Low levels of magnesium may be responsible for a host of symptoms affecting your quality of life

The long list of symptoms that indicate low magnesium levels could be described as crampy, twitchy, irritable and stiff sensations of both body and mind.

By Dorothy Dobbie
By Dorothy Dobbie

We hear so much about the importance of vitamins to our health but we don’t hear as much about minerals. Yet without minerals, we would die. They are all critical to our health, many – the micro minerals – in the smallest traces, and others – the macro minerals – in larger doses.

Sodium (table salt), chloride, potassium, calcium (the most abundant mineral in the body), phosphorus, sulfur and magnesium are the macro minerals, and often their efficiency is aided by the micro minerals: iron (the foremost of the micros), zinc, iodine, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, molybdenum and selenium.

Leafy greens like kale and spinach; nuts or seeds like almonds, sunflower seeds and cashews are excellent sources for magnesium.
Leafy greens like kale and spinach; nuts or seeds like almonds, sunflower seeds and cashews are excellent sources for magnesium.

The most important of all these may be magnesium, which regulates the electrical activity in our cells and helps regulate the big three: calcium, potassium and sodium.

Magnesium, while critical to the regulation of 300 enzyme systems in the body, is one mineral whose deficiency is hard to diagnose. Blood tests can be unreliable because the blood only contains one per cent of the magnesium in the body and only 0.3 per cent is found in blood serum.

Most of the magnesium in our bodies occurs in bone, muscle and tissue. It is estimated that as many as 15 per cent of adults are magnesium deficient. If you don’t eat plenty of nuts and seeds, green vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), seafood or chocolate, and drink only unfortified bottled water, you would be at higher risk to have a deficiency.

Other lifestyle habits could be leaching magnesium from your body. If you drink dark coloured carbonated soft drinks with meals, the large amounts of phosphates in them could be making it impossible for your body to retain magnesium. Large amounts of sugar, coffee, alcohol and certain drugs, including diuretics, can cause magnesium to be excreted in the kidneys.

Stress, including surgery and chronic diseases, can also reduce magnesium levels.

Warning signs
Symptoms that could indicate a deficiency include muscle spasms (including facial tics and involuntary eye movements), fibromyalgia, hyperactivity, and sleep problems. The long list of symptoms that indicate low magnesium levels could be described as crampy, twitchy, irritable and stiff sensations of both body and mind. Migraine headaches and panic attacks can result from low magnesium. Numbness, tingling and the sensation of vibrating can be a symptom, as can heart palpitations, arrhythmias and angina. A craving for salt is also indicated.Low levels of magnesium may be responsible for a host of symptoms affecting your quality of life

The mind can be affected and you will notice nervousness, irritability and noise sensitivity and in severe cases, cloudy thinking, confusion and depression that include hallucinations. Tooth decay and osteoporosis are also affected.

Magnesium deficiency is the brother of diabetes and many of the symptoms are similar, including extreme thirst and hunger, frequent urination, blurry vision that changes, unusual sleepiness, tingling and numbing of hands and feet, dry itchy skin, weight loss and slow to heal bruises and sores.

Low magnesium levels have even been linked to MS and autism.

It is ironic in the face of all this that magnesium levels are so seldom included in blood tests ordered by the same doctors that employ magnesium in emergency medical situations, to treat all sorts of critical cases from heart failure to seizures.

Low magnesium levels are often found in elderly people, especially men over 71, who are taking drugs that deplete the mineral or whose system just incorporates it less efficiently. After age 50, men need about 420 mg per day and women need at least 320 mg per day, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration Recommended Dietary Allowances. Some medical practitioners consider these numbers to be inadequate.

Diets fall short
nutsEven if we religiously eat a balanced diet, we may not be getting enough as typically we absorb only 30 to 40 per cent of what we consume. And it is hard to consume as much food as required to get that dosage, especially if you are older and have a lower appetite. Consider that the food at the top of the list is almonds, and that one ounce contains only 80 mg, that two slices of whole wheat bread contain only 46 mg and a three-ounce chicken breast contains only 22 mg, and you‘ll get the picture.

But supplements are not an easy cure-all, either. To make them effective you also need vitamin B6, vitamin D, and selenium.

Too much magnesium can cause diarrhea and way too much – 5,000 mg a day – can cause very severe side effects up to and including death.

As always, if you suspect that low magnesium is a possibility for you, consult your doctor. Ask him to test your levels, taking into consideration that this may take more than a simple blood test, and include testing for magnesium concentrations in saliva and urine.

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