The first symptoms of magnesium deficiency can be subtle. Most magnesium is stored in the tissues, so leg cramps, foot pain or muscle ‘twitches’ are usually the first signs. Insomnia, migraine headaches are also very common magnesium deficiency symptoms. And if ignored, some of the other more serious symptoms of Magnesium deficiency (mentioned below) can develop.Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the human body and is essential to good health. It is critical in over 350 essential biochemical reactions in the body including digestion, energy production, muscle function, bone formation, creation of new cells, activation of B vitamins, relaxation of muscles, and also assists in the proper functioning of the kidneys,heart, adrenals, nervous system and brain.
In fact, Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body—it can be found in human bones, teeth and red blood cells, and activates more enzyme systems than both Iron and Zinc combined. It was as far back as 1971, that Dr Edmund B. Fink (a magnesium researcher at West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown), recorded in ‘The Executive Health’ that:
Magnesium deficiency not only exists but is common
Although it is common, it is often undetected
Chronic deficiency can produce long-term damage and can be fatal
The manifestations of the deficiency are many and varied
Magnesium plays a key role in regulating how well the human body converts food into energy. Metabolism of carbohydrates and fats requires numerous magnesium-dependent chemical reactions. In 2002, Physiologist Henry Lukaski of the Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota (USA), established that during moderate activity, individuals with low magnesium levels use more energy—and therefore tire more quickly—than those have adequate levels. In this study (published in the May 2002 issue of The Journal of Nutrition) he elaborates that in the first phase, 10 postmenopausal women were provided with a diet adequate in magnesium for 35 days, followed by a phase of a low-magnesium diet for 93 days, and in the last phase once again, they were provided a diet adequate in magnesium for 49 days. It was found that during the low-magnesium-status phase, the volunteers used more oxygen during physical activity and their heart rates increased by about 10 beats per minute. “When the volunteers were low in magnesium, they needed more energy and more oxygen to do low-level activities than when they were in adequate-magnesium status,” says Lukaski. These findings are consistent with other studies showing that inadequate magnesium is often associated with a need for increased oxygen during exercise and people who routinely complain of low energy can benefit from magnesium supplementation.
Research has suggested that persistent magnesium deficiency may lead to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). When we are magnesium deficient, our bodily functions slow down at the cellular level causing the body to become sluggish until, eventually fatigue sets in. A path-breaking study (The Lancet, March 1991) by Cox, Campbell and Dowson of the Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine in Southampton, England, recorded that many patients with CFS have low red blood cell magnesium levels—a more accurate measure of magnesium status than routine blood analysis—and their condition may improve with magnesium supplements. They injected magnesium sulfate in a placebo-controlled, double-blind study of 32 patients who exhibited chronic fatigue syndrome. Fifteen, randomly chosen, patients received magnesium sulfate, injected into their muscles, once a week for 6 weeks while the remaining 17 received injected water. Patients treated with magnesium showed better handling of emotions and better energy levels.
Between 1965 and 1990 various studies were conducted in New Zealand, Australia, England, France and the Netherlands to investigate the relationship between prone sleeping position and the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS ). A review published in 1991 concluded that magnesium deficiency (muscle strength is seriously impaired in the young magnesium deficient subject) is at least one major unifying factor that explains increased SIDS in prone sleeping infants. In rats, marginal deprivation in dietary magnesium reduces exercise capacity and induces muscle weakness, an effect that can be rapidly reversed by consuming magnesium.
PMS and Hormonal Imbalances
Premenstrual Symptoms or PMS is a name given to varied physical and psychological symptoms like abdominal bloating, breast tenderness, headache, fatigue, irritability, anxiety and depression that occur two to seven days before the onset of menstruation. According to Dr Guy Abraham, former professor of obstetrics and gynecologic endocrinology at the UCLA School of Medicine, in most cases of PMS there are patterns of hormone imbalance that can be uncovered through testing. Carolyn Dean, MD, N D, states that one of the 22 conditions magnesium deficiency may trigger or cause, is hormonal imbalance leading to premenstrual syndrome (PMS); dysmenorrhoea (cramping pain during menses), premature contractions, infertility, eclampsia and preeclampsia in pregnancy. The fact that cellular magnesium levels in women with PMS are found to be significantly lower than in women who do not suffer PMS resonates the inferences of these studies. Susan Johnson, a gynaecologist at the University of Iowa who helped develop the new ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist) standards advices that if you are in search of supplements that alleviate symptoms of PMS, you may benefit from calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and E.
Inability to Sleep
Insomnia or inability to sleep is another symptom of magnesium deficiency. If you find it difficult to sleep or find yourself waking up in the night with muscle spasms, cramps and stuffiness, you may benefit from magnesium supplementation. In a study of more than 200 patients, Dr W.H Davis of the University of Pretoria tested magnesium as a possible means of combating insomnia. 99 percent of the patients on magnesium supplementation reported that sleep was induced rapidly and was uninterrupted. Waking tiredness disappeared, and anxiety and tension diminished during the day. No ill effects were noted on the patients participating in this 12-month long study in which before retiring they daily took eight tablets of 250 mgs each of magnesium chloride (W.H. Davis and F. Ziady, “The Role of Magnesium in Sleep”, Montreal Symposium, 1976) In the elderly, magnesium supplements were found to improve sleep by decreasing the release of cortisol, the stress hormone that causes sleep disruption.
Weakening of the Bones
For long calcium was considered the key mineral in the prevention of Osteoporosis, but new research has proven that magnesium supplementation is equally important in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. Magnesium comprises about 1 percent of the human bone mineral. It influences both bone matrix and bone mineral metabolism and helps our body assimilate calcium. Says Dr Barnett, an orthopaedic surgeon who has published the effects of different soil and water mineral composition levels in two US Counties on bone health: “Magnesium is perhaps, the most important single element-in bone health.” Magnesium deficiency may also be a risk factor for postmenopausal osteoporosis, as it alters calcium metabolism and affects the hormone that regulates calcium balance in the body. As the magnesium content of bone mineral decreases, bone crystals become larger and more brittle. In their study ‘Magnesium supplementation and osteoporosis’, researchers Sojka JE, Weaver CM (published in Nutrition Reviews, 1995.) found lower magnesium content and larger bone crystals in osteoporotic women and suggest that magnesium supplementation may improve bone mineral density.
Muscle Tension, Spasms and Cramps
Irritating little twitches in the eyelid or painful muscle cramping that wakes you up in the night are usually the first sign of magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is needed for proper muscle relaxation and contraction, and excessive muscle tension (resulting in spasms, tics and restlessness) could mean that you are magnesium deficient. As this mineral is lost through bodily fluids, athletes who sweat heavily while training or are prone to loose stools may experience cramping due to magnesium deficiency. Muscle cramping and other signs of low magnesium levels respond quickly and positively to magnesium supplements and changes in diet patterns to include foods high in the mineral.
Abnormal Heart Rhythm
Magnesium has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system. Due to its natural muscle relaxant ability, it also plays an important role in regulating blood pressure. When blood vessels are relaxed there is less resistance to the flow of blood and as a result, blood pressure is lower. Evidence suggests that low body stores of magnesium increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, which in turn may increase the risk of complications associated with a heart attack. In 1998, Liao F, Folsom AR and Brancati of School of Public Health, University of Minnesota conducted a large prospective study (almost 14,000 men and women) and found that increasing serum magnesium levels are associated with decreased risk of coronary heart disease in women. The Joint National Committee on Evaluation, Detection, Prevention and Treatment of High Blood Pressure recommends obtaining an adequate magnesium intake as a positive lifestyle change for managing and preventing high blood pressure. The DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) suggests that high blood pressure can be significantly lowered by consuming a diet high in magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Approximately 70% of patients who have tension headaches exhibit muscular tightness and tenderness. Numerous studies have indicated that there is a relationship between migraines, tension headaches and low levels of magnesium. The 1998 PubMed article ‘Role of magnesium in the pathogenesis and treatment of migraines’ by Clin Neurosci, Mauskop A, Altura BM, suggests that individuals who suffer from recurrent migraine headaches have lower intracellular magnesium levels than individuals who do not experience migraines. In the March 1996 issue of journal ‘Headache’, researchers reported that patients with clustered headaches were helped by magnesium therapy. “In clustered headaches, people suffer up to 20 bouts of pain daily in a single siege that can last for months. A single infusion of magnesium has ended those clustered headaches with some relief in 2 to 7 days.” More recently in 2003, Wang F, Van Den Eeden SK, Ackerson LM, Salk SE, Reince RH, Elin RJ, conducted a placebo-controlled trial in 86 children with frequent migraine headaches and found that oral magnesium oxide reduced headache frequency.
Magnesium supplementation enjoys a broad reputation as having a calming effect on anxiety symptoms and stress levels. Mildred Seeling, who started the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 1982 had noted an association between magnesium deficiency and anxiety symptoms in her paper “Latent tetany and anxiety, marginal Mg deficit, and normocalcemia”. A different investigation by Kara H, Sahin N, Ulusan V and Aydogdu T in 2002, studied the impact of magnesium in post-surgical patients. Patients were infused with magnesium both during and following surgery and were evaluated for anxiety levels. Patients receiving the magnesium infusion required significantly less pain medication and reported less anxiety in comparison to the control group that received no magnesium.
Magnesium regulates nerve cell function and is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Its presence in adequate amounts in the synaptic gap between nerve cells controls the rate of neuron firing. Without sufficient magnesium, the nerve cells cannot give or receive messages, and sensitivity to stimulation of all kinds is heightened. Noises seem excessively loud, lights can appear to be too bright, emotional reactions will be exaggerated, and the affected person will generally be on edge. The brain may also be too stimulated to sleep. Magnesium supplements have a sedative effect on the nervous system and provide relief.
A deficiency of magnesium can also present psychiatric symptoms like depression, restlessness and irritability. Depressed patients have been found to have lower levels of magnesium. Oral supplementation of magnesium is used as an adjunct treatment in psychiatric patients and has also been found successful in rapidly cycling bipolar affective-disorders. Nuytten D, Van Hees J, Meulemans A, Carton H of the Department of Neurology, University Hospital Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium found that magnesium depletion causes a marked irritability of the nervous system, eventually resulting in epileptic seizures. Clinical and experimental investigations have shown that, although magnesium deficiency as a cause of epilepsy is uncommon, its recognition and correction may prove life-saving.
Research as far back as in the 1960s had established a link between magnesium and kidney stones. In the Rodale Press publication Health Bulletin (June 13, 1964) Dr H E Sauberlich of the Army’s Fitzsimons General Hospital, Denver, quotes: “Magnesium oxide ‘looks very promising’ as a preventive of kidney stones”. Subsequent studies have found that magnesium indeed helps prevent recurrence of calcium oxalate kidney stones, by increasing the solubility of calcium in urine. Magnesium supplements and foods rich in magnesium have also been found effective in the prevention and treatment of kidney stones.
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