When I was growing up, and even into adulthood, I never once considered the possibility that we could be deficient in a particular mineral in our body. I was always in the camp that you can get all of the necessary vitamins and minerals from food alone (which I believe is still possible through responsible farming). However, due to the modernization of farming and the depletion of minerals in the soil, getting all the vitamins and nutrients we need from food may not always be an option.
It was through my wife’s personal experience with magnesium deficiency that I discovered how serious (and severe) the consequences of a mineral deficiency can be on a person. It can greatly affect those around them too, since her magnesium deficiency led to bickering in bed and even sleeping in separate beds for about a year!
According to the World Health Organization, as much as 75% of the US adult population may be deficient in magnesium! That is, we don’t get the FDA’s recommended daily intake of 420mg of magnesium 1. Our body needs magnesium in order to process 300-600 biochemical reactions2 in the body. Magnesium also helps to maintain a healthy immune system, a regular heart beat, strong bones, and nerve and muscle function. This amazing mineral also helps manage physical issues such as high blood pressure and even diabetes.
So the question is…are you getting enough in your diet?
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
That depends! While risk factors for magnesium deficiency may vary drastically among people, here are a few symptoms and signs of magnesium deficiency you don’t want to miss!
1. Muscle Cramping & Restless Legs – Especially at Night
Did you know leg and muscle cramps are reported by up to 60% of adults at night? These common complains at doctors’ offices are usually diagnosed as nocturnal leg cramps (NLC) and restless legs syndrome (RLS) 5,6. These conditions can cause severe insomnia as those who suffer often have tremendous discomfort or sudden urges to move their lower limbs.
2. High Blood Pressure
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise! The foods highest in magnesium are leafy green plant based foods and ones a large majority of the population often avoids. Clinical studies show that those who consumed 350mg of supplemental magnesium had improvements in blood pressure 7. Additionally, those who consume a mostly plant-based diet have lower blood pressure as well.
3. Anxiety & Depression
There is a growing amount of research today that shows the impact of magnesium deficiency can play on mental health. In 1968, Wacker and Parisi 10 reported that magnesium “deficiency could cause depression, behavioral disturbances, headaches, muscle cramps, seizures, ataxia, psychosis, and irritability – all reversible with magnesium repletion.” 8
4. Irregular Heartbeat
Low magnesium can actually cause an irregular heartbeat, otherwise known as arrhythmia. This condition is often mild, and can be discovered by people who have heart palpitations 9. Magnesium may help reduce the symptoms associated in patients with arrhythmia.
5. Pregnancy & Hormone Complaints
High levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy can lead to low levels of magnesium. This also helps explain why women suffering from pre-menstrual symptoms (see above) or leg cramps may be struggling with low magnesium levels as well. If you are pregnant or experiencing hormonal changes and struggling with some of the symptoms we’ve already discussed, it may be worth getting checked to see if you have a magnesium deficiency.
How much Magnesium do I need?
Should you load up on magnesium or pop those large 800mg pills? Probably not.
According to the National Institute of Health, the average daily recommended dose of magnesium for men is between 400-420mg for men, and between 310-320mg for women 3. This amount varies drastically for children, teens, pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Natural Sources for Magnesium
You’re probably asking yourself at this point, “How can I get more magnesium in my diet?” or “What supplement is best?”
Let’s start with diet first and identify food sources which are rich in this mineral.
Remember Popeye the Sailor Man who got all of his strength from a can of spinach? Well, he was also loading his body up with magnesium as well. Here are a few of the top foods containing magnesium:
- Whole Wheat – One Cup – 160mg
- Spinach – One Cup Cooked – 157mg
- Swiss Chard – One Cup Cooked – 150mg
- Quinoa – One Cup Cooked 118mg
- Dark Chocolate – One Square 95 mg
- Almonds, Cashews and Peanuts – 50-80mg per ounce
- Black Beans – ½ cup – 60 mg
- Figs – ½ cup – 50 mg
- Tofu – ½ cup – 37 mg
- Banana – 1 banana – 32 mg
Supplementation for Magnesium
Even with a quality diet, many people are still unable to get the required amount of magnesium into their body through diet alone and turn to supplements. While there are many oral supplements on the market, they are not always absorbed fully into the body well and often cause upset stomachs and even diarrhea.
The most gentle and effective method to get more magnesium in your body is through the skin.
Trans-dermal application of magnesium is putting magnesium on the skin and letting the skin absorb it into the bloodstream. This method allows the body to get the magnesium it needs, without the negative side effects of oral supplementation.4 Therefore, you’re less likely to end up with multiple trips to the bathroom and an upset stomach.
Our Story of Magnesium Deficiency & Road to Health
In our experience, my wife discovered she was magnesium deficient after the birth of our second child when she couldn’t sleep and began having restless legs at night. This went on for months, until we started doing research on possible causes. She tried sleeping on different mattresses, changed the room temperature, swapped our sheets out, tried various supplements… and then one day on a whim, she made her own magnesium lotion. The very first night she applied the lotion to her legs, her legs were finally calm enough she was able to get a good night’s sleep. Several years later, she no longer needs to apply the lotion as frequently as before, but will still apply it a few times each week to keep her magnesium levels up.
When we shared our experience with our friends, they all wanted to try the lotion too! We created the Magnesium Lotion Shop because we know first-hand how important sleep is to the body.
Our magnesium lotion is similar to a balm – solid at room temperature but applies silky smooth to the skin. We only use four all-natural ingredients: apricot oil, magnesium chloride, mango butter and beeswax.
- Thorne: Who is at risk for magnesium deficiency?
- MedLine Plus: Magnesium in Diet
- National Institute of Health: Magnesium Fact Sheet
- Ancient Minerals: Too much of a good thing?
- PubMed: Nocturnal Leg Cramps
- PubMed: Differentiating Nocturnal Leg Cramps and Restless Leg Syndrome
- Dr Taylor Wallace: Magnesium and Blood Pressure – what you should know
- Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England: Magnesium Metabolism
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Antiarrhythmic effects of increasing the daily intake of magnesium and potassium in patients with frequent ventricular arrhythmias. Magnesium in Cardiac Arrhythmias (MAGICA) Investigators.
- New England Journal of Medicine: Magnesium Metabolism