Magnesium deficiency is a widespread problem and some estimates suggest that over 90% of us are deficient. I’ve been writing about magnesium for years, but am even more concerned about this problem lately.
Why is Magnesium Such a Big Deal?
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and impacts blood pressure, metabolism, immune function and many other aspects of health.
Some experts claim that magnesium deficiency is the single largest health problem in our world today.
Why is Magnesium Deficiency so Widespread?
There are many reasons that deficiency is so widespread in modern times (even though it wasn’t in the past).
Depleted soil conditions mean that plants (and meat from animals that feed on these plants) are lower in magnesium. Use of chemicals like fluoride and chlorine in the water supply make magnesium less available in water since these chemicals can bind to magnesium.
Common substances that many of us consume daily, like caffeine and sugar, also deplete the body’s magnesium levels…
So does stress.
In other words, the lucky (but small) percentage of the population that lives near the ocean (a good source of magnesium) and eats foods grown in magnesium rich soil, drinks magnesium rich water, and doesn’t suffer from stress or consume sugar or caffeine might be ok… but the rest of us might need some additional magnesium.
Calcium = Fuel on the Fire
From my research, I’m convinced that excess calcium is a large part of this magnesium deficiency epidemic and that it contributes to so many health issues. Here’s why…
While we don’t get enough magnesium, many of us get too much calcium. Calcium is added to many processed foods, dairy or dairy alternatives and even orange juice.
When calcium levels in the body become too high, calcification can occur. Common sense, but big problem…
Each cell in the body has a sodium:potassium pump that regulates the balance of minerals inside and outside the cells.(1)
Magnesium deficiency keeps this pump from working correctly. With too much calcium, the ratios are skewed, and the pump allows too much calcium into the cells. When there is too little magnesium, even more calcium is allowed into the cells.
Many nutrients come into play in the calcification equation, like Vitamins K and D, but the biggest factor for over-calcification was magnesium consumption. (2)
This is why the Framingham Health Study found that consuming enough magnesium was correlated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. (3)
Due to the importance of the proper calcium/magnesium ratio in the body and the function of the sodium:potassium pump, magnesium deficiency can lead to:
1. Calcification of the Arteries
Though this is not (hopefully) the first symptom of magnesium deficiency, it can be one of the most dangerous.
Calcification of arteries from low magnesium levels can lead to coronary problems like heart attack and heart disease. (4)
In fact, half of all heart attack patients receive injections of magnesium chloride to help stop the blood clotting and calcification.
2. Muscle Spasms and Cramps
This was my most noticeable symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Just as calcification causes stiffening of the arteries, it can cause stiffening of muscle tissue as well, leading to cramps and spasms.
I had horrible leg cramps during one of my pregnancies. Potassium didn’t help at all, but magnesium fixed the problem almost instantly (which makes sense in light of the sodium:potassium pump).
3. Anxiety & Depression
There is a lot of research showing that magnesium deficiency can have a tremendous impact on mental health. Psychology Today explains one possible reason:
Magnesium hangs out in the synapse between two neurons along with calcium and glutamate. If you recall, calcium and glutamate are excitatory, and in excess, toxic (link is external). They activate the NMDA receptor. Magnesium can sit on the NMDA receptor without activating it, like a guard at the gate. Therefore, if we are deficient in magnesium, there’s no guard. Calcium and glutamate can activate the receptor like there is no tomorrow. In the long term, this damages the neurons, eventually leading to cell death. In the brain, that is not an easy situation to reverse or remedy.
For me, more magnesium meant fewer “mommy is stressed” moments with my kids…
4. High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
This is perhaps one of the most well-studied areas of magnesium deficiency. A Harvard study of over 70,000 people found that those with the highest magnesium intake had the healthiest blood pressure numbers.
A follow up meta-analysis of available studies showed a dose-dependent reduction of blood pressure with magnesium supplementation.(5)
A University of Minnesota study showed that the risk for hypertension was 70% lower in women with adequate/high magnesium levels.
5. Hormone Problems
I personally saw the effects of low magnesium in my hormone levels. The higher the estrogen or progesterone levels in a woman’s body, the lower the magnesium (pregnancy anyone?)
This is also part of the reason why pregnant women experience more leg cramps and women notice more of these muscular type complaints and PMS in the second half of their cycles when progesterone/estrogen are higher and magnesium is depleted.
Chocolate is a decent source of magnesium, and there is speculation that cravings for chocolate may be a sign of magnesium deficiency.
Muscle cramps related to the menstrual cycle can also be related to magnesium levels. Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of the Magnesium Miracle, often recommends that women with bad PMS and cramps take magnesium early in their cycles before the symptoms begin.
6. Pregnancy Complaints
Related to the hormone problems above, magnesium levels can drastically affect pregnancy health and mood. I noticed this when my morning sickness was tremendously less in my pregnancy when I supplemented with transdermal magnesium.
Magnesium is also often used to help with pregnancy related hypertension and muscle cramps, to help ward off preterm labor and to alleviate headaches.
I personally always stuck to transdermal magnesium during pregnancy since it didn’t cause digestive disturbances.
7. Sleep Problems
With all of the above symptoms of deficiency, it makes sense that magnesium would have a drastic impact on sleep, but the impact is often immediately noticeable when a person starts taking magnesium.
Dr. Mark Hyman calls it the ultimate relaxation mineral. Magnesium helps relax the body and the mind, which both contribute to restful sleep.
Additionally, magnesium is needed for proper function of the GABA receptors in the brain, and GABA is the neurotransmitter that allows the brain to transition to a restful state.
8. Low Energy
Magnesium is required in the reactions that create ATP energy in the cells.
Let’s flash back to freshman biology for a minute. ATP or adenosine triphosphate, is the main source of energy in the cells and it must bind to a magnesium ion in order to be active.
In other words, without magnesium, you literally won’t have energy on a cellular level. This shows up as fatigue, low-energy, lack of drive and other problems.
9. Bone Health
Calcium is always considered the most important mineral for bone health, but it turns out that magnesium is just as important (or even more so!)
In cases of magnesium deficiency, the bones suffer in multiple ways:
- Vitamin D Absorption: Magnesium is needed for Vitamin D to turn on calcium absorption- this is why it is also important to get enough magnesium when taking Vitamin D (or magnesium levels can become even more depleted)
- Proper Calcium Use: Magnesium is needed to stimulate the hormone calcitonin which draws calcium out of the muscles and soft tissues and into the bones. This helps explain why magnesium helps lower the risk of heart attack, osteoporosis, arthritis and kidney stones. (6, 7)
10. Other Mineral Deficiencies
Many vitamins and minerals work synergistically and magnesium is a work horse on this list. It is needed for proper utilization of calcium, potassium, Vitamin K, Vitamin D and many other nutrients.
By using magnesium externally, or transdermally (meaning “across the skin”) the body can absorb what is needed without absorbing to much. It is similar to soaking in an epsom salt bath or in the ocean.
Magnesium Deficiency: The Solution
Though the symptoms seem ominous, magnesium deficiency is actually a relatively simple deficiency for the body to resolve with the right form of magnesium.
Many of the magnesium supplements on the market are pills or solutions taken internally. These can be effective, but can also cause digestive disturbances or stress the kidneys.
Also- experts estimate that magnesium absorption in the digestive system ranges from 20-55%, depending on the source, meaning that half or more of the magnesium leaves the body as waste.
My favorite solution is topical magnesium. A solution of magnesium can be sprayed on the skin and the body can absorb what is needed at a much faster rate. The magnesium moves directly into the blood and tissues, replenishing the body’s needed magnesium stores more quickly and bypassing the kidneys.
I’ve shared my recipe for homemade magnesium oil (topical magnesium) and it is still a great option, but some people get a tingly/itchy sensation from this type of magnesium and others get dry skin.
I recently found an even more natural and absorbable form made from sea water called Magnesium Chloride Hexahydrate (MCH). This form doesn’t create the dry skin or itchy sensation and is more immediately usable by the body. (this video explains more)
What I Do
I now use this transdermal magnesium each day and use it on my children (you can also make your own magnesium oil). Dr. Mark Hymen of the Cleveland Clinic recommends up to 1,000 mg/day for adults and 4-500 mg/day for kids. We get this amount my using the magnesium spray all over our bodies each night before bed.
We also try to consume magnesium rich foods from organic sources with good soil quality.
Do you ever struggle with any of these symptoms? Ever tried magnesium to help it out?