Magnesium 101: Its Powerful Health Benefits and How to Get More in Your Diet
September 19th, 2017
Magnesium is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies I see in my clinic. In fact, nearly everyone who isn’t already supplementing with a top-quality magnesium supplement is likely low in this all important mineral.
While no current government data on magnesium status in Americans exists, food surveys done by the National Institute of Health suggest that as many as 90% of Americans may be deficient, with adolescent females and men over 71 years old being the most at risk of not consuming enough.1
This shocking and widespread lack of dietary magnesium is a concerning issue as magnesium is far and away one of the most important micronutrients. Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical processes in the body. A few of its most notable roles are supporting healthy bowels, maintaining healthy bones, aiding in cognitive function, relaxing tight and aching muscles, and, perhaps most importantly, supporting cardiovascular health. Magnesium also promotes a calm and relaxed mood, and is critical for healthy sleep too. Thankfully, with the right diet and lifestyle changes, you can easily get your magnesium levels back to optimal levels so that you can reap all of the benefits of this crucial mineral.
Why Is Magnesium Insufficiency So Widespread?
Americans, and people worldwide, are getting less and less dietary magnesium every year. We have a plethora of environmental practices to point the finger at for this, as well as a host of dietary and lifestyle decisions that negatively affect our magnesium intake. Many health conditions can have a deleterious effect on our magnesium stores too, including things like celiac disease, excess alcohol consumption and diabetes. Let’s look at some of the most impactful causes of us not getting enough dietary magnesium.
Modern Industrial Farming Practices
Our current chemical intensive farming practices vary wildly from the way we grew our produce throughout history, and even just 100 years ago before the ‘Green Revolution’. Massive amounts of nitrogen based fertilizers, glyphosate (RoundUp®) dependent genetically modified crops, and liberal application of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, have all done their share in depleting our soil of its precious and health promoting minerals.
Conventional farming’s failure to properly rotate crops, and replenish soil with natural fertilizers such as manure, and the compost from last year’s harvest, means that food crops today are much lower in magnesium than they were when your grandparents healthfully consumed them.2
Water Quality and Filtration
With water quality becoming more and more of an issue worldwide, it’s no surprise that more and more people than ever before are choosing to filter their drinking water. Many municipal water sources contain unsafe levels of heavy metals, high amounts of chemical additives including chlorine and fluorine (both of which can reduce thyroid function), and other industrial pollutants and pathogens such as phthalates, pharmaceutical residues, and even parasites.3 It’s no wonder that we make the wise and healthy choice to filter these unwanted agents out. Of course we don’t want to be drinking it ourselves or serving it to our families. The issue here is that when we filter out all of the unwanted components, healthful naturally occurring minerals like magnesium are also filtered out in the process.
Diets Lacking In Magnesium
Let’s face it… most people could stand to eat a lot healthier. The typical western diet is sorely lacking in chlorophyll rich leafy greens (magnesium forms the backbone of the chlorophyll molecule), and other health promoting, magnesium-rich foods. To compound this issue, our modern western diet is filled with foods such as gluten, soy, yeast, and dairy that irritate and inflame the digestive tract. Inflammation in the digestive tract results in reduced magnesium absorption from the foods we do eat and, arguably, a greater need for magnesium due to the increased levels of inflammation those foods can cause.
Magnesium’s Important Role in Your Health
Magnesium Supports Bowel Health
Constipation is an issue that afflicts many of my patients here in my clinic, and one that can be really challenging for those trying to tackle it. Magnesium supports energy production, healthy digestion, and enzyme formation, all of which are critical in healthy bowel movements. Furthermore, magnesium relaxes the intestines and colon, as well as draws water to the bowel, allowing for softer and better formed stools.
For patients dealing with irregularity, I will often recommend 200-600 mg of Magnesium Citrate. The citrate form is still very bioavailable while drawing a little extra water to the bowel to support healthy bowel habits.
Magnesium Maintains Heart Health
Optimal magnesium levels are crucial if you’re looking to improve the picture of your cardiovascular health. Magnesium is attributed with helping to regulate blood pressure, supporting optimal calcium absorption, as well as maintaining an even heart rate. Magnesium also helps to support optimal blood flow in veins and arteries and helps you exercise longer.
I encourage using the glycinate form of magnesium to support heart health, as this form draws less water to the bowel and does a better job of getting into muscles where it’s needed. The glycine it’s bound to also helps support a calm mood and healthy sleep; two factors that can greatly improve quality of life. I usually recommend 250-750 mg of magnesium glycinate daily to support heart health, depending on nutritional status and lifestyle habits.
Magnesium Bolsters Brain Health
Optimal magnesium levels go a very long way when it comes to anything and everything brain related. Whether you’re wanting to wake up feeling alive and energized, focus on the task at hand, remember everything on your daily ‘to do’ list, or just get a good night’s rest, you need an ample amount of magnesium to accomplish it. In addition to supporting the health of your nerves themselves, magnesium also helps with occasional head tension & discomfort and supports a relaxed mood.
If you are interested in the brain benefits of magnesium, consider a form that has been shown to more effectively cross the blood brain barrier and support brain health faster and more efficiently. My favorite form for brain health is magnesium threonate. My NeuroCalm formula is the exact same product I use every evening before bed. I find it tremendously helpful in managing a stressful workload and falling asleep peacefully every night. I love the sweet grape flavor as it acts as my dessert some nights.
How To Optimize Your Magnesium Levels
As you can see, optimal magnesium levels benefit far more than you might have imagined. In fact, magnesium has a positive impact on many more conditions that we simply don’t have time to cover here. From enzyme formation to DNA synthesis, and resilient adrenal glands to healthy hair, skin, and fingernails, adequate magnesium intake benefits the entire body, head to toe.
Recommended Daily Intake
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium for adult men is 420 mg per day, and for adult women the RDI is 320 mg every day. If you are pregnant that number climbs to 350 mg a day.4 For various reasons, many of us only absorb 40-60% of the magnesium we consume 5, so your optimal daily intake may be even higher than the RDI. Achieving the optimal daily intake of magnesium every day can be a challenge, and that is why I recommend choosing foods that are high in this healthful mineral, as well as selective supplementation to ensure that you are always consuming an adequate amount.
Testing Your Magnesium Levels
When your doctor takes a blood sample, that sample contains both red and white blood cells as well as other components of your blood. Usually, a lab will spin your blood in a centrifuge to to separate out the red blood cells (RBC’s) and work only with the serum that remains. However, the red blood cells are where you want many of the nutrients to actually penetrate. I’m less interested in the levels of nutrients in your serum and far more interested in the level in your red blood cells themselves. Conventional labs don’t offer RBC tests for all nutrients – sometimes they just test the serum – but they do offer RBC tests for magnesium, so make sure you get that when having your levels tested. A normal RBC magnesium vale would be 1.5 – 3.1mmol/L and I would consider an optimal level to be between 2.5 3.0mmol/L.
Best Magnesium Rich Foods
My favorite magnesium rich foods include:
- Fresh and dried figs
- Bananas & plantains
- Wild caught salmon
You should aim for organic varieties of the fruits and vegetables as conventional farming methods often leave the soil depleted of minerals such as magnesium.
If you do not have any food sensitivities, or you have completed one of the Myers Way® programs in the past and have successfully reintroduced nuts, seeds and legumes, there are a few other foods you may enjoy that will help you reach your optimal daily intake. You may include the following to the list of foods high in magnesium:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Black beans
- Dark chocolate (this is my favorite way to get magnesium) :0
If you tolerate dairy, goat cheese from goats who graze on fresh green grass is another great source.6
Many bottled spring waters are also high in naturally occurring magnesium7 with up to 120 mg per liter. Apollinaris, Gerolsteiner, Deep Rock, & Pellegrino were highest among the brands I researched.
Which Form Of Magnesium Supplement Is Right For You?
All high quality forms of supplemental magnesium help support the entire body, and all of its systems and processes. If you’re looking to supplement with magnesium for a health condition that I have not mentioned here, fear not, any one of these will help you feel your best. For those of you looking for targeted supplementation for specific issues, luckily, magnesium comes in several supplemental forms.
The supplement you choose should be of the highest quality, and in a form that is highly absorbable and well suited to you.
Consider magnesium citrate if you are thinking of taking it for:
- Healthy Bones
- Occasional Constipation Relief
- Bowel Regularity
Magnesium glycinate may be right for you if you are wanting to support:
- Cardiovascular health
- Twitching (especially in facial muscles)
- Muscle cramping
- Tight or aching muscles
Finally, magnesium threonate (available as NeuroCalm in my store) is my preferred form for:
- Brain health and function
- A healthy nervous system
- Supporting focus, learning, and memory
- Stress relief and relaxation
- A healthy night’s sleep
As is plain to see, magnesium is very important for almost every single aspect of health. If you’ve read this far, then you know that magnesium is just too important to not get the recommended amount of. Thankfully, armed with the right information, you can choose to make simple dietary and lifestyle modifications to optimize your intake of this miracle mineral.