Have you ever bolted awake in the middle of the night with a shooting, stabbing leg cramp that literally feel like someone has driven a spike into your leg? Or do you find you’re feeling low on energy or are susceptible to migraine headaches? Any of these symptoms could indicate that you are not getting enough magnesium.
Magnesium ranks as the 11th most abundant element in the human body (by mass). It plays a key role in hundreds of cellular processes, including the absorption of calcium, turning food into energy and maintaining the proper functioning of nerves and muscles, including the heart. This is likely why studies have shown that magnesium deficient individuals are less able to endure long periods of exercising. It also aids in the body’s metabolism of essential fatty acids, turning them into prostaglandins which regulate immunity and many other body systems.
Much of magnesium’s functionality happens on the level of enzymes, little protein helpers which carry out functions on the cellular level. Hundreds of enzymes require magnesium in order to function. In fact, over 300 enzymes in living organisms need this supplement for the catalytic reactions making up the very metabolic processes of life. This includes all enzymes that utilize or synthesize energy (ATP), or those which synthesize DNA and RNA. Simply put, this supplement is essential for all life as we know it.
Plants also require it since chlorophyll, the molecule that allows plants to convert sunlight into energy and gives plants their green color, contains such mineral at it’s very core. Magnesium deficiency in plants can be identified by a yellowing of the plant between leaf veins. Plants rich in chlorophyll, greener plants, are also rich in magnesium. A very good reason to eat your greens!
Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is relatively common in the Western world. It is estimated that only 32% of Americans meet the daily recommended intake of magnesium and Canadian figures are likely similar. In mild cases, the deficiency can result in muscle cramping, insomnia, increased stress or headaches. But chronic magnesium deficiency is implicated in a number of human illnesses including osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, lowered immune function, depression, erectile dysfunction, migraine, Restless Leg Syndrome, allergies and ADHD.
Foods rich in magnesium include spinach and other leafy greens, cocoa, tea, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, miso, tempeh, bananas, nuts including Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, grains like brown rice, oats, corn and barley, peppers (the hotter the better), salmon, halibut and avocado.
With all of these wonderful foods providing magnesium, one wonders how deficiency could be so wide spread. When you include the fact that refining and processing of food can reduce magnesium substantially, however, the picture becomes a little clearer. Similarly, the use of magnesium deficient synthetic fertilizers for growing foods may result in produce which contain less magnesium than produce fertilized organically. Eating whole, naturally grown foods is the best way to ensure you’re getting all the magnesium you need.
If you are supplementing with magnesium, take note – magnesium oxide is the most common form available because it has a high magnesium content per weight, but it has been reported to be the least bioavailable (least absorbed by the body). The magnesium citrate form is reportedly more bioavailable than either the oxide or glycinate (amino acid chelate) forms and should be the preferred form for supplements.