Magnesium: are you getting enough?

By Alive & Well


When you take a moment to look at what magnesium does, it’s another reminder of the complexity and brilliance of the human body – and how giving our bodies great nutrition is the best way to achieve outstanding physical health.

In fact, magnesium is the central element in chlorophyll and the basis of early life on the planet. So it’s been around for ages and I think we can safely say that it’s here to stay. Which is a good thing when you consider all of the amazing things it does for us every day:

  • Magnesium ions manage more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body through their role as enzyme co-factors
  • It’s essential in the replication and repair of DNA for new cell growth
  • It’s vital in the generation and use of the energy that makes our cells function
  • It’s also vital to relaxation – without it, our muscles would be in a constant state of contraction (no rest time!)
  • About 2/3 is stored in our bones, where it plays two different roles – giving the bone physical strength and structure, and sticking around on the surface of the bone so it can be tapped into when things get lean

How do you know if you’re deficient?

It’s tricky to test for magnesium because only 1% of your body’s stores are found in the blood, and even less in blood serum, so blood testing may not identify a deficiency.

If that’s the case, the following questions might help you work out if you’re at risk:

  1. Credit: fimoculousDo you drink lots of fizzy drinks?
    The average consumption of sweet fizzy drinks is more than 10 times what it was in the 1940s [1], and most dark-coloured carbonated drinks contain phosphates which bind with magnesium inside the digestive tract, making it unavailable to the body.
  2. Do you eat a lot of sweets, pastries, cakes or desserts?
    Refined sugar is all take no give – not only does it take up vital energy just to be ‘managed’, it also causes the body to excrete magnesium through the kidneys.
  3. Are you stressed a lot of the time? Do you get anxious or hyperactive? Have trouble falling asleep or staying there?
    All of these things can be signs of low magnesium, and low magnesium can make them worse. Studies have investigated the adrenaline and cortisol hormones, which are associated with stress and anxiety, and found a link with decreased magnesium [2].
  4. Do you drink a lot of coffee, tea, alcohol or caffeinated ‘energy’ drinks?
    The kidneys play an important role in controlling magnesium levels in the body, but things like caffeine cause them to release extra magnesium regardless of whatever else is happening. Over time, this can result in magnesium deficiency. Medications for asthma and estrogen replacements, as well as diuretics and birth control pills, can also create this problem.
  5. Do you get painful muscle spasms, cramps, facial tics or eye twitches?
    These are well-known signs of magnesium deficiency. Remember that magnesium is required for muscle relaxation, and calcium is needed for muscle contraction. The two need to be in a state of balance to function effectively.
  6. Are you over 55?
    As we age, we need more magnesium – but our diets don’t always take this into account.

There are lots of delicious magnesium-rich foods you can get into including apples, apricots, avocadoes, artichokes, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, spinach, buckwheat flour, barley, green leafy vegetables, garlic, peas and beans.

And bear in mind that if you take calcium supplements, it’s important to balance them with the same dose of magnesium because calcium supplementation can reduce magnesium absorption and retention if magnesium intake is low [3]. Plus, magnesium supplementation improves the body’s use of calcium anyway.

Have you tried magnesium supplementation? What did it do for you?

1. Vartanian L, Schwartz, M, Brownell, K. Effects of Soft Drink Consumption on Nutrition and Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Public Health. 2007;97(4):667-675.

2. Dean C. The Magnesium Miracle. New York: Ballantine Books; 2007.

3. Seelig MS. The requirement of magnesium by the normal adult: Summary and analysis of published data. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1964;14:342-90.