An awful lot, as it turns out! One of the most important nutrients in your body is magnesium. After potassium, it is the most abundant cation outside the skeleton (cations are positively-charged salts like sodium, potassium, and calcium). It helps nerve and muscle cells work properly, keeps blood platelets from being too sticky, relaxes blood vessels and prevents muscle spasms. It helps more than 300 different enzymes work properly (that we know of).
Pretty important stuff, right? Turns out Western diets are pretty low in magnesium. NHANES found that half of Caucasian-Americans had intakes below 75-80% of US-RDA of magnesium, and that African-Americans were consuming even less.
Worse, stress increases the loss of magnesium in the urine. This decreases the total body store of magnesium even more, and makes symptoms of deficiency even worse.
So what happens if you’re deficient in magnesium? Let’s break it down by system:
PSYCH: Anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, panic attacks, poor concentration
NEUROLOGIC: Memory loss, confusion, headaches/migraines, paresthesias (pins-and-needles), tremors
MUSCULAR: Muscle cramps and twitches
CARDIOVASCULAR: Palpitations, chest discomfort, dizziness, abnormal heart rhythm
Raise your hand if you have some of these symptoms. Yes, my hand is up too!
Magnesium supplementation has been successfully used to treat a huge number of medical problems, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, anxiety/depression/bipolar disorder, kidney stones, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, restless legs syndrome, migraine and cluster headaches and seasonal allergies.
Where do we get magnesium in our diets? Good food sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, whole grains, beans and legumes, and nuts. More than 80% of the magnesium is lost when whole grains are processed to refined grains (whole wheat to white flour, brown rice to white), so switching from processed white carbs to whole-grain carbohydrate sources is wise.
How much magnesium do you need? It’s estimated that adults need 300-400 mg per day. Men need more than women (they have more muscle and bone structure) and women need more when they are pregnant. Children’s needs vary by age and weight.
What about supplementation? I’d say if you have any of the symptoms or conditions listed above, you might consider a trial of a magnesium supplement to see if you feel better. I would recommend Shaklee’s VitalMag, of course 🙂
How do you know if you’re low on magnesium? Well unfortunately there isn’t a reliable test for total-body magnesium. Blood tests only measure what’s in the bloodstream (most of the magnesium in the body is inside the cells) and urine tests aren’t consistent either.
My best recommendation is that if you are suffering with any of the symptoms listed above, you might consider a trial of magnesium supplementation for a few weeks. I suggest 200 mg daily, taken at night (it is relaxing to the muscles and the mind, and helps with sleep). If this doesn’t help you might want to see your doctor.
Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral and Western diets don’t provide enough. Eating fresh whole unprocessed foods is wise for health overall, and will help boost your magnesium intake. Smart supplementation can help prevent deficiencies that have wide-ranging symptoms.
QUESTION: Do you have any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency?