As the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, it’s no wonder magnesium plays some sort of part in almost every major process that takes place within our bodies. At a cellular level, it provides support for DNA and RNA synthesis, energy production, and balanced electrolytes. Other benefits of adequate magnesium intake include strong athletic performance, peaceful sleep, mood regulation, and muscle relaxation. There are barely any processes in your body that do not count on magnesium for ideal performance.
We know about the prevalence of magnesium deficiency, especially recently, as well as the fact that it is rare to gain the amount of daily magnesium you need from your diet alone. But why?
It has become very difficult to get adequate amounts of magnesium from our diets alone, and the average person tends to overestimate the magnesium they can get from their food. Wellness professionals are aware of these difficulties, but most people don’t take time to contemplate their diets much….if anything, they may worry about getting enough calcium, but few know that it’s much harder to get enough magnesium.
While not impossible, it is challenging to get enough magnesium, which is why people have symptoms they don’t recognize as magnesium deficiency.
It’s hard to get enough magnesium because our diets don’t contain enough, and our lifestyles deplete magnesium.
How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
The recommended daily allowance for magnesium falls between 300-420mg per day, depending on diet, age, sex, medication, and other factors. However, some studies have found that higher amounts (upwards of 600mg/day) could be even more beneficial.
Can We Get Enough Magnesium From Diet?
Many people are under the impression that they get all the magnesium they need from their diet, and while this may be true for some, it’s actually harder than it seems.
Even famously magnesium rich foods include things like tofu, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and halibut), and bananas are not quite enough, unless consumed regularly and in meaningful quantities. The long and short of it is that it is possible to get your magnesium from your diet, but you will need to make a concerted effort to do so. We have made some suggestions here: Are You Getting Enough Magnesium Foods?
Dr. Carolyn Dean also offers a number of recommendations in her book, The Magnesium Miracle.
Why is Magnesium Deficiency So Widespread?
With so many benefits, and so many risks of not getting enough, it’s confusing that over ⅓ of adult Canadians, and ¾ of Americans are magnesium deficient. And these numbers are climbing!
The answer, of course, is multifaceted.
Decreased Dietary Magnesium
In recent years, there’s been a steady decline in magnesium content available in foods. This includes things like bacon (-18%), cheddar cheese (-38%), and vegetables (-24%). With the constant development of the agricultural industry, magnesium deficiency in plants has more and more of a problem. The same type of thing has happened through food refining and processing procedures. The magnesium content of wheat has dropped by nearly 20% since 1968.
Another contributing factor is that of the soil we grow our crops in. Similar to what we mentioned about magnesium deficiency in plants, changes in agricultural practices over the years have resulted in somewhat depleted soil, leaving it with very little, or without, many crucial nutrients like magnesium.
It’s because of this that it’s so much harder for us to get the magnesium we need now than it has been historically.
The Western Diet
The components of a typical western diet (processed foods, fat, refined flour and sugars) contain barely any magnesium at all, predisposing a magnesium deficiency for us.
Many of these foods suck nutrients like magnesium out of our bodies in order to process these sugary or acidic foods. Not getting enough magnesium, especially when our diets are sugar heavy, is essential because of its role in blood sugar regulation. For each one molecule of sugar intake, the body requires 54 magnesium molecules to process it properly. This means that larger amounts of sugar intake demand a high magnesium cost so that the body can safely and effectively store and use glucose. Considering the fact that Canadians consume in and around 26 teaspoons of sugar per day, it is imperative that we keep in mind our magnesium consumption to match that.
The last and most relevant reason magnesium deficiency has such a far reach has to do with certain variables around individual lifestyle.
Certain medications, for example, can expend magnesium stores quickly or take a toll on your body’s magnesium absorption capabilities. Antacids, acid blockers, antibiotics, diuretics, steroids, and hormone replacers are examples of medications that can affect the magnesium in your body. Even something as seemingly natural and innocuous as calcium supplements, when paired with the high calcium diet typical of many Canadians, could throw off the delicate magnesium/calcium balance and cause problems.
Another common route to low magnesium levels is stress. Your whole body takes a hit when you’re chronically stressed out, especially magnesium stores. Stress depletes magnesium, but magnesium can help counteract stress on a number of levels, which is why it’s important to keep your magnesium levels high. In general, nowadays many people work in high-stress environments, forcing them to be on high alert for most of their day. Over time, this will take a toll on both one’s physical and mental health. Replenishing magnesium levels after a particularly taxing period of time is just one way to take care of your body and mind.
Why is Magnesium Deficiency So Rarely Diagnosed?
Because up to 99% of the magnesium in our bodies occurs within our cells, testing for it in the conventional method, through blood serum levels, gives an inaccurate read.
Not only this, but the symptoms differ based on individual cases, making it difficult for doctors to nail down as the cause of a patient’s symptoms. Subclinical, or “silent” deficiency may never be officially diagnosed, but can lead to predisposition of some chronic diseases.
How to Get the Magnesium You Need
If you’re not opposed to significant dietary changes in order to get enough of this mineral, magnesium rich foods could be the way to go! Steel cut oats, pumpkin seeds, almond butter, figs, and bananas are some foods and snacks you could work into your diet to get more magnesium. Try to include several servings of these foods per day to reach your magnesium RDA (recommended dietary allowance).
If altering your diet is not available to you as an option, magnesium supplements are within easy reach. There are a number of different magnesium compounds available for consumption, which perform differently within the body. Natural Calm uses magnesium citrate in our basic magnesium powder supplement, and our Calmful Sleep natural sleep aid includes both magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate.
If a magnesium drink isn’t your cup of tea, a topical option may be the best for you. They are generally the easiest and fastest ways to up your magnesium levels, and can help with muscle pain and soreness, if applied to the area in question. These options come in the form of gels, sprays, or balms, and can come either with or without added lavender. Because topical application bypasses our digestive systems, it is the perfect alternative to those who are not interested in magnesium’s properties as a natural laxative, those who have trouble with magnesium absorption, or simply those who want a fast and accessible magnesium boost.
In conclusion, it’s not impossible to get your magnesium from your diet! On the contrary, there are plenty of healthy options to get more of the mineral. However, it certainly takes a conscious effort, and an awareness of your magnesium intake. It is both essential that you get enough magnesium, and harder than ever to do so, so supplements are a viable option for anyone struggling with magnesium deficiency, or simply for those who are struggling to include enough magnesium in their diet.