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Magnesium: The Forgotten Mineral

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MagnesiumWhen was the last time someone asked, “Are you taking your magnesium?”

Never, right?

Usually iron and calcium are the minerals we tend to think about the most. But I am going to argue that magnesium deserves a seat at the table.


Because about half of Americans are not getting enough from their diet due to poor food choices and poor quality soil (hence our fruits & veggies do not have as much magnesium as they once did). Plus, certain medications or supplements decrease its absorption such as zinc, loop diuretics (aka Lasix), proton pump inhibitors (Nexium/Prevacid), birth control pills and antibiotics (ConsumerLabs). Low magnesium  levels have been associated with:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Migraines
  • High alcohol intake
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Gut issues (IBS, Crohn’s)
  • Colon cancer
  • Prolonged stress
  • Osteoporosis
  • Asthma
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • PMS
  • Elevated C-reactive protein (a measurement of inflammation in the body)

Do I have your attention yet? 

It is unclear if low magnesium levels cause some of the above conditions or if low magnesium is a result of the conditions.  It is one of those chicken or an egg questions. But what we do know is that magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve many of the conditions above.

So, how do you know if you have a magnesium deficiency?

I wish I could tell you that simple blood work would tell you the answer but it just isn’t so. Since about 60% of magnesium is stored in your bones and the rest in your soft tissues it can be difficult to measure. Frequently your blood serum is measured to assess magnesium status, but less than 1% of magnesium is present in the blood serum. Crazy, huh?  If your serum magnesium is low, then you may have been deficient for a long time. A better way to measure your magnesium is to measure the amount of magnesium IN THE CELLS and this is done by measuring red blood cell (RBC) magnesium. However, this too may still not be an accurate measurement.

Signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle contractions/cramps
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Poor nail growth
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Irritability/Anxiety

I know what you are thinking…. “I wonder if I have magnesium deficiency?”  

You might, especially if you take a medication/supplement that interferes with magnesium or have one of the conditions mentioned earlier, or even worse BOTH. But what can you do? I always recommend talking to your healthcare provider about it. He or she can order labs (even though they may not always be accurate) and help steer you in the right direction of which form of magnesium to take.

Different forms of magnesium are absorbed in different ways. For instance, some forms are poorly absorbed, such as magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia) and can cause looser stools. However, this may be helpful if constipation is an issue. Other forms such as magnesium glycine are better absorbed and may be useful in treating insomnia or PMS.

So, how much should you take?

According to the Dietary Recommended Allowances (RDA’s)  females should get about 320 mg/daily and men should get about 420 mg/day. There is some debate about the recommended amounts (some say more is needed) but we will save that for another day and another time 🙂

The usual dosage is 100-750 mg/daily and given in divided doses to help prevent diarrhea. I recommend starting low (like 100 mg/daily) and work your up until you see an effect.

Think you are safe with a multivitamin? Nope. Most multivitamins do not contain your 100% of magnesium needs. In fact, not even close. Most provide around 25% of your needs. Don’t believe me? Check your bottle.

What about food?

Of course I recommend getting as much magnesium from your food as possible. Typically the best sources of magnesium include legumes, dark leafy greens, nuts, whole grains and organ meats. The only caveat with plant sources of magnesium is that the high fiber/phytates in them may prevent some of the magnesium from being absorbed. Major bummer. To help increase absorption of magnesium soak your legumes prior to cooking them. You can also soak nuts but then you need to dehydrate them afterwards before eating.

Can you get too much?

Usually magnesium supplementation is well tolerated but as with everything, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.  If you have too much it can cause GI side effects with diarrhea being the most common.  Also, those with kidney issues need to be very careful not to overdo it with the magnesium.  Since the kidneys help maintain a healthy balance of magnesium in the blood, if they are not working correctly magnesium can build up in the blood and cause dangerous side effects.

Don’t want to take another pill but concerned you might be low in magnesium? Try taking an epsom salt bath a couple times a week.  Epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate which is easily absorbable through the skin and can be an effective way to increase your intake.  Plus, as an added bonus it is a fun and relaxing way to get in your magnesium.  This is why so many athletes take an epsom salt bath after a workout.  Pretty neat, huh?

If you reached this far in the reading I commend you.  I know vitamins and mineral info can become booorrrrriiiing.  I appreciate you sticking with it 🙂 If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me below.

Till next time,


PS- Curious about my sources? Here you go 🙂

National Institute For Health


University of Maryland Medical Center

Exp Biol Med (Maywood) Effects of magnesium deficiency- more than skin deep. October 2014 vol. 239 no. 10 1280-1291

Nutritional Medicine by Dr. Gaby





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