As you get older, being healthy can involve a lot of numbers. From weight and blood pressure, to blood glucose levels and cholesterol, there are so many numbers that are used to assess the state of your health. One of those key measurements which you need to keep track of, is nutrient deficiencies.
The most commonly known deficiency is iron deficiency, also known as anemia. It can cause extreme fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and pale skin. Vitamin D deficiency is another nutrient deficiency, one that is now starting to be added by some physicians to standard lab tests. But there is another important nutrient that is often not checked: magnesium. It’s estimated that over 50% of the American population consumes less than the estimated average requirement (EAR) of magnesium, which is 255-265 milligrams a day for most adult women, and 330-350 milligrams a day for most adult men.
Even though it is a lesser known deficiency, magnesium is very important for your health. It helps to regulate blood pressure and blood glucose in the body, among other tasks. Let’s take a little deeper look into this important mineral, the symptoms of being deficient, and what you can do about it.
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in the body. Magnesium plays an important role in energy production, protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function as well as blood pressure and blood glucose control in the body. Good sources of magnesium include:
- Dry roasted almonds: One ounce of dry roasted almonds is equal to about 20/% of your daily recommended value of magnesium.
- Spinach: You can get about 20% of your daily recommended value of magnesium from one-half cup of spinach.
- Cashews: One ounce of dry roasted cashews can provide about 19% of your daily recommended value of magnesium.
- Peanuts: Get about 16% of your daily recommended value of magnesium from One-quarter cup of oil-roasted peanuts.
Other foods that contain 10% or more of your daily recommended value of magnesium include:
- 2 large shredded wheat biscuits
- 1 cup non-GMO soymilk
- ½ cup cooked black beans or shelled edamame
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 2 slices whole-wheat bread
- 1 cup cubed avocado
- 3.5-ounce baked potato with skin
- ½ cup cooked brown rice
- 8 ounces low-fat plain yogurt
If it seems overwhelming to track, start by writing down everything you eat and drink for a few days. Then see if any of the foods you eat match up with any of the magnesium-rich foods listed above. If not, start slowly adding in some magnesium-rich foods to your meals and snacks.
So, how much magnesium do you need?
As mentioned above, most female adults need about 255 to 265 milligrams of magnesium daily, while males need between 330 and 350 milligrams per day. Children between the ages of 9 and 13 years will need just 200 milligrams of magnesium daily, while younger children need around 110 milligrams or less.
Pregnant women will need slightly more magnesium than the average female adult. Pregnant women between 19 and 50 years old will need 290 to 300 milligrams of magnesium daily, while expecting females 18 years old and younger will need about 335 milligrams of magnesium daily.
How do I know if I have magnesium deficiency?
Most Americans don’t get enough magnesium. This could be due to a variety factors - such as eating processed foods (which commonly have low levels of magnesium), or cooking or boiling produce - which causes a loss of food’s magnesium content. Other reasons may include the use of certain medicines like antibiotics that lower absorption of magnesium, reduced absorption of magnesium due to a vitamin D deficiency, excessive excretion of magnesium due to alcohol use, or the presence of type 1 or 2 diabetes.
Common signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency can include:
- Fasciculations, which are brief spontaneous contractions that affect a small number of muscle fibers.
- Spontaneous carpopedal spasms, or painful cramps of the muscles in your hands and feet.
- Spasticity, or when certain muscles are continuously contracted.
- Mental disturbances like depression, confusion, agitation, and/or hallucinations.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, it may be worth it to go to your doctor and get your magnesium, calcium, and potassium levels checked, since low potassium and calcium levels in the blood are a common sign of low magnesium levels.
How to treat magnesium deficiency
If you have a low magnesium level, it is best to start by adding magnesium-rich foods into your diet. If this doesn’t seem to help your magnesium levels reach normal limits, then you may have an absorption issue. Therefore, you will need to visit your doctor to see if a health condition, or a specific medication you may be taking, could be affecting your body’s ability to absorb magnesium.
Another option is to take a magnesium supplement. If your magnesium level is really low, a supplement is the best way to increase the levels of this nutrient in your blood. A recent research study recommends that if magnesium supplements are used in the treatment of a magnesium deficiency, then at least 600 milligrams of magnesium should be taken daily. It is important to let your healthcare provider know before starting any new supplements to make sure they are appropriate and safe.
Although magnesium deficiency is not as well-known as other nutrient deficiencies, you should not downplay its importance in your overall health. If you notice any signs or symptoms of a magnesium deficiency, be sure to see your healthcare provider, have your magnesium levels tested, and start adding magnesium-rich foods to your diet.