Magnesium is needed for hundreds of processes in our bodies. The main functions are maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, supporting a healthy immune system, maintaining a steady heart rhythm, helping to make healthy, strong bones and regulating blood glucose levels. Too little magnesium can also lead to hypocalcaemia (too little calcium in the body), which may cause brittle bones or tooth decay.
Why is magnesium deficiency on the increase?
Studies carried out in the US found that the magnesium content in the foods that we consume is decreasing at an alarming rate. Similar studies from the UK Food Standards Agency found the same results with the total decline being 14% greater in the UK. Between the years 1940 and 1991:
- Vegetables declined by 24% .
- Fruit declined by 17%.
- Meat declined by 15%.
- Cheeses declined by 26%
The three basic reasons we can’t get enough magnesium through diet alone are:
Reduced levels in foods due to processing.
- Reduced levels due to soil conditions.
- Changes in eating habits.
Are you losing magnesium or failing to absorb it?
- Diuretics will make you excrete magnesium via your urine e.g. tea, coffee, alcohol (magnesium deficiency in alcoholics is common) and diuretics drugs.
- Stress can cause magnesium loss
- Heavy exercise. (Magnesium loss is speculated to be a possible reason by long distance athletes sometimes develop dangerous heart dysrhythmias)
- Poor cell membranes. To ensure your cell membranes are healthy it is important to consume a good level of Essential Fatty Acids in your diet and consume a good level of antioxidants to prevent against cell damage from free radicals and oxidative stress.
- Calcium and magnesium compete for absorption so too much calcium can block magnesium absorption. We need a 2:1 ratio of calcium and magnesium in our diet. Dairy products have a ration of around 10:1 which blocks magnesium absorbtion
- Excess consumption of tea. Tea contains tannins which binds up all minerals which prevents them from being absorbed. It is recommend you don't drink tea with food and it effects the absorption of the minerals in it. Tea is believed to be the most common cause of iron deficiency in the UK for this same reason.
- Not enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed by the body to utilise magnesium. In the UK during the winter Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common so it is recommended everyone in the UK take a Vitamin D supplement in the winter months.
Conditions magnesium is often used to help treat
- Chronic fatigue
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Are you consuming enough magnesium?
The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium in the UK is 270mg for women and 300mg for men. It is an extremely common and safe supplement to take orally - too much will just give you diarrhoea. It is sensible to start taking magnesium at a lower intake then increase slowly until it causes diarrhoea and then decrease a little when it does.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.