Muscle cramping, fatigue, headaches, anxiety or depression: if any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, it may be more than just good old aging – it is possible that you are deficient in magnesium.
And you would not be alone as many Canadians are unaware that they are not getting the required daily dosage of this important macro-mineral.
According to Health Canada more than 40 per cent of adults over 19 consume magnesium below the estimated average requirements. Worldwide it is estimated that anywhere from 58 to 80 per cent of the population is deficient as well.
The adult body contains about 25 grams of magnesium that is found primarily in the bones and muscles. This essential mineral plays a crucial role in the body as a co-factor in more than 300 biochemical and enzymatic reactions, impacting everything from manufacture of proteins and bone formation to muscle contraction and cellular energy production.
Due to its large role in neuromuscular transmission magnesium is often dubbed ‘the calming mineral’ for its ability to relax the entire body, create a sense of calm, improve mood and to lower stress and blood pressure levels.
Magnesium can be found in many foods but in greatest quantities in unprocessed whole varieties. Good sources of magnesium include kelp, dark green veggies such as spinach or beet greens, Swiss chard, most nuts such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, seeds, legumes such as soybeans, lentils, kidney or pintos, cacao and whole grains.
Yet despite the magnesium available through many food choices, the dietary intake has declined significantly over the past 60 years.
This is in part due to the fact that many minerals including magnesium have been rapidly depleting in our overall food supplies since the 1940s. Farming practices and increased milling and processing of our grains have diminished the levels of many minerals. And our eating habits have changed over the years. Data suggests that 90 percent of the food that we bring home today is processed, which offers very little mineral content.
There are many other factors that can diminish the overall availability and absorption of magnesium in an otherwise healthy diet. They include diuretics such as alcohol or caffeine, medications, excessive consumption of sugar or competing minerals such as calcium, cooking methods such as boiling or steaming and extreme stress or exercise.
In addition, according to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, fluoride that is added to our municipal drinking water can potentially bind with magnesium ions to further hinder its absorption.
With all of these factors at play it is easy to see that for many of us who eat a balanced and low processed diet it can still be challenging to reach the optimal levels through food alone.
If you feel that you may be missing magnesium in your diet supplementing is the most reliable way to increase your intake. Health Canada suggests the recommended daily allowance for women is 310 to 320 mg daily, and 400 to 420 mg for men. It is best taken between meals, or at bedtime when it can offer the added bonus of assisting with a restful sleep.
If you are pregnant, have a health condition, are being prescribed iron, blood thinners or other medications or have heart or kidney disease, you should discuss supplementing with your doctor or health care provider.
Alternatively magnesium can be absorbed into the body through the skin. Soaking in a warm tub with 1 cup of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) can be a relaxing option to increase your magnesium levels and lower your stress as well.