Why most of us aren't getting enough of magnesium in our diet? (SQ-147)
Magnesium is a multi-tasking mineral that keeps your bones healthy, supports nerve and muscle function and maintains a healthy heartbeat. It works as a cofactor in hundreds of enzymatic reactions, including those involved in the production of ATP. Magnesium also plays a very important role in supporting your brain health and emotional well-being. Most importantly, it has a direct effect on how you respond to stress. Despite holding such a powerful portfolio, magnesium doesn't enjoy the spotlight it deserves.
In this blog, we are going to highlight why magnesium is so important to our health, why you may not be getting enough magnesium and how chronic magnesium deficiency can harm your health.
Why do you need magnesium?
Magnesium is a macro-mineral and unlike iron, zinc and copper that are required in trace amounts, your body needs a large amount of magnesium to function properly. It works as a cofactor in hundreds of enzyme systems and is involved in nearly all the biochemical reactions occurring within the cells.
Magnesium wears many hats, performing an incredible range of functions to keep your body and mind healthy. It helps in ATP synthesis and in stabilizing ATP molecules. You need magnesium to synthesise protein, DNA and glutathione. It also plays an important role in DNA repair.
Magnesium maintains your bone health through both direct and indirect mechanisms. It helps improve bone mineral density by increasing the activity of osteoblasts, cells that are required for bone building and mineralization. You also need magnesium to so your body can best utilise and absorb vitamin D, which is required for calcium absorption. Magnesium works as a cofactor in nearly all the enzymatic reactions in vitamin D metabolism. It also activates vitamin D.
Taking a high dose vitamin D supplement, when you have magnesium deficiency, can lead to symptoms such as joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue and muscle weakness. It happens because to use and absorb this large amount of Vitamin D, your body starts using magnesium from bones and muscles, where most of the magnesium resides.
Magnesium also supports your nerve and muscle function and prevents over stimulation of nerves. This property stems from its role in regulating calcium. Excessive calcium build-up in the cells and tissues can lead to many health problems including anxiety, kidney stones, muscle cramps, irregular beating of the heart and abnormal brain function. By keeping an eye on the calcium levels, magnesium allows muscles to relax and helps in maintaining a healthy heartbeat.
It not only counters calcium but also regulates the activity of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that sends signals across neurons. Glutamate activates NMDA receptors which are present on the nerve cells. This process is important for healthy brain functions such as memory and learning. High amounts of glutamate can cause overactivation of NMDA receptors, causing abnormal brain function. In a healthy body, magnesium blocks these receptors and prevents overstimulation of nerves.
It also regulates stress hormones and helps in the production of other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA and BDNF, which play a very important role in controlling functions such as sleep, mood and stress response. Low levels of these hormones may cause psychological symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, panic attacks and depression.
These are some of the reasons why magnesium has been hailed as one of the best natural tools to prevent and manage a wide range of neurological disorders such as anxiety, stress, depression and chronic pain. Even a mild dip in your magnesium levels can disrupt brain and nervous system function.
Am I getting enough magnesium in my diet?
There are plenty of foods that are high in magnesium. Legumes, whole grains, quinoa, boiled spinach, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, peanuts, avocados, edamame and potatoes with skin are some good sources of magnesium.
Why is magnesium deficiency common despite its easy availability through natural foods? One of the most important reasons that you may not be getting enough magnesium in your diet is: overall depletion of mineral content in our soil and water. Industrialized agricultural practices that aim to improve the yield and provide better resistance to the pest menace have stripped the nutritional content of the soil in which our food grows.
This means that even if you are eating a healthy magnesium rich diet you may still not be getting enough magnesium. While it is not fair to say that the fruits and vegetables that we eat today have no nutrition at all, you can't deny the fact that the food grown decades ago had a more rich content of minerals and vitamins than the food we consume today.
In addition, processed foods such as breakfast cereals, pizza, ready-made frozen meals, bread, re-constituted meats, chips, instant noodles and sugary drinks have made their way into our modern diet. These highly processed foods tend to contain high amounts of refined sugar, saturated fats and salt, and provide very little to no nutrition. Junk foods are often loaded with artificial colours, preservatives and other harmful chemicals that create oxidative stress in the body by generating large amounts of free radicals. This depletes important vitamins and minerals that works as antioxidants to neutralize these reactive molecules known to cause inflammation in the body.
Other causes of magnesium deficiency
There are many other factors that may increase the risk of magnesium deficiency in the body, including low dietary intake of magnesium. Certain health issues and even age can make it difficult to eat healthy, leading to nutritional deficiencies.
People with celiac disease, Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, and chronic diarrhoea have trouble absorbing nutrients. Other gastrointestinal causes such as intestinal resection and chronic alcoholism can also result in impaired absorption of nutrients including magnesium.
People with type 2 diabetes lose more magnesium in their urine than those who do not have this condition. It is because high glucose levels in the blood make the kidney work overtime and produce more urine to get rid of the excess sugar. In fact, frequent urination is one of the early signs of type 2 diabetes.
Endocrine conditions such as hyperthyroidism, hyperaldosteronism (where the adrenal glands produce too much of aldosterone, a hormone responsible for maintaining blood pressure) and hyperparathyroidism (where the parathyroid hormones secrete excessive amounts of parathyroid hormone, which causes calcium levels in the blood to increase) can also reduce magnesium levels.
Does stress deplete magnesium from the body? It's been seen that both mental and physical stress can cause the body to eliminate more magnesium through urine. On one hand your stress and anxiety levels may be making you low on magnesium, on the other hand, this shortage may make you more stressed, hyperactive and anxious. As we discussed, magnesium works in different ways to beat stress and to help the body better respond to stress.
Magnesium deficiency is also commonly seen in the elderly and in hospitalized and critically ill patients. Studies suggest that magnesium deficiency in intensive care patients can lead to poor outcomes and even increase the risk of death. Use of certain drugs such as laxatives, diuretics, antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, chemotherapy drugs and certain immunosuppressants can cause low levels of magnesium. Taking too much Vitamin D also deplete magnesium from the body. (Consult a qualified health practitioner, who understands the benefits of vitamins and minerals, as to what constitutes ‘too much’ as that can differ for each person.)
Confirming magnesium deficiency is not as simple as getting a blood test. On reaching the blood circulation, most of the magnesium is immediately picked up by bones, muscles and other tissues. Less than 1% of the magnesium is found in the circulation, which is not an accurate representation of how much total magnesium you have in the body. Measuring blood levels can actually mask magnesium deficiency. The body keeps a tight control on magnesium serum levels and it even pulls magnesium from tissues to maintain optimum magnesium in the bloodstream.
How to get enough magnesium?
The recommended daily amount for magnesium depends on your age, gender and general health. Healthy adult males should take about 400-420 mg of magnesium daily while the recommended dosage for a healthy adult female is 300-320 mg. Pregnant and breastfeeding women needs more magnesium to meet their increased metabolic requirements.
While you can get recommended amounts of magnesium by eating healthy foods, people with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes generally have low levels of magnesium and might need supplementation.
Some practical changes to your diet can also help increase the amount of magnesium that you can absorb from foods and supplements. For example, a diet rich in vitamin B6 increases the bioavailability of magnesium and helps your cells to absorb more magnesium. Vitamin B6 works with magnesium in many enzymatic reactions and helps increase magnesium levels within cells. Poultry, bananas, papaya, chickpeas, oats, peanuts and wheatgerm are good sources of vitamin B6. A combination of vitamin B6 and magnesium supplements may be helpful in reducing stress, according to this 2018 study. 
On the other hand, you need to be careful if you are taking high doses of zinc or calcium as both these minerals are known to interfere with the absorption of magnesium.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency
Fatigue, twitching, muscle spasms and constipation are often the early signs of magnesium deficiency. You can also feel numbness and tingling sensation on face and limbs. Chronic deficiency can lead to more severe symptoms and often leads to various health problems such as painful muscle cramps, achy joints, migraine, abnormal heart rhythm, tinnitus, personality changes, disorientation and convulsions.
Low levels of magnesium also affect the body’s ability to deal with stress and anxiety. As we discussed, magnesium plays a particularly important role in supporting neurological health. It regulates stress hormones, calms the nervous system and helps in the production of brain chemicals that supports healthy sleep and builds a healthy stress response. Some of these chemicals, like GABA, also help you relax. Extremely low magnesium levels can cause depression, mood swings and irritability.
Magnesium deficiency and risk of chronic diseases
Chronic magnesium deficiency is known to increase the risk of several chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, cardiac arrhythmia, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure.  Research has linked magnesium deficiency with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. It is not surprising, as the mineral is required for healthy brain function.
Studies suggest that magnesium supplements may help in increasing bone mineral density in both men and women and reduce the risk of fractures in the elderly.   A 2017 study found that magnesium supplements may help lower high blood pressure in people with insulin resistance and prediabetes. 
Magnesium plays a crucial role in glucose and insulin metabolism and research suggests that higher intake of magnesium may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, which are considered major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. In addition, higher magnesium levels may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, mainly ischemic heart disease and coronary heart disease. 
Magnesium supplements and side effects
Dietary supplements can be very helpful in correcting nutritional deficiencies, but your oral supplements are not effectively absorbed in the body, as most of the nutritional content goes to waste during digestion. Typical oral supplements in tablet and powder form may not work as well for people who have absorption issues caused by age, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, intestinal surgeries, poor gut health and inflammatory bowel disease.
In addition, magnesium supplements can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and severe bloating. These gastrointestinal issues further contribute to impaired absorption of magnesium.
Liposomal Magnesium Supplements
Liposomal magnesium supplements improve the absorption and bioavailability of magnesium. These supplements are made up of micro sized bubbles that are loaded with nutrients, such as vitamin C, magnesium, glutathione, vitamin B12 and vitamin D3. These small vesicles have a unique structure that creates a perfect system to store, transport and deliver nutrients directly to the cells, keeping them protected from any damage during digestion.
- Pouteau et al. Superiority of magnesium and vitamin B6 over magnesium alone on severe stress in healthy adults with low magnesemia: A randomized, single-blind clinical trial. PLoS One. 2018
- Alawi et al. Magnesium and Human Health: Perspectives and Research Directions. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2018
- Rondanelli et al. An update on magnesium and bone health. Biometals 2021.
- Kunutsor et al. Low serum magnesium levels are associated with increased risk of fractures: a long-term prospective cohort study. European Journal of Epidemiology. 2017
- DT Dibaba et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure in individuals with insulin resistance, prediabetes, or noncommunicable chronic diseases: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017
- Nuria Rosique-Esteban et al. Dietary Magnesium and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review with Emphasis in Epidemiological Studies. Nutrients. 2018