Magnesium is critical in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. It even positively alters gene expression.1 It’s importance as a single dietary mineral cannot be overexpressed. Yet U.S. NHANES data shows magnesium deficiency as the most common mineral deficiency in Americans. Depending on the source, somewhere from ½ to ¾ of Americans are deficient in magnesium. However, this only refers to the recommended daily intake, not necessarily having optimal amounts of magnesium, which varies by individual.2
Health Issues Related to Magnesium Deficiency
Deficiency of this dietary mineral contributes to a whole host of health problems including:
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems
- Testosterone deficiency
- Chronic pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
As you can see, magnesium deficiency is a serious health risk for these problems as well as several others. 1,5-18,21 I’m a pharmacist, but have never heard of a single medication that can help in nearly this many different areas of health…because there’s not one!
In particular, I would put magnesium deficiency higher on the problem list for obesity and related cardiometabolic diseases than most people. In fact, the same cardiometabolic problems associated with obesity are also linked to testosterone deficiency in men as they age.22 I’ve even heard some experts in male health say that long-term severe magnesium deficiency in men is nearly the equivalent of castration as they age.
The Best Sources of Magnesium
Of course, you should try to eat a well-rounded diet with plenty of magnesium. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult due to mass farming depleting the levels of magnesium and other nutrients in soil.1,3,4 Similarly, many medications that Americans commonly take deplete our magnesium levels. This is especially true for proton pumps inhibitors (PPIs) that suppress stomach acid, as well as many birth control pills.19,20 This is why magnesium is always my most suspected mineral deficiency in people we work with. As such, it’s also one of the areas in which we can make the biggest nutritional impact.
Magnesium in the Food We Eat
The picture below illustrates many of the best food sources for magnesium.
Supplements as a Source of Magnesium
I do find that most people wanting to optimize their magnesium levels can benefit from supplements. The problem is that most magnesium supplements on the market have virtually no absorption. As a result, they’ll likely cause diarrhea. For this reason, magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate supplements great for treating constipation. However, the are terrible for building up and optimizing your body’s magnesium levels to improve your health.
The best form of magnesium supplements to take are chelated or reacted magnesiums.2 What does that mean? Simply, it’s magnesium attached to a particular amino acid, or a variety of amino acid in some supplements. This ensures far superior absorption into the body when compared to typical cheap salt forms such as magnesium oxide.
Which Type of Magnesium Supplement is Best for My Needs?
This is a loaded topic, but a few examples include:
General magnesium supplementation: Mixed Magnesium Chelates, Topical Magnesium Oil
- These tend to include a mixture of magnesium bisglycinate, magnesium malate, magnesium citrate, and others to maximize various types of uptake. You can take these any time of day between meals to maximize absorption. As long as you avoid large amounts of calcium around the same time you should be fine. Calcium competes for absorption.
Anxiety/Sleep Support: Magnesium Threonate
- Threonate crosses the blood brain barrier2 to best provide support for areas involving the brain specifically. It’s also great for memory, mood, and overall mental clarity support. It’s recommended that these be taken before bed.
If you have specific questions about which type of magnesium might be best for you please contact our Pro Support Team.
Optimal Magnesium Levels
My doctor has tested my magnesium and never indicated that it was low you say? I hear this all the time. However, modern medicine primarily tests blood serum magnesium, which will only indicate an acute electrolyte problem. In other words, you’re likely in the hospital by the time your serum magnesium level is out of the normal range. While modern medicine has become very advanced in many ways, it tends to have the fault of not focusing much on nutrition or true disease prevention.
Best Testing Methods
So how do you best test magnesium to get to optimal levels? The red blood cell magnesium test is the best option available. The level that most functional medicine experts recommend for optimal function is 6-7.2 mg/dL. This is not the “normal range” though, as it is actually the top of the normal range, which ranges from 3.5-6.8 mg/dL depending on the lab used. Normal lab ranges are a wide-scoping range made up of a vast number of people, both healthy and unhealthy.1 We want an optimal range to get all magnesium’s many benefits.
You would likely have to request an RBC (red blood cell) magnesium test from your doctor, or go to a functional or integrative based practice that incorporates more nutrition into their medical practice. If you can’t find a healthcare practitioner to get the test through you can order it for your own informational purposes through various lab websites, followed by going to a local lab for a blood draw.
How Much Magnesium Should You Take?
This highly depends on your situation and goals. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adult males is approximately 400mg daily depending on age. For females, it is roughly ¾ of that at around 300mg daily.2 For many of you without significant health issues, taking the standard recommendation on a supplement bottle should suffice, assuming it’s a quality chelated magnesium that absorbs well. You really do get what you pay for with many supplements, especially magnesium. Of course, we always recommend trying to get a well-rounded diet with many sources of magnesium.
Treating Magnesium Deficiency
If you’re suffering from various health issues that could be magnesium related, a functional medicine practitioner might be able to test and monitor your RBC magnesium levels. They can then develop a magnesium supplementation protocol to better optimize your health. These doses are often higher, utilize many different types of magnesium for maximal absorption, and can last for 6-12 months. The body rations magnesium when it’s low. When supplementation starts, the body begins ramping up some of these 300+ enzymatic reactions that have had to put on the brakes. Once adequate magnesium starts being absorbed into the body, it is often rapidly used up for a few months. This eventually settles, and magnesium supplementation can be backed off.1 Magnesium doses higher than the RDA should only be administered under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Ask our Pro Support Team how magnesium might benefit you today!
Article by: Dr. Casey Greene
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