Magnesium is one of those supplements that seems to be everywhere at the moment, and yet few of us actually know what it does.
If your knowledge on the subject is scratchy, the short answer is that magnesium is important for your health. It’s the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, and involved in more than 300 metabolic processes.
From keeping teeth and bones strong, to balancing hormones and supporting a healthy nervous and cardiovascular system, think of magnesium – whether consumed via supplements or eating a diet rich in dark, leafy veg such as spinach, whole-wheat, nuts and beans – as the blanket mineral that keeps your entire body ticking over daily.
The average healthy adult requires around 270–400mg of magnesium per day. But, in addition to reduced consumption of magnesium-rich foods, Australian soils typically have low magnesium levels, and therefore food grown in Australia typically has a low magnesium concentration.
As a result, a deficiency is common in the general population. In fact, magnesium deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in adults today, and this is associated with an increased risk of conditions such as diabetes, poor absorption, chronic diarrhoea, coeliac disease and ‘hungry bone syndrome’.
Experts have even dubbed it the ‘invisible deficiency’, because it’s so often overlooked, but there are plenty of telltale signs that you could be severely lacking in magnesium.
Here are six of the most common warning signs to look out for:
1. Muscle cramps
Ever lie in bed at night and get painful cramps in your feet or legs? Remember, cramps are very common, especially if you’re cold, but they can also be down to lack of magnesium.
Magnesium is an important tool for muscle relaxation, so when your body is depleted of it, your muscles can involuntarily contract. Twitches, tremors and cramps are all signs that you’re not getting enough, and in some severe cases, deficiency may even cause seizures or convulsions. If you’re experiencing muscle contractions more often than usual, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor to see whether you might need your magnesium levels tested.
2. Chocolate cravings
If you’re constantly hankering for a chocolate fix, it might not just be down to your sweet tooth. When our bodies crave foods, it’s often because they’re telling us that we’re lacking in a certain nutrient, and dark chocolate just so happens to be a brilliant source of magnesium; just one square contains about 24 per cent of your daily requirement. To reap the benefits, however, skip the sugar-laden milk chocolate and opt for a bar that contains at least 65 per cent cocoa. The darker the chocolate, the better the magnesium benefits.
About 20 per cent of the population suffers from migraine at some stage in their lives. Migraine often first appears in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood, but affects the greatest number of people between 35 and 45 years of age. Studies have shown that low brain magnesium levels could be related to migraine attacks, as magnesium is needed for proper nerve function. If you regularly suffer from migraine-like headaches, it could be a good idea to invest in a daily magnesium supplement – but speak to your doctor first if you’re already on any medication, and if your headaches are ongoing.
4. Trouble sleeping
Even a small lack of magnesium can prevent you from nodding off at night, because it plays an important role in your central nervous system. Magnesium can help to relax our muscles, while also stimulating a neurotransmitter in our bodies called GABA, which has a naturally calming effect on the brain. Next time you feel a bout of insomnia coming on, try soaking in a magnesium-rich bath of Epsom salts to reap the full relaxation benefits.
Mental health issues affect one in five of us, so it’s difficult to tell whether your anxiety is linked to a lack of magnesium. However, getting more of it in your diet could help ease the symptoms. A study in France of 264 patients with generalised anxiety disorder found that a statistically significant number of men and women reported improvements in their symptoms on a magnesium regimen. While magnesium won’t cure your anxiety overnight, making sure you get enough into your diet will ensure that the 300 processes it affects are running correctly – which is sure to help you feel more relaxed in the long run.
6. Fatigue or muscle weakness
Fatigue, a condition characterised by physical or mental exhaustion or weakness, is another symptom of magnesium deficiency. Since fatigue is a non-specific symptom, it’s hard to identify the exact cause unless it is accompanied by other symptoms. Keep in mind, almost everyone will experience fatigue at one point or another, it typically means you have overdone it and need to rest. However, persistent fatigue may be a sign of a health problem, especially if it is paired with muscles weakness, or myasthenia.
How do you ensure you are getting enough magnesium? Do you take a supplement?
– With PA
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Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.