in antioxidants. Healthy cell membranes keep magnesium within the cells.
- Herbs that are particularly high in magnesium include basil, thyme and sage.
Testing for magnesium
The different ways of testing magnesium levels include testing urine, sweat and blood. The blood serum test is the most routine method, and measures how much magnesium there is in the blood. It is important to monitor this, as it is vital that the body keeps magnesium levels in the blood finely balanced and within a very narrow range in order for the body to function and for the heart to continue functioning. Magnesium from within the cells’ reserves and also the bones will be drawn upon to keep the levels in the blood constant.
For our purposes, the red cell magnesium test is the most useful for analysing chronic deficiency as it measures the level of magnesium in the cells, which is indicative of your reserves. Frequently the red cell magnesium test will determine that red cell levels are deficient, even though the blood serum test has indicated that serum levels are within the normal range.
Adam (52) came to the clinic because he was suffering from cluster headaches. They were so severe that when he had an attack he would need to spend at least five days in bed.
Cluster headaches are known for being one of the most painful disorders imaginable. For him they began when he was about 13 and he would have an episode every two to three months. Over the years he tried many different diets and treatments – some helped a little bit, but nothing gave him a permanent solution. After testing his magnesium levels I discovered that although his serum levels were normal his intracellular levels (i.e. within the cells) were very low. He embarked on supplementation of magnesium in various forms. Remarkably, after six months he hadn’t had an attack, and 18 months later he still hasn’t had a cluster headache.
Extracted from ‘Make Yourself Better’ by Philip Weeks, published by Singing Dragon