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Are you dealing with one or more low magnesium symptoms such as a headache and leg cramps? This key mineral is necessary for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, from helping with muscle relaxation and nerve conduction to steadying your heart rhythm to supporting your immune system and keeping your bones strong.
Think of magnesium as the great “relaxation” mineral. The benefits of magnesium includes calming and relaxing so many body functions: your heart rhythm, your blood vessels, your muscles, your eye twitch, your restless legs. You also need magnesium for blood sugar management, healthy blood pressure, protein synthesis, and even for normal energy-yielding metabolism.
In fact, the European Food Safety Authority has issued a statement reporting that magnesium helps reduce tiredness and fatigue.
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Low Magnesium Symptoms
Considering all of these magnesium benefits (and the consequences when you don’t have enough), it pays to determine whether you’re in that 50 percent group with a magnesium deficiency. Do you have any of the following symptoms of magnesium deficiency?
- Decreased tolerance for exercise
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle tension, pain, cramps, spasms, or twitches
- Nighttime leg cramps
- Menstrual cramps
- Headaches and migraines
- Restless legs syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Chronic bacterial or fungal infections
- High C-reactive protein levels (a marker of chronic inflammation)
- Heart arrhythmias
- Chest pain (angina)
Conditions Related to Insufficient Magnesium
Certain specific medical conditions are associated with low magnesium stores in your body. For instance, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, colon cancer, congestive heart failure, multiples sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome have all been correlated with low magnesium levels.
What causes magnesium deficiency? A large proportion of the U.S. population is estimated to have “substantial dietary magnesium deficits,” meaning we are not consuming enough magnesium in our diets to meet our body’s needs. In fact, almost half the U.S. population consumes less than the required amount of magnesium from food.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium in adult males is 420 mg/day; however, the average intake is 323 mg/day. In adult females the RDA is 320 mg/day; however, the mean intake is only 228 mg/day. On average, women ingest only 68 percent of the RDA. And many integrative physicians will tell you the RDA is often woefully inadequate for optimal function.
These factors also contribute to magnesium deficiency symptoms:
- Low intakes of selenium and vitamins B6 and D, which are needed to absorb magnesium.
- Excess fat in the diet, which hinders magnesium absorption.
- Excess alcohol, salt, phosphoric acid (sodas), and coffee intake.
- Aging—absorption tends to decrease with age and urinary magnesium excretion tends to increase with age.
- Profuse sweating.
- Intense, prolonged stress.
- Diuretics and other drugs, especially acid blockers (proton pump inhibitors).
Blood Tests Fail to Detect Symptoms of Low Magnesium
If you think you may be suffering from low magnesium levels and want verification from a lab test, don’t depend on a blood test to give you reliable answers.
Only 1 percent of your body’s total body magnesium is in your blood, so the traditional blood test to detect magnesium deficiency—known as the “serum magnesium concentration”—often fails to detect magnesium deficiency.
The fact is that your body will pull magnesium out of your bones and other tissues to maintain narrow blood levels. So even though your serum magnesium concentration may be in the normal range, magnesium experts believe a more subtle, chronic deficiency exists in a large number of people and that deficiency can be contributing to many associated health challenges.
Magnesium Intake: What’s Normal?
Top magnesium researchers believe that the “normal” reference ranges for magnesium blood levels are flawed because of the fact that so many people are chronically in a state of subtle low magnesium balance, mainly because of inadequate intake from their diet.
Dr. Ronald Elin, a magnesium researcher from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky who specializes in these chronic, subtle magnesium deficiencies, believes “it is relatively common to have a serum magnesium concentration within the reference interval, but yet a total-body magnesium deficit.”
How to Treat Low Magnesium
Because of the inability of standard blood tests to detect low magnesium levels, and because magnesium supplementation is safe and inexpensive, a therapeutic trial of magnesium supplements for a month or two is entirely reasonable for anyone with suspected magnesium deficiency.
Your first treatment step, however, is to increase your magnesium intake through magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, whole grains, and legumes.
In addition, take in magnesium tablets of at least 400 mg per day in divided doses. Chelates (magnesium bonded together with amino acids) generally allow for greater absorption. These include magnesium citrate, glycinate, malate, and aspartate.
Get started now on enriching your diet with magnesium rich foods and with your therapeutic supplement trial and experience the difference in how you feel with optimal magnesium levels.
Originally published in 2013, this blog has been updated.