10 overlooked signs of magnesium deficiency (and exactly how to fix it)

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Magnesium is essential for over 300 different biochemical functions within the body, but many of us are actually deficient in the mineral. Dietitian Rebecca Gawthorne points out the most obvious signs. 

You’ve probably heard of magnesium before.

It’s an essential mineral that acts as a cofactor for over 300 enzyme systems in our body, including protein synthesis, hormone regulation, nerve and muscle function, blood pressure control, blood sugar regulation, DNA synthesis and immune health. Magnesium also plays a vital role in both aerobic and anaerobic energy production.

While magnesium is widely distributed in the food supply, over half of Australians are not consuming enough magnesium rich foods in their diets. According to Health Direct, more than 6 in 10 men and 7 in 10 women don’t get enough magnesium every day.

If you don’t consume enough magnesium, you may become deficient and your body won’t be able to carry out these vital functions. There are many signs that may indicate a magnesium deficiency, but they are often overlooked.

Here are 10 most overlooked signs of magnesium deficiency:

1. Fatigue

Tiredness and fatigue is often linked to iron deficiency, but did you know that fatigue could be an overlooked sign of a magnesium deficiency, too? This is because our bodies require magnesium to synthesise adenosine triphosphate (ATP); an energy carrying molecule that captures chemical energy from the breakdown of food molecules and then releases it to fuel the processes that occur in our body’s cells.

If you’re feeling constantly tired and fatigued, then you may be deficient in magnesium.

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2. Muscle cramps and spasms

Magnesium is required for proper muscle functioning and regular muscle contractions. It acts as a calcium blocker to help your muscles relax. Without adequate magnesium, your muscles can’t relax properly and may cramp, spasm and twitch.

3. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects over 1 million Australians causing bones to become brittle, leading to a higher risk of fractures and breaks than in normal bone.

The risk of developing osteoporosis is influenced by many factors including calcium, vitamin D and K intake, age and exercise. Whilst often overlooked, magnesium deficiency is also a risk factor for osteoporosis. This is because magnesium deficiency can weaken bones directly as well as lowering your body’s blood levels of calcium, which is needed to maintain bone density.

4. Poor sleep

Inadequate magnesium intake affects sleep quality, and consuming enough magnesium may improve your sleep quality by helping your muscles and brain to relax.

There’s also research being conducted into magnesium’s role in melatonin production – a hormone that helps to regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle.

5. High blood pressure

Magnesium is needed by your body to help your blood vessels relax.

Magnesium deficiency may increase blood pressure and promote high blood pressure, so it can be worthwhile looking at magnesium intake when investigating the cause of high blood pressure.

6. Headaches and migraines

There are many factors that contribute to headaches and migraines, but one that is often overlooked is magnesium deficiency.

An inadequate magnesium intake may cause migraines and some studies have linked magnesium supplementation to fewer migraines.

7. Nausea

One of the earliest signs of magnesium deficiency is nausea, but this is often overlooked when seeking the cause and treatment of nausea.

If your nausea is persistent, ask your GP about magnesium levels.

8. Heart arrhythmia

Magnesium acts as an electrolyte – along with potassium, sodium and calcium – to maintain a healthy heartbeat. If you are deficient in magnesium, calcium (which competes with magnesium) can overstimulate the cells in your heart muscle, leading to irregular or rapid heartbeat.

9. Loss of appetite

Another early sign of magnesium deficiency is loss of appetite, which could also be linked to fatigue and tiredness.

10. Depression

Some mental disorders like depression, are linked to magnesium deficiency, as magnesium helps regulate your brain function and mood. While this area still requires further research, magnesium deficiency shouldn’t be overlooked.

How much magnesium do we need?

The estimated average requirement (EAR) of magnesium for adults is:

  • 330-350mg/day for men
  • 255-265mg/day for women

How to ensure you’re getting enough magnesium and prevent deficiency

Magnesium is widely distributed in the food supply in both plant and animal foods.

Most green vegetables, legumes (lentils, peas, beans), nuts and seeds are rich in magnesium, as are some shellfish and spices. Many unrefined grains and cereals are also sources of magnesium, along with magnesium fortified foods, drinks and supplements.

Below are some sources of magnesium and their magnesium content:

  • Cashews ~ 90mg per 1/4 cup
  • Brazil nuts ~ 130mg per 1/4 cup
  • Spinach ~ 150mg per 1 cup, cooked
  • Oats ~ 60mg per 30g
  • Legumes ~ 120mg per 1 cup, cooked
  • Pumpkin seeds ~ 180mg per 1/4 cup
  • Quinoa ~ 60mg per 1/2 cup, cooked
  • Soy Milk ~ 61mg per cup
  • Dairy Milk ~ 24mg per cup
  • Salmon ~ 53mg per 180g
  • Tofu ~ 50mg per 100g
  • Level Lemonade 160mg per 300ml bottle

If you are unsure whether you are hitting your magnesium targets or are experiencing any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, always consult your GP and Dietitian.

Rebecca Gawthorne is a qualified Dietitian and Nutritionist. Follow her on Instagram @nourish_naturally.

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