Until very recently, I only thought of magnesium as the chemical that burns into a massive flame when you put it in a bunsen burner when you are 12 years old.
Of course, I knew that it had other functions too, hearing it occasionally thrown around in scientific communities with regards to diet and things like that. I have never really given much of a thought to its importance.
Boy, was I wrong.
In my never-ending quest for learning how to sleep better, to work better and ultimately live better, I came across the wonders of magnesium and its role in our lives.
I have written about the relatively-unknown wonders of Vitamin D and magnesium is the next crucial mineral on the list. It plays a big part in common ailments like insomnia, headaches and tiredness and is key for keeping our meat-suits in tip-top shape to serve us to the best of their ability.
Here are the 6 signs that you are deficient in magnesium and what you can do to get enough of the good stuff into your body.
You get muscle cramps or eye twitches
Whether it be a little bit of cramp in your left calf muscle that you always get or your eye twitches every so often and you don’t know why, a magnesium deficiency in your system could well be the main culprit. Magnesium plays a key role in keeping neuromuscular signals firing in the way that they should. If there is something going wrong with these signals, it can often result in muscle cramps and general muscle soreness.
According to one scientific study, these symptoms are caused by a greater flow of calcium (relative to magnesium) into nerve cells, which overexcites or hyperstimulates the muscle nerves.
While not all cramps and twitches mean that you are deficient in magnesium, muscle spasms and cramping are certainly signs of a magnesium deficiency getting worse. Stretching and massaging the affected muscles will give you some short term relief, but for the longer term it is worth looking at getting more Vitamins D, E and B into your system as well as possibly supplementing magnesium. This is something we will discuss in more detail later on.
You experience insomnia
Magnesium deficiency is a known cause of insomnia in many people and this is because magnesium plays a key role in relaxing the brain at night and helping us to be less restless – both physically and mentally.
Healthline dives a bit deeper into the relationship between magnesium and sleep. It also has many scientific studies to back up its findings such as the ones below:
On a chemical level, magnesium aids this process by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for getting you calm and relaxed (6).
First, magnesium regulates neurotransmitters, which send signals throughout the nervous system and brain.
It also regulates the hormone melatonin, which guides sleep-wake cycles in your body (7).
Second, this mineral binds to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. GABA is the neurotransmitter responsible for quieting down nerve activity. It is the same neurotransmitter used by sleep drugs like Ambien (8, 9).
By helping to quiet the nervous system, magnesium may help prepare your body and mind for sleep.
The article also goes on to discuss how magnesium plays a role in sleep quality. If you are struggling to sleep or frequently have a poor night’s sleep, it could be that you are just deficient in magnesium.
You get migraines or severe headaches
Headaches are a normal part of everyone’s life from time to time. You could get a headache because you have caught the flu or because your partner keeps asking when your next date night is.
If your headaches are very persistent and consistent however and they are often migraine-level intense, it could signal that you have a magnesium deficiency. The cause of a migraine is when the blood vessels in the brain quickly narrow and expand and it is usually the presence of magnesium that helps to keep this under control.
As an article on Healthfully points out:
A lack of magnesium may lead to headaches due to the dilation of blood vessels. According to the USDA, a person’s magnesium status is associated with the intensity and frequency of migraine headaches, heart conditions and high blood pressure. They also state that nearly half of the people suffering from migraine headaches show to have a low amount of ionized magnesium in their blood.
A sufficient amount of magnesium in the body reduces the risk of changes in the blood vessels and eliminates headaches.
You are stressed
As was the case with headaches, everyone gets stressed from time to time. However, magnesium deficiency may be a factor in your reasons for being stressed and unfortunately, the relationship between magnesium and stress is often a vicious cycle.
In times of stress, your body needs more magnesium than usual in order to cope. It is an essential element for maintaining a strong nervous system and also plays a role in keeping stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol under control.
If you are low on magnesium though, then the stress will compound and mean that you could do with even more magnesium to help out. This can snowball into something pretty ugly.
This is why it is essential to make sure you have good levels of magnesium in your body in order to break the vicious cycle.
You experience acid reflux
As we have already covered briefly with muscle cramps and insomnia, magnesium plays a major role in muscle relaxation throughout the body. This includes the valves at the top and bottom of the stomach which are important for digestion and avoiding the dreaded acid reflux.
An article on Natural Life gives a great explanation for this:
Magnesium helps the sphincters at the bottom and top of the stomach relax, which allows food to go where it is supposed to go. But when we lack magnesium in our body, the sphincters or valves at the top and bottom of our stomach cannot properly contain the food.
As a result, food & acid can tend to get pushed back up into your esophagus. When the acid hits your esophagus, it causes a painful burning sensation which is the acid reflux or heartburn you feel.
It is also worth pointing out that over-the-counter drugs with the intention of blocking acid can actually make the problem worse and lead to other problems – especially related to magnesium. Acid in our stomach is essential in order to properly absorb both magnesium and vitamin B12.
You are constantly tired
Magnesium is a necessary component for generating energy in the cells of our bodies.
Diving into a little bit of the science, University Health News does a good explanation of what is going on:
Magnesium is an essential mineral to the human body. It is involved in more than 300 metabolic reactions, a key reaction being energy production. Magnesium is required to form and store the energy molecule ATP. Magnesium deficiency impairs the energy production pathway required by mitochondria to generate ATP.
So even if you feel like you are getting enough sleep and ticking all of the other boxes but still feel tired, it could simply be because you don’t have enough magnesium in your system.
How to fix it
As should always be the case, trying to get enough of a mineral should always be prioritised through diet or natural sources before looking at other alternatives. Magnesium is no exception.
Thankfully, there are many foods that are great ways of getting some much-needed magnesium into our systems. Huffington Post puts a high emphasis on green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. You can find the whole list of recommendations below:
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach and kale)
- Fruit (figs, avocado, banana and raspberries)
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes (black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans)
- Vegetables (peas, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts)
- Seafood (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Whole grains (brown rice and oats)
- Raw cacao
- Dark Chocolate
- Baked beans
- Chlorella powder
If you are doing as much as you can to incorporate magnesium into your diet but fear that you might still be deficient, then supplementing in some magnesium might be a good idea.
As is always the case with supplements, dosages and effects vary from person to person so check with a doctor or medical professional before jumping in.
For supplementing magnesium, there is a variety of forms that you can find it in but not all of them are as effective as each other. For my guidance, I principally used the guide on Hormone Balance which covers in good detail what magnesium supplement would be right for you.
This infographic sums up their findings very well:
In short, the website ranks the various magnesium forms (with regards to supplementation) like this:
- Magnesium Bisglycinate
- Magnesium Citrate
- Magnesium Malate
- Magnesium Threonate
- Magnesium Oxide
Again, I highly recommend that you read the full article as well as doing some of your own research before deciding which supplementation option to go for.
No matter what your magnesium method of choice is, just make sure to have good levels of the stuff in your system if you want to be at your best.