Magnesium…an underappreciated nutrient!

I have looked at many nutrient panels as part of my practice at Balanced Well-Being Healthcare. One of the most common nutrient deficiencies I am seeing is magnesium.  Magnesium is an essential mineral for humans and is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in our body.  It is the fourth most abundant mineral found in our bodies and is essential to good health.  Most of the magnesium in our bodies is found in our bones and inside cells where it performs critical functions. Only 1% of magnesium is found in the blood.  It serves several major functions:

  1. Helps certain enzymes in our body function.
  2. Maintains normal nerve and muscle functions.
  3. Allows for the production and transport of of energy.
  4. Allows for the production of proteins.

What are the signs you may be magnesium deficient?

  • Initial or mild deficiencies may include anorexia or loss of appetite, fatigue, muscle twitching, difficulty sleeping or insomnia, confusion, lack of interest or apathy, irritability, and poor memory.
  • More moderate deficiencies may lead to palpitations, rapid heart beat,  and headaches (especially migraine).  Severe deficiencies can lead to prolonged muscle contractions, numbness, tingling , delirium, seizures, and even hallucinations.

Additionally, there are many reports and studies investigating the uses of magnesium in disease prevention and treatment.  Modern medicine is looking toward magnesium and its relationship to diseases like hypertension or high blood pressure, diabetes and carbohydrate metabolism, migraine headache treatment and prevention, and even treatment for acute asthmatic attacks. The use of intravenous magnesium in preventing preterm labor has been around for many years.

Magnesium, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance

I want to review specifically the use of magnesium in diabetes and carbohydrate metabolism.  Many Americans are currently suffering from the metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance which results from visceral fat (fat around the middle—think “spare tire”) and adipose tissue.  Individuals with this syndrome may have resistance to insulin. Individuals with insulin resistance do not use insulin efficiently and require greater amounts of insulin to maintain normal blood sugars. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with worsening insulin resistance. Magnesium may influence the release and activity of insulin.  Most people with signs of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance require magnesium replacement.  My recommendation is to check magnesium levels in all persons with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or insulin resistance. I have  often found that people with magnesium deficiencies may have problems with carbohydrate metabolism. Anyone showing a magnesium deficiency in my office gets an aggressive screen for metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Who is at risk for deficiency in this critical nutrient?

  1. Certain disease states may put individuals at risk for becoming deficient in magnesium. These include individuals with Crohn’s disease, or other inflammatory bowel diseases, chronic diarrhea, gluten or celiac disease, enteritis of any cause, intestinal surgery, and chronic malabsorption problems.
  2. Athletes may be at risk for magnesium depletion through rigorous training and sweating.
  3. Older adults may be at risk for deficiency, especially if they are on medications which can interfere with magnesium absorption.
  4. Alcoholics have a high risk for magnesium depletion.
  5. Medications that may be related to magnesium depletion are diuretics often used to control high blood pressure.
  6. Antibiotics like tetracycline may inhibit the absorption of magnesium in the gut.

How do I get tested for magnesium deficiency?

A serum blood test does not reliably give adequate information on true magnesium stores and levels. Recall that only a very small percent of magnesium is in the bloodstream. Most of it is intracellular where it is performing its critical functions.  If someone has clear symptoms of magnesium deficiency I recommend increasing foods high in magnesium content or taking a supplement of magnesium.  I also recommend functional nutritional testing which can evaluate the intracellular activity of magnesium. These are done through specialized lab tests, available only through our office.

How do I replace magnesium if it is low?

Foods high in magnesium would include wheat bran, wheat germ, nuts like almonds and cashews,  green leafy vegetables  (spinach, swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens), and green beans. Bananas, yogurt, peanuts, peanut butter, brown rice, and baked potatoes with skin are also excellent sources.  When taking a supplement of magnesium, we use a triple chelated formula in our office.  What that means is magnesium is bound to three different substances to increase the absorption and bioavailability of the magnesium.   When taking a supplement,  diarrhea may indicate that the supplement is no longer needed or is in excess. If this occurs I recommend reducing the dose and/or stopping the magnesium.  Anyone with kidney disease or failure should not take a magnesium supplement without careful monitoring by their doctor.  I recommend always checking with your doctor before beginning any supplement.

In Summary

Consider having your magnesium level tested, especially if you have symptoms to indicate you may be deficient. Remember, serum testing may not be reliable in diagnosing intracellular levels. Increase dietary sources of magnesium and consider supplementation as directed by a health care provider if your levels are low. And remember, if your magnesium is deficient, ask your doctor about screening tests for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.  The best way to optimal health is through prevention! Balanced Well-Being Healthcare offers health screenings that can assess your magnesium levels, and our functional medicine visits with a doctor can assess your overall health.