The Beginner’s Guide To Magnesium: What It Is, Why We Need It, And How To Get It
Magnesium is one of the most vital micronutrients in the body and is required for hundreds of chemical reactions that take place in our bodies every single day. Unfortunately, a large number of Americans are deficient, which can lead to symptoms that can be just a little annoying to downright dangerous.
The silver lining here is that magnesium is pretty easily absorbed and readily available through many common foods, so with a little insight and education, a deficiency is easily correctable!
Arming yourself with basic knowledge is the best way to ensure you don’t run deficient in any vitamin or mineral, so let’s take a quick crash-course on magnesium. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll understand what it is, why we need it, and the best ways to get it through diet and/or supplementation.
THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO MAGNESIUM: WHAT IT IS, WHY WE NEED IT, AND HOW TO GET IT
WHAT IS MAGNESIUM?
Magnesium is a micronutrient that is absolutely vital for human life. It’s one of the most common micronutrients found within our cells. And in humans, more than half of our stored magnesium can be found in our bones, while the rest can be found in our muscles and soft tissues like the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys.
WHAT DOES THE BODY USE MAGNESIUM FOR?
Magnesium is one of the most widely needed micronutrients in the body! Needed in over 300 chemical reactions, it’s vital for properly synthesizing DNA and proteins, maintaining healthy bones, energy production, nervous system balance, blood glucose control, and it even helps our bodies make their own powerful antioxidant, called glutathione. In addition to all of these important responsibilities, magnesium supplementation has been reported to help individuals with symptoms of anxiety, as it can promote feelings of calm and aid with falling asleep if taken before bed.
ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH MAGNESIUM?
Despite being one of the most predominant substances used in the body, magnesium deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the western world. This may be caused in part by poor diet, lack of quality sleep, environmental stressors, and our exceedingly stressful lifestyle.
MAGNESIUM AND CALCIUM
Magnesium and calcium have a complex relationship within the body, but they both need to be present to maintain a proper balance. Sometimes they work together, such as regulating heartbeat, muscle tone and contraction, and nerve conduction. At other times, they compete with each other for absorption by binding competitively to the same site in the body.
One thing to be certain of is that we need both of them for our body to properly function, and when you supplement one of them in high doses, the other is lowered. This is why it’s important that if you’re increasing magnesium intake, that you pay attention to calcium as well, or look for a high-quality supplement that contains them both.
HOW MUCH MAGNESIUM DO I NEED?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for grown men is about 420mg/day and for women is around 320mg/day (up to 400 mg for pregnancy and lactation). However, it may be worthwhile to note that many functional medicine practitioners have suspected that these levels may be too low for optimal health.
Also, magnesium homeostasis is controlled by the kidneys, and any excess that the body doesn’t need is excreted in the urine.
WHAT ARE HEALTHY DIETARY SOURCES OF MAGNESIUM?
Magnesium is commonly found in nuts and seeds, legumes, some leafy greens, and even fish. Some of the most common healthy sources include:
- Greens and vegetables: Spinach, swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, kale, beets, broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts
- Beans (legumes), nuts and seeds: edamame, navy beans, green beans, black beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, black beans, lima beans
- Whole grains: Quinoa, millet, oats, brown rice, buckwheat
- Fish: Salmon and halibut
- Fruit: papayas, raspberries, watermelon, bananas, dried apricots, tomatoes, avocados
- Herbs: cumin, basil, cloves
- Miscellaneous: dark chocolate
Looking to incorporate more magnesium into your diet? Check out this Beautiful Buddha Bowl recipe, filled with magnesium rich spinach, broccoli, brown rice, and avocado!
HOW DO I SUPPLEMENT MAGNESIUM?
There are TONS of magnesium supplements available on the market and it is available in many forms, but don’t be intimidated! When it comes to purchasing supplements, remember that often times the cheapest option you find is made from a form of the vitamin that isn’t the most absorbable to the body.
It’s generally believed that the most bioavailable (absorbable) forms are magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate, and magnesium chloride. You can also absorb it through the skin (called “transdermal absorption”) in the form of magnesium sulfate found in Epsom salts.
You can add Epsom salts to baths, foot soaks, and compresses for acute injuries. All you need to do is dissolve about 2 cups into one gallon of water and voila! Soak for about 15 minutes and you’ve received an instant dose of magnesium.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY
Some mild signs of magnesium deficiency can include muscle spasms, loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, numbness, tingling, and muscle cramps. Longer term (and more serious) deficiency symptoms include vomiting, personality changes, seizures, and changes in heartbeat. Also, as you remember from above, if calcium intake is very high, this can cause low magnesium levels as well and may be the cause of deficiency symptoms.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK FOR MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY?
People with hypertension and cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes, the elderly, and people with alcohol dependence are all at a higher risk for deficiency. If you’re working with clients that fall into any of the above categories, it’s important to assess for the symptoms listed above.
Magnesium deficiency, although one of the most common deficiencies in the United States, is also one of the most easily correctable nutritional deficiencies. Knowing which foods to look for and eating an organic and varied diet with magnesium rich foods can be the first (and simplest) step to ensure that you and your clients don’t suffer from a magnesium deficiency.