Magnesium supplements have become a favorite of mine in clinical practice. Because of its wide action throughout the body, it quickly and effectively treats many medical conditions, and soothes many life situations. Despite its importance, the USDA estimated in 2009 that 57% of Americans do not meet the recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium (here)—a deficiency level that has been increasing consistently in the past 100 years.
Importance of Magnesium
To help understand the importance of magnesium, we look at what happens when we do not get enough of it. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include: fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramping, generalized pain, and susceptibility to stress. Long term deficiency can result in frank disease processes such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney stones, PMS, and dysmenorrhea.
Looking deeper in to some of the pharmacologic actions of magnesium in the body, we can better understand its usefulness:
Magnesium Deficiency – Why so Common?
Countless medical conundrums exist; this is not one of them! Most people are magnesium deficient simply because they do not eat enough of it. Magnesium is found mainly in unprocessed foods. When we peek in to the shopping carts across North America, what do we see? Processed, processed, PROCESSED! The same logic can be applied to most of the other important nutritional components in our diets. For a list of the best magnesium containing foods, check out our Magnesium Infographic.
When we look at the trends in the past century, alarm bells should be sounding off. In 1900, we consumed 500 mg/day, by 1950 it had dropped to 370 mg/day, and by 1990 it had dwindled to 175 mg/day (Magnesium Trace Element Research, 1997). A true hunter-gatherer diet probably contained closer to 800 mg/day. When we consider that the RDI of magnesium is 350 mg/day in adult males, and 280 mg/day in females, our average intake is far too low. Further, mounting evidence is showing that the optimal intake for adults is more likely in the 600-800 mg/day range!
In addition to poor diet, other factors influence magnesium levels in the body. Diuretics, oral contraceptives, intestinal malabsorption syndromes, liver disease, and kidney disease all deplete magnesium. People who fit any of these criteria are especially vulnerable to deficiency, and should strongly consider magnesium supplements.
Magnesium Deficiency Goes Unnoticed
How are so many people deficient, yet slipping through the cracks? It comes down to how magnesium is commonly tested. The human body, in all of its infinite wisdom, compartmentalizes ‘things,’ and stores them where they are most apt to be used. For magnesium this means 60% in bone, 25% in muscle, and 15% in the remainder of the body. And no matter where in the body it exists, the overwhelming majority is found within cells. This is important because the standard test for magnesium levels is serum analysis, and serum is a measurement of all the ‘stuff’ between cells, not within them! So, we should not be surprised to have a poor indicator of magnesium levels if we are measuring something that really does not contain what we were looking for in the first place!
The proper test for magnesium looks at levels inside cells, where it actually accumulates. If you are concerned about your magnesium levels, have your doctor run an erythrocyte magnesium level test, which investigates the amount of magnesium inside red blood cells.
Magnesium comes in many forms, with some far better than others. In order to be absorbed, elemental magnesium must be bound to a carrier (see infographic):