People today are generally deficient in magnesium. Dietary surveys conducted in Europe and the United States show that the intake of magnesium is mostly below standard for people on a Western-style diet, and the amount is only equivalent to 30 percent to 50 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
In the past century, Americans’ dietary intake of magnesium has decreased from about 500 mg/day to 175 to 225 mg/day. Sixty percent to 80 percent of Americans consume only 185 to 235 mg of magnesium per day. Nowadays, many children eat a lot, but without proper nutrition intake, so they are deficient in magnesium.
Animal and human studies have shown that inadequate dietary intake of magnesium increases the risk of atherosclerosis (i.e. the presence of fatty plaques in the arteries). Autopsies of children who passed away in accidents have shown early signs of atherosclerosis in the walls of the aorta and carotid arteries, even in young children aged 5 to 6 years.
The Food Today Has a Significantly Reduced Magnesium Content
The main reasons for this modern magnesium deficiency are the development of modern farming, the use of chemical fertilizers, and the increased proportion of processed foods in the diet.
Acidic, light, and sandy soils are usually deficient in magnesium. Today’s soils are depleted of minerals, so crops and vegetables grown from them are no longer as rich in minerals as they once were. And in the quest for higher crop yields, it is commonplace for modern agriculture to use chemical fertilizers, which can also lead to a lack of magnesium in our food. For instance, since 1968, the magnesium content of wheat in the UK has fallen by 19.6 percent.
Some food processing methods, such as the refinement of grains to remove the germ and gluten, can lead to significant reductions in magnesium content. The loss of magnesium during food-refining processes is considerable: 82 percent reduction in refined flour, 83 percent reduction in polished rice, 97 percent reduction in starch, and 99 percent reduction in white sugar.
The modern diet is also characterized by the drinking of soft water, a high proportion of fast foods and processed foods, with decreased intake of legumes and seeds, all of which affect the absorption of magnesium in the human body.
Specifically, during the water softening process, a large amount of minerals beneficial to the body, including magnesium, are removed from the water. Soft drinks and processed foods, especially processed meats, contain high levels of phosphates, which reduce the body’s absorption of magnesium. Beans and seeds are rich in magnesium, but unfortunately, they don’t appear often in the Western diet, which makes the intake of magnesium not guaranteed.
Due to the pressure of life and work, there are also the phenomena of coffee addiction and alcoholism among modern people, and the intake of excessive ethanol and caffeine will also make the body deficient in magnesium.
In addition, extensive exposure to aluminum (such as aluminum cookware, deodorants, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, aluminum foil, and baking materials) in daily life is also an important factor in magnesium deficiency. Aluminum reduces the body’s absorption of magnesium by approximately five times and causes a decrease in magnesium stored in the bones.
Is Magnesium Deficiency Very Difficult to Detect?
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant element in the human body, after calcium, potassium, and sodium.
Fifty percent to 65 percent of magnesium is stored in the skeleton, forming the bones together with calcium and phosphorus; 34 percent to 39 percent of magnesium exists in muscles, soft tissues, and organs; and the amount of magnesium in blood is less than 1 percent.
The normal serum magnesium concentration range is 0.75 to 0.95 mmol/L. Below this level, a person experiences hypomagnesemia.
Usually, the body regulates magnesium ion levels through a balanced interaction between intestinal absorption and renal excretion. If too little magnesium is consumed, the body will draw magnesium out from bones, muscles, and internal organs to keep the serum magnesium level relatively stable.
However, magnesium in the body is often difficult to monitor, so it is also known as the “forgotten element.”
Moreover, the serum magnesium level usually does not reflect the magnesium content of different body parts. Even if the serum magnesium level is normal, it cannot exclude the possibility of magnesium deficiency in the body.
For instance, in chronic latent magnesium deficiency, the magnesium level in blood is still within the normal range despite the severe deficiency of magnesium in tissues and bones. Therefore, the use of serum magnesium level to determine the total magnesium level in the body may lead to underestimation of the severity of magnesium deficiency.
Emerging evidence in recent years suggests that the serum magnesium/calcium quotient is a more practical and sensitive indicator of magnesium status, with its optimal value being at 0.4.
Magnesium Deficiency Can Lead to 6 Major Diseases, Which Can Be Improved by Magnesium Supplementation
Magnesium is involved in almost every major metabolic or biochemical process in cells, including bone development, neuromuscular function, energy storage, and the metabolism of major nutrients such as carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. The following common diseases are closely related to magnesium deficiency:
Magnesium is an essential factor for the metabolism of carbohydrates and a sensitizer for insulin.
If intracellular magnesium levels are reduced, it can lead to more calcium entering adipocytes, increasing oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Magnesium also helps regulate the cellular absorption of glucose.
The International Society for the Development of Research on Magnesium suggests that magnesium supplementation has multiple benefits for diabetes. Diets higher in magnesium are associated with a significantly lower risk of diabetes. A 100 mg increase in daily magnesium intake can reduce the risk of diabetes by 15 percent.
Magnesium deficiency is one of the causes of osteoporosis. A study of more than 70,000 postmenopausal females shows that reduced intake of magnesium resulted in lower bone mineral density of the hips and the entire body.
A large number of studies have also demonstrated that increasing the magnesium content in food or ingesting magnesium supplements can improve bone mineral density and reduce the risk of fracture in patients with osteoporosis.
- Cardiovascular diseases
Magnesium can relax blood vessels and regulate the ions affecting blood pressure, thus helping lower blood pressure.
People with relatively high magnesium intake have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. If the body circulates high levels of magnesium, it can also reduce the risk of ischemic heart disease and coronary heart disease.
Researchers in the United States followed more than 13,000 people aged 45 to 64 years for 12 years and found that those with the highest serum magnesium levels had a 38 percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death than the group with the lowest magnesium levels.
From a neurological point of view, magnesium plays a crucial role in neurotransmission and neuromuscular transmission, and is therefore also associated with pain relief.
During and between migraine attacks, the serum magnesium levels in the body are significantly lower, and the magnesium concentration in the brain is also lower. According to the American Academy of Neurology, oral magnesium can help prevent migraines from occurring.
Magnesium may also have analgesic and pain-relieving effects on patients with chronic pain.
A diet deficient in magnesium increases the risk of cancer.
Magnesium deficiency increases the chance of DNA mutations and may also cause inflammation and elevated levels of free radicals in the body, bringing about oxidative DNA damage, which can lead to the formation of tumors.
Increasing the amount of magnesium in the diet can reduce the incidence or mortality of at least eight types of cancer, including breast, liver, colorectal, pancreatic, and lung cancers. Elevated levels of magnesium in drinking water can reduce the risk of esophageal, prostate, and ovarian cancers.
- Parkinson’s disease
The level of magnesium in the cerebrospinal fluid of Parkinson’s patients is negatively correlated with the duration and severity of the disease. As the duration and severity of Parkinson’s disease increases, the level of magnesium in the patients’ cerebrospinal fluid decreases.
Researchers in Japan found that increased levels of magnesium in the diet can reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
The Correct Way to Supplement Magnesium
The recommended daily intake of magnesium for adults varies slightly from country to country, ranging from 310 to 320 mg/day for women and 400 to 420 mg/day for men.
The dietary sources of magnesium are actually quite abundant.
First, we can obtain up to 30 percent of the recommended daily intake of magnesium from drinking water every day. However, the water cannot be soft water or purified water. Rather, it is hard water such as tap water and mountain spring water, which are rich in minerals.
Magnesium is also found in a variety of non-refined foods. Although produce in general today contains less magnesium because of the soil, there are some foods that naturally have higher magnesium content, albeit in lower levels than years past. Generally speaking, green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole wheat bread, unrefined whole grains, and dark chocolate are all good sources of magnesium. It is worth noting that according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, the magnesium content in cocoa is very high, reaching 2 to 4 mg per gram of dried powder. Therefore, a 40-gram chunk of 70 percent to 80 percent cocoa dark chocolate contains about 40 mg of magnesium, which is approximately 10 percent of the recommended daily intake.
In the case of diseases caused by magnesium deficiency, there are also exogenous magnesium supplements that can be taken orally.
Organic chelating magnesium, such as magnesium citrate, magnesium malate, and magnesium aspartate, is recommended for relatively better absorption.
The recommended supplementation amount for this type of magnesium is 200 mg per day, and it has also been shown that a smaller daily intake in multiple doses is better absorbed than a large one-time supplement. Usually, after 20 to 40 weeks of supplementation, the body’s serum magnesium concentration can reach a relatively stable state.
Recent studies have discovered that magnesium can be absorbed by the body through the sweat glands on the skin. Therefore, if you want to supplement magnesium, you can also massage your skin with a body lotion containing magnesium and take an Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) bath.
Moreover, bathing with magnesium sulfate has the effect of treating abdominal pain and constipation and repairing muscle strain. Tonight, why not take a bath with bath salts containing magnesium and relax? And at the same time, you can replenish your body with the beneficial magnesium element.