Do you get crazy sore from training? Does work anxiety eat you up inside? Do you find yourself tossing and turning all night, never to get a good night’s sleep? These are all warning signs of a magnesium deficiency.
This often-overlooked mineral affects more than 300 processes in the body, which is why it can feel like your health (and life!) are falling apart if you don’t get enough.
Magnesium deficiency is rampant—there’s been a gradual decline of dietary magnesium from a high of 500 mg/day in 1900 to barely 225 mg/day today, which is well below the U.S. RDA. The drop is due to changes in diet and soil quality.
Here are some of the most common signs of magnesium deficiency, followed by recommendations for getting your levels up.
#1: Trouble sleeping.
A common warning sign of magnesium deficiency is inability to get deep restful sleep. You see, if you are magnesium deficient, your heart rate and sympathetic nervous system will be sent into overdrive. Additionally, lack of magnesium has shown to alter electrical activity in the brain, causing agitated sleep and frequent awakenings.
Increasing magnesium intake is most effective for sleep if you are deficient. For example, it helped a group of stressed-out subjects who had low magnesium status and suffered chronic insomnia to relax and get better sleep in a 2010 study.
#2: Muscle cramps or excessive soreness.
Magnesium is necessary for your muscles to contract and relax properly. If you’re deficient in magnesium, muscles are more likely to spasm and you may suffer from more severe delayed post-workout soreness.
For example, a 1996 case study baffled researchers when an army soldier presented with warning signs of extreme muscle pain and spasms in his calves that made him unable to walk. He had performed extreme levels of intense exercise that depleted magnesium and worsened muscle damage. Once his doctors realized he was deficient in magnesium they were able to replenish his levels with an intravenous drip (along with a daily ECG to monitor heart function since low magnesium can lead to heart attack). Achieving normal magnesium levels quickly solved his extreme soreness and spasms.
Researchers note that magnesium deficiency is often misdiagnosed due to the fact that only 0.3 percent of the magnesium in the body is in blood plasma, whereas the rest is in bone, muscle, and connective tissue. The lack of attention to magnesium deficiency is a shame because it is easy to solve and has a profound effect on health.
#3: Chronic stress.
Being overwhelmed by stress is a good sign that you have a magnesium deficiency. This is because magnesium has a powerful effect on your ability to relax. Magnesium deficiency leads to excessive cortisol release as part of your stress response, which can cause anxiety and a racing mind.
In fact, it’s a vicious cycle because magnesium is essential for the metabolism of cortisol. Without magnesium, you won’t be able to calm yourself and are likely to end up feeling run down and at the end of your rope.
Pair anxiety and poor sleep together and it’s enough to make anyone depressed! Magnesium’s role in keeping your mood up goes further: Serotonin—a brain chemical that elevates mood—is dependent on magnesium. Most anti-depressant drugs try to improve serotonin levels, but getting your magnesium levels up is natural and may be just as effective since it solves multiple problems at once.
#5: High blood sugar or prediabetes.
If you’re doctor has told you you’re prediabetic it’s a good sign of magnesium deficiency. For example, in one study of 136 women, those with magnesium deficiency were much more likely to have insulin resistance and be obese compared to those with normal magnesium status.
The mechanism at work has to do with the role magnesium plays in carbohydrate metabolism. During episodes of high blood sugar, the kidneys are unable to retain magnesium creating a downward spiral of magnesium deficiency and subsequently diabetes.
#6: High blood pressure.
Many times people who follow a healthy diet are surprised to find they are pre-hypertensive. Stress is generally blamed as the reason, but it’s actually a symptom, not the cause. Lack of magnesium is the real culprit because deficiency sends the nervous system into overdrive.
In addition, magnesium is necessary for relaxation and dilation of blood vessels. When you have low magnesium, your blood vessels constrict causing high blood pressure. For example, a 2009 study found that supplementing with 600 mg of magnesium daily reduced blood pressure substantially more than a control group that made lifestyle changes. Results showed that systolic blood pressure was reduced by 4.3 points and diastolic by 1.8 points more in the magnesium group.
#7: Trouble focusing.
If you have brain fog or feel like you’re getting more and more ADD, lack of magnesium may be the cause. Magnesium regulates a key receptor in the brain that supports memory and learning. Adequate magnesium in the cerebrospinal fluid is essential for maintaining the plasticity of synapses. Further, magnesium is necessary for the proper activity of many enzymes within brain cells that control memory functions.
Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to increase attention span, which researchers suggest is due both to its calming effects and the fact that it improves brain activity.
#8: Bad digestion or constipation.
Your gastrointestinal tract is basically one big muscle, which is why magnesium deficiency is a sign of poor digestion and problems going to the bathroom. The bowel isn’t able to relax when magnesium is deficient. But if you overdose on magnesium, especially cheap magnesium chelates like magnesium oxide, you’ll experience the opposite effect—diarrhea and urgency going to the bathroom.
This is the reason you want to start increasing your intake of magnesium through diet—leafy greens, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, avocados, meat, fish and dark chocolate are all high in magnesium.
How To Get Your Magnesium Level Up
After incorporating magnesium-rich foods into your diet, you can pad intake with a high-quality magnesium supplement. Look for magnesium chelates that are bound with glycinate and taurate because they are more easily absorbed by the body than cheap forms like magnesium oxide.
Another way to increase magnesium levels is with transdermal magnesium, which is absorbed through the skin from oils, creams, or a bath. Topical magnesium is a convenient alternatives to intravenous magnesium, which is the gold standard for solving clinically low magnesium, because it allows for targeted application on sore muscles.
Regarding dosing of magnesium, it’s very rare to have high magnesium levels because the kidneys will excrete any extra magnesium. On the other hand, magnesium homeostasis is easily disordered toward a deficiency, which is why researchers recommend supplementation even if you eat a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Most studies show improvements to symptoms from doses of 400 to 500 mg of magnesium a day, with 1,000 mg a day being an upper limit. Start supplementing slowly so that your body (especially your GI tract) can adjust.