Although it is difficult to detect clinically, low magnesium is a common problem in western society. Processed foods, fat, refined flour and sugars are all devoid of magnesium therefore western diets can predispose us to a magnesium deficiency. Identifying the early symptoms and warning signs can be helpful to avoid serious health conditions.
What causes magnesium deficiency?
The main cause of the low magnesium is the loss of this mineral during modern day food processing and refining methods1. Modern farming practices have also contributed to declining levels of nutrients in crops. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compared modern-day nutrient content of vegetables with 1950 levels and found that declines are as much as 40%!2
Our busy lifestyle also contribute to the low levels of magnesium. Magnesium is also utilised by the body in higher amounts when we are stressed. Alcohol acts as a magnesium diuretic causing an increase in the urinary excretion of this mineral3. Low dietary intake alongside alcohol consumption and higher needs for this mineral may contribute to low levels of magnesium across the general population.
What are the early signs of low levels of magnesium?
As an essential mineral magnesium is involved in over 600 functions in our body. With so many functions the depletion of this mineral can cause many possible symptoms, which may include: nausea, loss of appetite, blood sugar imbalance, low energy and fatigue, muscle cramps and spasms, sleep disturbances, PMS syndrome, headaches, constipation, inability to cope with stress.
There are many common health problems associated with the low levels of magnesium. Depleting levels of magnesium can be a contributing factor in many common and chromic health concerns such as high blood pressure, blood clots, chronic migraines, infertility, heart disease, asthma, cystitis, anxiety, gastrointestinal diseases, depression and sleep disorder. In younger people, magnesium deficiency may prevent bone growth. It is therefore crucial to get enough magnesium during early childhood when the bones are still developing.
Magnesium deficiency is often referred to as the “invisible deficiency’ because it is very difficult to detect clinically. Most of the tests available are blood tests however less than 1% of the bodies magnesium levels are found in the blood, and only 0.3% are found in serum. Serum Magnesium is kept by the body under control and even if there is a sign of nutritional deficiency, their levels come up normal.
The majority (99%) of the body’s magnesium is found in bone, muscles and non-muscular soft tissue4.
Also many of the signs of magnesium deficiency can overlap with common symptoms of other health concerns which make clinical diagnosis even more difficult.
To prevent magnesium deficiency, it is important to eat a balanced diet containing magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Baths enhanced with Magnesium salts or supplements can also help to boost our daily intake.
- Worthington V. Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables and grains. J Altern Complement Med 7: 161-173, 2001
- Jahnen-Dechent W, Ketteler M. Magnesium Basics. Clin Kidney J. 2012 Feb; 5 (Suppl 1): i3-i14