Written by Elizabeth Boham, MD
Magical Magnesium

Magical Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is critical for many physiologic processes in the human body. Unfortunately, 68% of Americans are not meeting the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of magnesium on a daily basis. Remember that the RDI is the amount of a nutrient felt to be sufficient to meet the requirements for most healthy individuals. This recommended intake may not be the optimal intake and often may not be enough in certain health situations. As a result, even more people may not be getting enough magnesium from their daily diet for optimal health. Magnesium is in many foods, including beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and grains. When food is processed, the magnesium content of the food plummets. For example, when white rice is made, the hull, or outer coating of the natural brown rice is removed. When the hull is discarded, so are many important vitamins and minerals, like magnesium, as well as beneficial fiber. As a result of food processing, our soil becoming depleted of many minerals including magnesium, and our increasing reliance on fast foods and processed foods, we are seeing the consequences of more magnesium deficiencies. 

Magnesium deficiency can result in depression, muscle cramps, headaches, heart palpitations, fatigue, hypertension, asthma, constipation, metabolic disorders including insulin resistance and diabetes, and more. 

There is an increased prevalence of depression in our country and major depression is occurring more often in our younger population. A lack of magnesium has been postulated as one of the causes for this concerning rise. 

Inadequate intake of magnesium is one cause of deficiency, but your body can also become depleted of magnesium in times of stress. When you are under stress and the sympathetic nervous system is engaged (think running from a tiger) your body excretes more magnesium, resulting in less magnesium in the brain and an increased risk of depression. 

I am sure you are wondering if you can get tested to see if you are low in magnesium. Interestingly, lab testing is often falsely reassuring. Serum magnesium levels can be normal even when magnesium deficiency is present. So even if your serum magnesium or even your RBC (red blood cell) magnesium levels are in the normal range when checked by your doctor, this does not mean that you have enough magnesium in your body or that you would not benefit from increasing your magnesium intake. 

 So, what can you do? First, choose a whole foods diet. Green leafy vegetables are rich in magnesium. Beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, such as buckwheat, brown rice, and quinoa, and meat are all good sources of magnesium. As you can see there are a lot of foods that are rich in magnesium.  Don’t waste your calories on processed foods that have the magnesium stripped out of them. When a grain is made into a flour and then put into a food substance, the magnesium is removed and not sprayed back on. Avoid foods made with white flours, such as breads, crackers, cookies, and white rice. Gluten-free products are often no better. Instead of bread or pasta, choose quinoa or root vegetables.  

Should you supplement? I reach for magnesium supplementation daily in my practice. Especially for patients with headaches, sleep disorders, muscle cramps, irritability, PMS, depression, anxiety, hypertension, asthma, and constipation.  You can take magnesium as an oral supplement or even as an IV or intramuscular injection. There are many types of magnesium. Magnesium citrate and oxide will pull water into the intestines. As a result, they will loosen up the stools and if you take too much, you can get diarrhea. In addition, these types of magnesium are not as well absorbed into the body. So, if you do not need to loosen your stools and if you have symptoms of low magnesium, I recommend a chelated magnesium such as magnesium glycinate. Typical dosages are 100-300mg, once or twice daily. Magnesium is safe for most people, but check with your doctor before using it if you have any kidney issues. In order to get the magnesium more easily into your body without some of the digestive issues that some people can have, you can use intravenous (IV) or intramuscular (IM) magnesium. We offer IV and IM therapy at the Ultrawellness Center in Lenox, MA and find it very helpful for headaches, sleep, and anxiety. 

By increasing magnesium in your diet or even with supplementation for some, I see tremendous improvements in a wide range of health issues. Speak with your doctor or nutritionist about how magnesium can help you! 

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