Vitamins and minerals are essential to good health. They help build tissues and bones, transport and regulate our hormones, allow us to fight off infections and strengthen our immune systems. When we have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, it plays havoc with our bodies and our health. And the mineral magnesium is no exception.
What does magnesium do?
Every organ in your body needs magnesium. It contributes to the formation of your teeth and bones, helps activate essential enzymes, regulates blood calcium levels, aids in the production of energy and regulates other essential nutrients such as zinc, copper, potassium and vitamin D. Our hearts, kidneys and muscles all require magnesium as well.
Foods high in magnesium include nuts, whole grains and green leafy vegetables, but it is difficult to get enough magnesium from dietary sources. Even when you do get enough magnesium from your diet, many things can deplete your body of this essential mineral. These include a viral illness that causes diarrhea or vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis and kidney disease. Stress, menstrual periods and excessive use of coffee, salt, alcohol and soda can also deplete your magnesium stores.
Magnesium deficiency symptoms explained
A magnesium deficiency can present itself with very specific symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these, a lack of magnesium may be the cause.
- Depression – A study by the George Eby Research Institute reported at Science.NaturalNews.com (1) posits that a magnesium deficiency can cause neurological dysfunction and “neuronal injury” in the brain, which can lead to depression. Studies from as early as 1921 support this conclusion. A more recent clinical trial, conducted in 2008, proved that magnesium was as effective as antidepressants in treating diabetic patients with depression, without any of the harsh side effects of drug treatments.
- Restless leg syndrome – Restless leg syndrome has only recently been recognized by the medical community, but those who suffer from it know that it has always been all too real. The condition causes a feeling of jitteriness and muscle tension in the legs, and sometimes the arms as well. The feeling is usually described as a constant, irresistible need to move the affected limb. Since the symptoms are usually worse at night, it can make sleep nearly impossible.
- Abnormal heart rhythms – Also known as palpitations, abnormal heart rhythms are often experienced as a “flip flop” sensation in the chest or a feeling of the heart skipping a beat. The frightening sensation can last for just a few seconds or for a minute or more. According to an article published by the University of Maryland Medical Center (2), women with the highest level of dietary magnesium had the lowest risk of cardiac death. Men with an increased magnesium intake had a lower incidence of coronary heart disease. Intravenous magnesium, the article continues, is used in hospitals to reduce the chances of cardiac arrhythmias and atrial fibrillation.
- Muscle spasms – Anyone who has had a Charlie Horse knows how painful muscle spasms can be. A deficiency in magnesium can cause muscles anywhere in the body to spasm when under tension — as when reaching for something, standing or even sneezing. Ironically, the muscles can also spasm when they have been at rest. This can cause sufferers to have frightening muscle spasms in the middle of the night which can often only be relieved by standing or walking.
- Migraine headaches – An article, “Headache, Migraine – In-Depth Report,” posted by The New York Times (3), cites magnesium supplementation as a non-drug treatment for migraines. Some studies, the article states, have shown a link between a magnesium deficiency and an increased risk for migraines, especially with patients who have migraines associated with their menstrual cycle. Magnesium is also known to relax blood vessels, and many headaches, according to the article, are caused by “muscle contraction and uneven blood flow.” Anything that helps address these problems is likely to help with migraines.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may want to consider taking a quality, high-end form of magnesium. The recommended minimum daily intake is, according to National Institutes of Health Fact Sheet (4), 400 to 420 mg for healthy men over the age of 18, 360 mg for adult women who are still menstruating, and 320 mg for post-menopausal women, although it varies with developmental stages and factors such as pregnancy and lactating. Because the balance of calcium and magnesium in your body can affect your heart, if you are being treated for heart disease, check with your doctor before taking magnesium supplements.