Causes of Low Magnesium Levels
There are many potential causes of low magnesium levels. This is a problem since magnesium is required for 300 functions in the body that control blood pressure, blood sugar, protein synthesis and even beating of the heart. The World Health Organization estimates 75% of Americans have low magnesium levels. In this post we will review some of the most common causes of low magnesium levels and address methods to supplement with magnesium to improve health.
Balance of Calcium to Magnesium
Magnesium and calcium should be consumed in balance with at least a 1:1 ratio of each, and possibly even a higher level of magnesium than calcium. In our modern diet, this is not usually the case and we end up getting more calcium than magnesium. Calcium and magnesium are like two sides of a coin. They are different but they work together in the body. For example, calcium can allow muscles to contract and magnesium allow them to relax. If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, your muscles may become painfully cramped.
Many foods contain calcium or are fortified with calcium. The most common example is dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt. If you eat foods that contain more calcium than magnesium you may not be getting enough magnesium.
Magnesium, Calcium Imbalance and Heart Disease
We have been told for decades of the need for calcium in the diet. Women especially are told of the importance of getting enough calcium and many women take calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis. The calcium is not bad but it should be balanced with additional magnesium to prevent other health problems like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. I don’t think it is a coincidence that magnesium deficiency is a major contributor to heart disease, heart disease is the leading killer of women in the U.S. and most Americans are deficient in magnesium!
Stress Causing Need for Additional Magnesium
Any sort of stress on the body will result in an increased demand for magnesium. This stress could be from an injury or an illness. Chronic diseases like autoimmune disease set us up for an ongoing increased need for extra magnesium. A traumatic injury will likewise require extra magnesium to heal. If there is not enough magnesium in the blood, our bodies will leach it out of bones and organs in order to keep us alive. That is why standard blood tests do little to reveal true magnesium levels.
Mental stress can also leave the body needing extra magnesium. If you feel stressed all the time or have a stressful job you will almost certainly benefit from extra magnesium.
Food allergies and many other triggers can cause leaky gut syndrome which allows food particles to pass through microscopic gaps between cells in the intestines. Certain components of food such as gluten and lectins (proteins found in dairy, eggs, peanuts and more) are especially problematic. These food particles that pass through the enlarged gaps between cells, cause allergic reactions and inflammation. This inflammation inhibits the absorption of nutrients. Of course this is a chicken and egg problem because nutrient deficiency itself can cause leaky gut in the first place! So whatever the cause of food allergies and digestive problems, it my be smart to try supplementation.
Other causes of leaky gut include bacterial, viral and fungal infections, heavy metal toxicity, alcohol consumption, zinc deficiency, chronic stress, intense exercise and effects of aging.
Diseases such as autoimmune conditions can cause nutrient malabsorption as well and nutrient malabsorbsion can also lead to diabetes, lupus, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune diseases.
Agricultural Soil Deficiency
Researchers led by Donald Davis at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Texas at Austin, published a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in December 2004. It examines U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition data from 1950 and 1999 and found declines in calcium, iron, Vitamin B2, Vitamin C and protein. There were no studies of many other micro-nutrients in 1950, but it is believed magnesium is included in the many other micro-nutrients that are declining as well. This is due to industrialized agriculture which overtaxes the soil as the same crops are grown over and over again with only chemical fertilizers added. Natural nutrients are no longer added to the soil and it never gets a chance to naturally recover.
Drinking Soda or other carbonated beverages- sodas contain high amounts of phosphoric acid which causes the body to stop absorbing minerals. The body will then leach calcium and magnesium out of the bones! Therefore, soda causes both nutrient deficiency and loss of bone density!
Consuming Sugar– for every 1 part of sugar, our bodies require 54 parts magnesium to process it! That means we need a LOT of magnesium if we eat sugary foods!
Aspertame interferes with magnesium in the body as well. Aspertame is the most common sweetener in diet soda.
Not Eating Magnesium Rich Foods– if you don’t prefer or just don’t eat foods that contain high levels of magnesium, you will be out of luck obtaining high levels through diet alone. Foods that are high in magnesium include spinach, almonds, pumpkin seeds, chard, beans, seeds, avocados and tofu.
Eating Processed Foods – Many common foods in our society now have low nutrients. An example is all the foods that contain white, bleached flour or white sugar, both of which have the natural nutrients removed. Many foods such as gluten and those containing lectin can cause leaky gut syndrome which leads to inflammation and nutrient malabsorbtion also.
Magnesium is not absorbed as well in older adults. Aging can cause the stomach to produce less hydrochloric acid which can reduce micro-nutrient absorption. Aging can also cause hormonal changes that can increase excretion of micro-nutrients such as magnesium. Medications often taken by the elderly can interfere with absorption as well.
How Do We Raise Low Magnesium Levels?
Some people can get enough magnesium from their diet but that is very difficult for most of us due to lack of nutrients in many foods and poor absorption as well as need for higher levels of magnesium. Please see my post on Why Do You Need Extra Vitamins and Minerals to read about other reasons we don’t get enough of these micro-nutrients.
There are many forms of magnesium available. It might seem confusing to determine which one to take. Most forms of magnesium will benefit you if you are low in this micro-nutrient. Since it is estimated that 75% of Americans (source: World Health Organization) are not getting enough magnesium in their diets it is safe to assume you may be one of them and consider supplementation.
There are magnesium tablets, capsules and liquid supplements. I prefer capsules or liquid forms for better absorption. Generally speaking, tablets are have the poorest absorption for vitamins and minerals. Consult a doctor for concerns of how supplements may interact with other medications or affect you.
There are also different chemical forms of magnesium. The most common and readily available form is magnesium citrate. This form works well but can be hard on the digestive system and is more likely to cause diarrhea to those who are sensitive to it. However, many, many people use this form. It is often more affordable than others as well.
I have recently discovered an ionic liquid form of magnesium that works very well and I am not sensitive to. I always prefer liquid forms if I find one that works well since they will likely be more readily absorbed by the body. I have no problem with it and no side effects at all but if you have not tried magnesium it is always a good idea to start with just a few drops and work your way up. It can be added to plain water, or any beverage or food.
This contains magnesium chloride which can cause a laxative affect. If you are sensitive to this you should start off with a small dose. The full dose is 4 droppers but I would never take that much at once. You may be able to take 2 droppers twice per day but I would start with just a few drops at a time mixed in a glass of water or other beverage.
A form that is easier on digestion for sensitive individuals is magnesium glycinate. Here the brand of magnesium glycinate I use. This is a capsule form. I have taken this form for years and now split my daily dose between these capsules and the drops above.
There are many, many options for magnesium supplementation. These are the two that I use every day and recommend. There are other options including transdermal (absorbed through skin) options such as magnesium lotion, oil and using Epsom salts. I will cover these options in more detail in upcoming posts.
I am not a doctor and do not offer any medical advice. Consult an open-minded doctor, Naturopathic Doctor or other medical specialist for advice on how supplements will work for your unique needs.
If you have any thoughts about magnesium deficiency and supplementation, please leave a comment below!
Davis et al. Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. Abstract at:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15637215
World Health Organization. Calcium and Magnesium in Drinking Water: Public health significance. Geneva: World Health Organization Press; 2009.
Journal of the American College of Nutrition, www.jacn.org