Magnesium: The Forgotten Mighty Mineral

FoodSourcesOfMagnesiumDoctors, nutritionists, the media, etc. are all reminding us to take our calcium, always encouraging not just a calcium-rich diet, but calcium supplements as well. However, they’re all forgetting about calcium’s partner – magnesium. The reason why calcium has any effect in our bodies is only thanks to magnesium, which controls calcium’s entry into our cells. Therefore, without magnesium, calcium is essentially powerless (4).

Magnesium isn’t just there to help calcium do its job though. In fact, it could be named the Mighty Mineral for the significant role it plays in our health. Magnesium regulates our blood sugar levels, helps maintain normal blood pressure, and it’s a necessity in the production and storage of energy. And that’s just getting started. Of all of our bodily processes, more than 350 of them are activated by magnesium. The mineral also helps maintain normal functioning of muscles and nerves, as well as promotes a healthy immune system, steady heartbeat, and bone strength (4).

Unfortunately, too many people all over the world aren’t getting enough magnesium. Here are some reasons why.

Causes of Magnesium Deficiency (1)

  1. Diet
    • Not maintaining a healthy diet can begin a magnesium deficiency problem.
    • Diets high in saturated fats, sugars, and phosphates (found in carbonated beverages) are especially detrimental to maintaining proper levels of magnesium.
    • Soft water is also robbing people of a valuable source of magnesium, as the mineral available in hard water is removed.
    • Eating processed foods over whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables decreases magnesium intake. Processing food removes the food’s magnesium content.
  2. Addictions (such as alcoholism)
    • People struggling with addiction naturally struggle with a low intake and absorption of magnesium in their bodies.
    • Complications associated with addictions – vomiting, diarrhea, and liver disease – reduce levels of magnesium.
    • Treatment complicates these issues even further once withdrawal occurs.
  3. Stress, Aging, and Illness
    • Conditions that bring stress upon the body, including surgery, burns, liver disease, diabetes, and hormonal imbalances, increase the body’s need for magnesium, and that increased requirement is often not met.
    • The conditions mentioned above, along with the aging process, reduce levels of stomach acid, and therefore the body’s absorption of magnesium. The reduction in stomach acid is a detriment to the body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients and minerals, like magnesium.
    • Once broken down in the stomach, magnesium should then be absorbed in the small intestine, but this process is disrupted when the body experiences illness.
  4. Excess Calcium
    • Supplementing our diets with too much calcium causes a depletion of magnesium, which is just as important and essential.
    • The more calcium we take in, the more magnesium we need to keep up with it.
    • It is commonly recommended that we take calcium and magnesium on a 2:1 basis. However, we really need a ratio more like 1:1, especially in cases of illness or certain conditions, as already described, or when the diet is generally geared towards too much calcium.
  5. Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications
    • Diuretics, antibiotics, painkillers, and cortisone all impair the body’s ability to absorb magnesium, as well as increase the kidneys’ excretion of it.
    • Some specific medications that do this include: estrogen; corticosteroids (hydrocortisone); certain medications for heart failure and irregular heartbeat; asthma medications; immunosuppressant drugs like the anti-cancer drug, Platinol; antineoplastics, which are used in chemotherapy and radiation; and antipsychotic and antischizophrenic drugs.

There are many conditions associated with magnesium deficiency, but some of the more well-known diseases and conditions include (1):

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Short bowel syndrome
  • Intestinal mucosal diseases
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Pancreatic insufficiency
  • Whipple’s disease
  • Ileal bypass (treatment for obesity)

The diseases above, as well as a general magnesium deficiency, can be difficult to diagnose, especially because many of the symptoms can be mistaken for signs of another illness. The classic “clinical” symptoms that are more clearly related to a lack of magnesium include (3):

  • Muscle cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Irregular heart rhythms

“Sub-clinical” symptoms are a little trickier because they are also symptoms of other diseases besides magnesium deficiency, but these include (3):

  • Migraines
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue

Despite the overwhelming number of people that aren’t getting the magnesium their bodies need, there are plenty of ways to obtain it.

Sources of Magnesium (2)

Top 5 Magnesium-Rich Foods (per typical serving)

  1. Halibut
  2. Mackerel
  3. Boiled spinach
  4. Bran cereal
  5. Almonds

Top 5 Magnesium Sources Regardless of Serving Size (per milligram)

  1. Unsweetened cocoa
  2. Bran cereal
  3. Almonds
  4. Cashews
  5. Pumpkin seeds

Rule of thumb: Highest contents of magnesium are found in green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and seafood.

Supplements: Whether in pill or food form, these can be taken in addition to your diet to ensure sufficient amounts of magnesium. However, if you are concerned about whether or not you are getting enough magnesium, like with all supplements, it is important to first consult with your doctor before beginning a new regimen.

Image: Food sources of magnesium: bran muffins, pumpkin seeds, barley, buckwheat flour, low-fat vanilla yogurt, trail mix, halibut steaks, garbanzo beans, lima beans, soybeans, and spinach. Source: This image was released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, with the ID K11083-1. Author: Peggy Greb. Unknown date. Access the original Image information here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FoodSourcesOfMagnesium.jpg

References (click to show/hide)

  1. "Causes of a Lack of Magnesium." Ancient Minerals. LL Magnetic Clay Inc., n.d.Web. <http://www.ancient-minerals.com/magnesium deficiency/causes-depletion/>.
  2. "Good Sources of Magnesium." Ancient Minerals. LL Magnetic Clay Inc., n.d. Web.<http://www.ancient-minerals.com/magnesium-sources/>.
  3. "Symptoms of Low Magnesium." Ancient Minerals. LL Magnetic Clay Inc., n.d.Web. <http://www.ancient-minerals.com/magnesiumDeficiency/symptoms-signs/>.
  4. Ventresca, Mike. "The Mighty Magnesium Mineral." Mimi Vanderhaven n.d.: n.pag. Print.

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