Magnesium: Are You Getting Enough?

I don't often post about specific things you should or shouldn't do to protect your health (beyond doing Tai Chi and Qigong), since I believe that taking charge of your own wellbeing is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself. All the information you could possibly need to help yourself is out there, but lately I've become more aware that it is sometimes hard to sort through the vast field of research. I also think it's more and more important to add my voice to the chorus of those encouraging people to take charge of their own health and healing.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical doctor. I'm writing this based on my personal experience and on the writings and research of people much more knowledgeable about the science of nutrition, for what it's worth. However I am an excellent critical thinker and on every level this information makes so much sense to me.

Lately I've been sharing this information about Carolyn Dean, an MD and natural health researcher who has done a lot of work on the benefits of supplementing Magnesium. This simple mineral is important to somewhere between 300 and 800 body processes (depending on whose research you're reading). Chances are, you're deficient in it. (Yes you.) A 2009 American Family Physician article claims that 75% of Americans don't meet the recommended dietary allowance for magnesium

I've found it is often typical of mainstream medical articles that they will push the idea that you can and are getting enough nutrients from food if you eat a reasonable diet. Here's the thing, though: none of us are really eating a reasonable diet. Unless you know for a fact that the farmer who grows your produce is actively working on remineralizing the soil, your produce is not going to contain sufficient magnesium for you. The people who are working on remineralizing soil, like the folks at the SEER Centre in Scotland, can give you tips to work with your own garden or farm to remineralize the soil and give the plants a chance to take up those minerals, but otherwise, we are stuck with sub-par produce that is insufficient in this essential mineral.

According to Dr. Dean we are lucky to get 200mg of magnesium a day from dietary sources. What happens if you don't get enough? 

According to the NIH, magnesium deficiency signs are loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, numbness, tingling, heart irregularities, personality changes, seizures, and a few other nasty things. This all sounds very scary and if you go to that article I've linked at NIH it will sound like this level of deficiency is downright impossible if you eat food.

However let me ask you if you live with muscle cramps and contractions? That morning charlie horse is part and parcel of magnesium deficiency. If you're in magnesium inadequacy - just not quite getting enough - chances are you won't expire but you are probably still experiencing symptoms including muscle cramps and tics. 

Alternative healers tend to be much more inclusive in their lists of magnesium insufficiency signs. Dr. Andrew Weil includes the following in his list of magnesium deficiency symptoms:

Physical and mental fatigue

Persistent under-eye twitch

Tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck


Pre-menstrual fluid retention and/or breast tenderness

Low energy







Seizures (and tantrums)

Poor digestion

PMS and hormonal imbalances

Inability to sleep

Muscle tension, spasm and cramps

Calcification of organs

Weakening of the bones

Abnormal heart rhythm

If that seems like a crazy catch-all list, it is. Magnesium is responsible for so many body functions that it can affect all these different systems. A longer list that is worth reading (skip it if you want to get to the stuff about what to do) is included in Dr. Weil's article, quoted at length from a piece by Dr. Sidney Baker. I'm including the whole thing here because it is may help you rethink some of those little things you live with that you have come to think of as normal but which are actually a sign that you might need more magnesium. I was personally blown away by this list:

“Magnesium deficiency can affect virtually every organ system of the body. With regard to skeletal muscle, one may experience twitches, cramps, muscle tension, muscle soreness, including back aches, neck pain, tension headaches and jaw joint (or TMJ) dysfunction. Also, one may experience chest tightness or a peculiar sensation that he can’t take a deep breath. Sometimes a person may sigh a lot.” 
“Symptoms involving impaired contraction of smooth muscles include constipation; urinary spasms; menstrual cramps; difficulty swallowing or a lump in the throat-especially provoked by eating sugar; photophobia, especially difficulty adjusting to oncoming bright headlights in the absence of eye disease; and loud noise sensitivity from stapedius muscle tension in the ear.” 
“Continuing with the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, the central nervous system is markedly affected. Symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness with constant movement, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and premenstrual irritability. Magnesium deficiency symptoms involving the peripheral nervous system include numbness, tingling, and other abnormal sensations, such as zips, zaps and vibratory sensations.” 
“Symptoms or signs of the cardiovascular system include palpitations, heart arrhythmias, and angina due to spasms of the coronary arteries, high blood pressure and mitral valve prolapse. Be aware that not all of the symptoms need to be present to presume magnesium deficiency; but, many of them often occur together. For example, people with mitral valve prolapse frequently have palpitations, anxiety, panic attacks and premenstrual symptoms. People with magnesium deficiency often seem to be “uptight.” Other general symptoms include a salt craving, both carbohydrate craving and carbohydrate intolerance, especially of chocolate, and breast tenderness.”

Consider supplementing with magnesium. Here's a summary of what I've learned so far from various sources.

FURTHER DISCLAIMER: Don't rely on my information here. Look it up for yourself or ask a naturopath to help you. Here is an article on contraindications - reasons you might not want to take magnesium. Here is another (second last paragraph on the main article).

The body naturally excretes magnesium if it can't use it / doesn't need it. This is good news because it means that unless you have certain very specific medical conditions, it is virtually impossible to take too much unless you are shooting it. The body excretes magnesium through the urinary tract and more noticeably from the bowels. If you get all excited about taking magnesium and take a ton of it all at once, you will probably experience diarrhea. At that point you are pooping out more than you're probably taking in, so don't go past bowel tolerance.

Natural Calm is a product that has helped a lot of people. It's magnesium citrate that you dissolve in water. You can sip it a little bit at a time, which will help you avoid dumping a ton of magnesium into your system all at once and therefore help you avoid hitting bowel tolerance. (You'll know when your bowel movements become loose. You want to back off on the dosage when they do.) The best advice I read was to start with about 200mg/day, hold at that level for 3-4 days, then up the dosage by 100mg, keep taking that for 3-4 days, and so on, until your bowels tell you that you've hit the right level.

For some people, bowel tolerance happens long before symptoms go away, so in that case you might look into transdermal magnesium (magnesium baths with epsom salts or magnesium flakes; magnesium oil).

There are also magnesium supplements that claim to have a lesser impact on the bowels. You can read more about those at Carolyn Dean's website.

I exercise a lot, so muscle soreness and tenderness is a familiar friend to me, and something I accept as a sign that I got a really good workout in the day before.

More disturbing are the muscle tics and pings that would sometimes come up. I am familiar with the eye tic that comes with stress. (No big deal, I'm stressed, eye is ticking, it will go away, right? It always has before.)

The idea I try to work with isn't okay or acceptable health, though: it's optimal health. I'm not talking about absolute perfection, just the best health I can access at any given time, including where it's worth putting in effort to include something new into the routine.

Background: I've become aware in the past several months that I am not dealing as well with my stress as usual. I had a few back-to-back stressful incidents that each were okay on their own, but all put together seemed to be wearing me down. My usual tricks and tools - giving myself Reiki, making sure I get my meditation in, paying extra attention to my sleep and relaxation - were not working as well as usual.

Basically, feeling "uptight" didn't begin to cover it.

I began taking magnesium on a Tuesday, starting with 200mg that I sipped over the course of about 4 hours. Within twelve hours, the black cloud that had been following me around totally lifted. In very short order I went from feeling like I was in a profound and uncomfortable fog to a state of mental clarity and a rational perspective.

I am continuing to supplement with extra magnesium (I was already taking about 300mg in my multivitamin, but clearly it was not enough). I'm very happy with my results so far. Muscle tics and pings are down, my mood is up, and my energy levels are way up. I can't wait to see what it will do for me in the long term.

A new edition of Magnesium Miracle is coming out on March 7, 2014, so if you want to read a whole book about it, I'd look into that.

A video talk with Carolyn Dean and a nice summary of the magnesium issue is here at Dr. Mercola's website.

An interview with Carolyn Dean at Radio 314 is what got me interested in all this.

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