Magnesium is vital for 700 – 800 enzymatic processes throughout the body and it may be the hardest-working, most essential nutrient for total health.
Children need magnesium for:
- DNA formation
- Strong bones and teeth
- Healthy muscles and nerves
- Blood sugar and insulin management
- Digestion, absorption of nutrients and regular bowels
- Heart health and normal blood pressure
- Hormone health
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency in Children
Universally, two of the most common symptoms of magnesium deficiency are poor sleep and constipation, and these are also two of parents’ most common concerns when it comes to children’s health. Just as with adults, when we see these two symptoms – individually, but particularly when together – we should immediately suspect a magnesium deficiency.
Other common childhood concerns can often be linked to low dietary magnesium. Often, these symptoms are considered normal, including growing pains and cramps, erratic energy, moodiness, headaches, insomnia and frequent waking. The fact is, these are only ‘normal’ because so many children aren’t eating a magnesium-rich diet.
A simple magnesium deficiency can sometimes look like a more serious condition, or exacerbate an existing condition, like migraines, ADD, ADHD, autism, and asthma.
Some researchers believe that low magnesium is linked to learning disabilities because of its role in protecting cells, including DNA, from heavy metals including aluminum, mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium and nickel. Certainly low energy and poor concentration can be associated with insufficient magnesium.
Under stress, children may exhibit more of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, because the body uses up magnesium to deal with the stress response. So, it is not unusual to see a peak or a sudden onset of magnesium deficiency symptoms in a child whose diet has not changed but who is experiencing a new form of stress.
Since magnesium levels cannot be accurately measured through a routine blood test, the best way to recognize magnesium deficiency is by identifying symptoms, together with an understanding of how diet and lifestyle choices affect health. Parents should become familiar with the symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
Why Children are Magnesium Deficient
Health Canada data shows that approximately 40 – 75% of Canadian adults aren’t getting the minimum requirements for magnesium. And of course, many health experts believe that the minimum requirements are too low.
North Americans are falling short on magnesium primarily because of diet. Magnesium is found primarily in unprocessed whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and dark leafy greens. Most adults don’t eat enough of these foods to meet their magnesium requirements, and this is no less true for children.
Consider the top magnesium food sources:
• Pumpkin seeds 307mg per ¼ cup
• Brazil nuts or sunflower seeds 130 mg per ¼ cup
• Black-eyed peas at 121mg of magnesium per ¾ cup
• Spinach, cooked at 157mg per 1 cup
Very few children eat enough of these foods to meet their magnesium requirements.
Beyond measuring intake, it’s important to look at dietary and lifestyle factors that deplete magnesium. Anyone who eats a diet high in calcium, sugar and even animal protein (typical of many kids) is depleting what magnesium they do get because these foods act as magnesium leeches.
How Much Magnesium Do Kids Need?
Even with a healthy diet, it’s hard to get enough magnesium every day.
According to Health Canada, children ages:
- 1-3 need 80mg of magnesium per day
- 4-8 need 130mg per day
- 9-13 need 240mg per day
In the teen years, boys need more than girls based on a body weight calculation:
- Girls ages 14 – 18 need 360mg per day
- Boys ages 14 – 18 need 410mg per day
Other experts recommend a higher intake daily. For example, Dr. Carolyn Dean suggests that children consume 4 – 5 mg of magnesium per pound of body weight. A 50 lb 7-year-old child could thus need up to 250mg of magnesium a day.
The best way to judge whether a child is getting sufficient magnesium is again, to look at symptoms.
Addressing Childhood Magnesium Deficiencies
Although it is difficult to get enough magnesium through diet, the overall health benefits are substantial because magnesium-rich foods are among the world’s healthiest.
Try to increase your child’s intake of magnesium-rich foods.
- One surprising source of magnesium is cocoa powder, or better, raw cacao. Try adding it to smoothies and sugar-free desserts
- Increase whole grains
- Add seeds, nuts and legumes
Beware of ‘magnesium myths’. You’ll often hear that avocado, bananas, yogurt and other foods are good sources of magnesium. Compare the actual magnesium content of these foods with your child’s daily needs (see above). You’ll often discover that these ‘good sources’ aren’t very substantial sources of magnesium.
Decrease magnesium-leeching foods:
- Cut back on sugary foods and refined carbohydrates
- Limit dairy
- Substitute plant proteins for animal proteins
- If applicable, cut caffeine
The next step is choosing a good supplement – and eliminating those supplements that can exacerbate a magnesium deficiency.
If you routinely supplement your child’s diet with a multivitamin, check the label for calcium content. The calcium in a supplement should never be greater than the magnesium content. If your child’s supplement has more calcium than magnesium, beware. Excess calcium can symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
Too much vitamin D can also cause symptoms of magnesium deficiency. However, research on the optimal intake of vitamin D is controversial at this point. The best advice is to get sun exposure every day and to avoid high doses of vitamin D.
It’s rare to find a child’s multivitamin that has enough magnesium without too much calcium or vitamin D.
And remember that minerals in tablet form tend to be less efficiently absorbed. Some experts suggest that only 10% of the minerals in a tablet are available to the body.
Natural Calm’s Kid’s Calm is a highly absorbable magnesium drink, identical to our best-selling adult formula but with easy-to-follow dosing on the label for kids from 1 – 18.
Magnesium Safety for Children
Magnesium is a very safe supplement. Unlike many nutrients, magnesium is eliminated from the body daily – in fact, it needs to be replaced about every 12 hours.
The body has a built-in failsafe mechanism: when there is too much magnesium, it is excreted through the bowels, which is why many people experience diarrhea when they take too much magnesium at one time.
The kidneys play a key role in excreting excess magnesium. For this reason, anyone with existing or suspected kidney health issues should consult a physician prior to beginning magnesium supplementation.
Parents of children who have a pre-existing medical condition or who are on medication should also check with their health care practitioners.
Health Canada (2012). Do Canadian Adults Meet Their Nutrient Requirements Through Food Intake Alone?
Health Canada (2005). Reference Values for Elements – Dietary Reference Intakes Tables. Ottawa: Government of Canada.