Magnesium Deficiency: Causes And Consequences

Magnesium deficiency affects many people. It is officially claimed that there is almost never a magnesium deficiency, which is unfortunately not the case since today’s diet is rather low in magnesium. It is also known that a magnesium deficiency is involved in many chronic diseases.

What is magnesium and what is a magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that must be obtained from food. It is the fourth most common mineral in the human body. The requirement is 300 to 400 mg daily for an adult.

A latent magnesium deficiency already exists when too little magnesium is regularly ingested with food. One speaks of a clinical magnesium deficiency when the blood count shows magnesium values that are too low and the first symptoms are already present.

What is the role of magnesium in the body?

Almost nothing happens in the body without magnesium, because magnesium is involved in at least 300 enzymatic reactions and acts as a so-called co-factor, e.g. B. in the production of energy in the cell, but also in the construction of genetic material and endogenous proteins. Magnesium is also responsible for healthy muscle function, a healthy nervous system, healthy blood pressure, healthy heart function, and also for proper insulin metabolism.

A magnesium deficiency, therefore, has an extremely negative effect on many different organs and bodily functions. It can express itself with just one symptom, but also with several symptoms at the same time, while a healthy supply of magnesium plays a decisive role in the prevention and therapy of many diseases.

Is a magnesium deficiency widespread?

Officially, it is said that there is hardly any magnesium deficiency in industrialized countries because you can get a wonderful supply of magnesium with a healthy and balanced diet. This explanation is of course hair-raising since a large part of the population does not eat a healthy or balanced diet.

Then again, it is said that healthy people should not take any dietary supplements (and therefore no magnesium either), as these are superfluous. As is so often the case, prevention is a foreign word here.

Because we know from studies that low magnesium levels are associated with the most common diseases today, such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, increased inflammatory values (CRP, which can indicate rheumatism), high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular disease -complaints, osteoporosis, migraines, asthma, Alzheimer’s, ADHD and colon cancer – and nowadays there is hardly anyone over a certain age who does not suffer from at least one of the problems mentioned.

A 2012 study also found that almost half of the US population does not consume enough magnesium. Instead, foods rich in calcium and low in magnesium (dairy products) are consumed more frequently. Calcium supplements are often taken, which further worsen the calcium-magnesium ratio. This should be around 2:1. See our text on good calcium supplements for more information.

In another study, 1033 hospital patients were examined. 54 percent were found to be severely deficient in magnesium, and perhaps most frighteningly, 90 percent of the doctors hadn’t even considered getting a magnesium test.

A study published in 2005 showed that two-thirds of people fail to get their recommended daily intake of magnesium, and 19 percent consume less than half of it.

With these numbers, however, it must be taken into account that the scientists are assuming the official magnesium requirement (300 to 400 milligrams), which could possibly be much higher today. Because stress alone and the ubiquitous environmental toxins could significantly increase the need.

What are the causes of magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium deficiency has many causes, which we will discuss below:

Plants and soil are low in magnesium

Today our soils are even more depleted and even poorer in minerals than ever before. Of course, industrial agriculture uses wasteful amounts of synthetic fertilizers every year to wrest ever-increasing yields from the soil.

The producers are not in the least interested in the mineral content of the food. After all, no consumer can choose their food according to this criterion, since no one can tell from an apple or a salad how many vitamins and minerals it contains.

There are also no regulations or laws that would require a minimum content of vital minerals in our food.

An April 2016 study read: “Although magnesium is one of the most important nutrients, […] its importance has been overlooked in recent decades by plant professionals and farmers who did not consider magnesium deficiency in plants to be a serious health problem. Recent studies show that the magnesium content in grain has decreased significantly over time and that two-thirds of people in industrialized countries are consuming less magnesium than is required.”

Magnesium deficiency is favored by artificial fertilizers

Artificial fertilizers mainly consist of nitrates, phosphates, and potash salts. Lime preparations (calcium) are also occasionally applied. The result is lush and visually appealing harvests. But these plants are poor in those minerals and trace elements that are missing in these one-sided fertilizers. Magnesium, for example, is now thought of more often, but not always.

In addition, each year at least as much magnesium is leached by precipitation as is used by crops for growth and fruiting, doubling the annual magnesium loss in the soil.

The use of mineral fertilizers often not only ignores the magnesium requirement of our soil and food but also leads to a disruption of the finely tuned natural mineral balance of the soil and in this way prevents an even and healthy supply of plants.

Potassium and calcium, for example, which is plentiful in synthetic fertilizers, block magnesium uptake into the plant. Even if there were sufficient magnesium in the soil, the plant would not be able to absorb enough of it in the presence of artificial fertilizers.

Magnesium deficiency caused by the food industry

The amount of magnesium in processed foods is still significantly lower than in fresh, whole foods. White flour contains only 20 to 30 percent of the amount of magnesium in wholemeal flour. And white rice contains only a fifth of the amount of magnesium in brown rice.

Starch, which is widely used in processed foods (puddings, cakes, cookies, candies, instant soups, etc.) and derived from corn, provides you with a whopping 3 percent of the amount of magnesium that was in the corn kernel.

Household sugar, however, is a king among the “magnesium-less”. During its production from sugar beet, 99 percent of the vital mineral is lost.

Magnesium is lost through cooking and frying

Added to this are the mineral losses during the preparation of the meals. The loss of magnesium just from cooking in private households can be up to 40 percent.

Our main sources of magnesium are whole grains and legumes. Neither is overly popular with modern man. If he nevertheless cooks wholemeal pasta or beans, he usually throws the magnesium away with the cooking water.

Missing accompanying substances cause magnesium deficiency

If we instead eat whole-grain bread, whole-grain rice, or (to avoid the problem of “boiling water”), then we destroy up to 60 percent of the existing vitamin B6 and sometimes over 70 percent of the heat-sensitive vitamin B1 during the cooking process.

However, magnesium can only be optimally absorbed by our organism if these two vitamins are present. The same applies to vitamin E, selenium, and zinc. Vitamin E, however, decreases in quantity by up to 45 percent when roasting and grilling, 50 percent when cooking, and up to 60 percent when freezing.

As far as selenium is concerned, it has been known for a long time that the supply situation with this mineral in Europe can be described as critical. Compared to the American soils, those in Europe are extremely low in selenium, and accordingly, the daily intake of selenium has been reduced by half since the 1970s.

If the body is acidic, a magnesium deficiency follows

In particular, industrially processed finished products such as fast food, cheese, sausage, bread, biscuits, sweets, ready-made sauces, dips, soft drinks, etc. lead to chronic hyperacidity of the tissues and blood.

The excess acid is absorbed by the organism, e.g. neutralized with basic minerals (magnesium, calcium, potassium, etc.). So not only is an unhealthy diet low in magnesium, but it also uses up more magnesium than a healthy diet due to its high acid potential.

So now we not only have chronic hyperacidity but often also chronic magnesium deficiency. Both together can lead to weakened immune systems, brittle bones, tooth decay, joint diseases, premature aging, etc.

Magnesium deficiency due to lack stomach acid and acid blockers

Due to the widespread unhealthy diet and lifestyle, many people suffer from a chronic lack of stomach acid, which – as strange as it may sound – can (also) manifest itself as heartburn.

Older people in particular, but also diabetics, asthmatics, rheumatics, or patients with gallstones usually show insufficient gastric acid production. However, magnesium cannot be converted into its ionic and therefore useful form without gastric acid (nor can other minerals).

Not much better is the condition that occurs in the stomach when so-called antacids (acid blockers) are used, i.e. agents that are intended to eliminate excess stomach acid. They often lead to an excessive reduction in stomach acid and, in turn, to magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency can be caused by medication

Not only do acid blockers promote a magnesium deficiency, but many other drugs also do as well. One of the best-known magnesium experts is Dr. Mildred Seelig, M.D. from New York University Medical Center. In the 1960s, Dr. Blessed is her research career in the pharmaceutical industry. Even back then, she noted that one of the most common side effects of medication was magnesium deficiency.

Apparently, the organism needs large amounts of minerals, mainly magnesium, to break down the drugs. Some medications also promote magnesium excretion in the urine.

There are also medications that only appear to have a positive effect because they trigger the release of magnesium from the body’s depots and thus temporarily increase the magnesium level in the blood. In the long term, of course, this does more harm than good because the mineral depots have now been plundered.

The following medications can contribute to or trigger magnesium deficiency:

  • Diuretics (so-called “water pills”, which are also often prescribed for high blood pressure)
  • Antiasthmatics from the group of bronchodilators, e.g. B. Theophylline, which is used to treat asthma and chronic bronchitis
  • birth control pills
  • insulin
  • Digitalis preparations (cardiac glycosides) used to treat heart disease
  • antibiotics such as B. Tetracyclines
  • cortisone
  • laxative

These medications should therefore always be taken in conjunction with magnesium (albeit at a time interval of 2 to 3 hours) (but of course only in consultation with the doctor).

The calcium-to-magnesium ratio is important for the absorption

The absorption of magnesium is blocked by the presence of excessive amounts of calcium. The calcium-to-magnesium ratio should be 2:1 for good magnesium absorption.

If the ratio shifts in favor of calcium, the existing magnesium can be used less by the organism.

The calcium-magnesium ratio in milk is 10:1, in Emmental, it is 30:1, for example. Dairy products should therefore not be consumed if there is a magnesium deficiency, or only if the excess calcium can be compensated for with sufficient magnesium in other ways.

For this reason, osteoporosis patients fare much better if they increase their magnesium levels and avoid dairy products at the same time.

Magnesium, for example, is responsible for converting vitamin D into vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is required for calcium absorption from the intestine. This is also why magnesium supplementation can stop osteoporosis in older women, according to magnesium expert Professor Hans-Georg Classen of the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim.

Given these facts, it is of course doubly surprising that there are still therapists who swear by pure calcium supplementation or a diet rich in milk for osteoporosis.

Disturbed intestinal flora and fungal infestation inhibit magnesium absorption
Under the influence of antibiotics and a diet high in carbohydrates or sugar, the intestinal flora is severely damaged and fungi (Candida albicans) thrive. More than 180 different toxins are produced by intestinal fungi. These toxins and the resulting disruption in the intestinal mucosa inhibit the absorption of magnesium and other minerals.

Black and green tea bind valuable magnesium

Tannins in black and green tea bind valuable magnesium and make it useless for the body.

Carbonated soft drinks promote magnesium deficiency

Carbonated drinks often contain phosphates that combine with magnesium to form insoluble complexes. The bound magnesium is then no longer available to the body.

Stress causes above-average wear and tear of magnesium

Stress causes above-average magnesium wear. Low magnesium levels, however, lead to reduced stress resistance. A vicious circle with no escape. Unless you recognize the cause and fill up on magnesium.

Stress leads to the release of the stress hormone adrenaline. If the magnesium supply is insufficient, the magnesium level will fall at the same time. If there is a lack of magnesium, neither the blood vessels nor the muscles can relax.

Blood pressure rises, the heart muscle spasms, the heart beats harder and breathing becomes shallow. In the long term, anxiety and panic attacks can also develop now.

Increase your magnesium intake in certain life situations

Anyone who is ill, who is expecting or breastfeeding a baby, who is in a particularly stressful situation, who is still growing, or who is in a recovery phase needs a lot of magnesium and should adjust their diet accordingly or consider high-quality dietary supplements.

How can you recognize a magnesium deficiency?

Since magnesium is involved in countless bodily functions and metabolic processes, a deficiency can also trigger countless symptoms. These symptoms are rarely associated with chronic magnesium deficiency. The most well-known symptoms of magnesium deficiency are, of course, muscle cramps (calf cramps), headaches, or sudden twitching of the eyelids.

However, magnesium deficiency can also promote or exacerbate migraines, depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, insomnia, and osteoporosis.

Many people with type 2 diabetes also suffer from magnesium deficiency. If you provide a better supply of magnesium, insulin resistance often decreases. High blood pressure, tooth decay, infertility, impotence, atherosclerosis, obesity, and cardiac arrhythmia can also be signs of magnesium deficiency.

How to diagnose a magnesium deficiency?

Since all of the symptoms mentioned can of course also have other causes, you should play it safe and have a magnesium deficiency confirmed with a simple blood test. For this purpose, the magnesium content should be examined in whole blood and not – as is usually the case – in serum.

How can you fix a magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium deficiency can be corrected in two ways, which can also be easily combined with each other:

  1. You can correct your magnesium deficiency with a specific magnesium-rich diet
  2. You can remedy your magnesium deficiency with a magnesium preparation that is suitable for you and individually selected

Correct magnesium deficiency with a magnesium-rich diet

With our current, actually excellent supply situation with food from all regions of the world, covering the magnesium requirement through nutrition alone would theoretically not be a problem at all and we could stock up on foods that are particularly rich in magnesium, such as e.g. B. Amaranth, quinoa, seaweed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, leafy greens, and almonds.

However, these are eaten far too rarely by many people. Either because they are too exotic for them or because they are too high in calories. The latter would not be a problem if the corresponding products were properly integrated into the daily menu.

After all, you don’t eat them as well, but simply replace inferior and usually very low-magnesium products such as e.g. B. Finished products, industrially manufactured sweets, baked goods made from white flour, etc.

Here are a few examples: Eat a spread made from sunflower seeds instead of cheese or sausage, use homemade almond milk more often instead of cow’s milk, snack on energy balls made from nuts, almonds, and dried fruit instead of conventional sweets, or snack on bread made from sprouts instead of crispbread, etc.

Incidentally, a magnesium overdose is not possible with a magnesium-rich diet.

Fix magnesium deficiency with dietary supplements

Magnesium requirements should not be covered with food supplements alone. After all, the diet mentioned above not only supplies you with magnesium but also with many other vital substances, all of which are necessary for a healthy life and for the prevention and healing of existing complaints.

In addition, however, a dietary supplement can help very well to get the required amount of magnesium.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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