Feeling tired, grumpy or stiff? It may be your magnesium levels. We reached out to local nutritionist Sarah Gale to ask about magnesium, and she delivered with fascinating and surprising facts that will help you recognise possible deficiency. She also has some practical tips on how to remedy the situation.
Over to you, Sarah...
Magnesium is often referred to as ‘the spark plug of life’ because it is involved in over 600 reactions in the body. If you had to give it a personality type, it would definitely be an overachiever. Magnesium is needed in abundance and is required for muscle function, energy production, hormone health, metabolism, aiding blood glucose control, bone health - just to name a few functions!
The average daily magnesium intake for men and women in the UK is below the daily amount recommended by the government. Modern lifestyles including stress, poor sleep and high intensity exercise alongside increased caffeine and sugar intake all contribute to the body’s depleting magnesium stores.
What’s more, the magnesium content of plant foods is known to have decreased by 20-30% over the last 60 years. This means we can’t always rely on magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and beans to provide high enough levels of this crucial mineral in the same way that we used to.
Here are some of surprising signs that you might be deficient in magnesium:
The balance between magnesium and calcium is critical for normal muscle function, and as calcium is quite abundant in the western diet this ratio can often become imbalanced. Fundamentally, calcium allows muscles to contract and magnesium allows them to relax.
Due to magnesium’s role in muscle relaxation, it is often known as natures tranquiliser and is a vital nutrient for healthy restful sleep. Inadequate levels of magnesium can cause sleep disturbances, and it is suggested that magnesium can help increase the neurotransmitter GABA which slows down our thinking helping to promote sleep.
Magnesium is involved in the production of hormones including progesterone and oestrogen so it plays a vital role in the menstrual cycle. As magnesium helps muscles to relax, it can help to reduce or prevent period pains through relaxing the muscles of the uterus, as well as reducing inflammatory molecules called prostaglandins that make period pain worse. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to help reduce premenstrual symptoms such as cravings, water retention, anxiety and bloating, especially when combined with vitamin B6.
Magnesium is needed for the body to both make energy and to use it, so deficiency can be a contributing factor in tiredness and fatigue. Coupled with loss of appetite, nausea, sickness and feeling weak, these can often be the first signs that you are magnesium deficient.
Magnesium deficiency has been associated with personality changes like apathy which is defined by a feeling of numbness or lacking emotion. Deficiency can make you feel not quite like yourself, but it can also lower mood with research linking magnesium deficiency with increased cases of depression.
Magnesium deficiency can alter your potassium levels causing them to drop. This affects the cells in the heart muscle and causes them to change their normal rhythm. Magnesium deficiency has also been associated with an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia which is a serious condition which can also include chest pain, lightheadedness and shortness of breath. If you notice any changes in your heartbeat, then make sure to mention it to your GP.
Magnesium is like your chill pill; it helps the brain to calm down from stress and stimulation. Magnesium helps to regulate the stress response so when magnesium is depleted (which ironically can be from mental or physical stress) the normal stress response is altered. A study found that supplementing with 400mg magnesium daily increased heart rate variability (HRV). Low HRV is associated with increased stress, so this study suggests that magnesium has a beneficial effect on the stress response.
Magnesium plays a role in nerve impulses in the body so a deficiency can cause symptoms like numbness or tingling in the extremities such as the hands and feet. In more extreme cases, it can also sometimes feel like a limb has fallen asleep!
If you have noticed that your normal bowel movements are slower or you are suffering with constipation this could be down to not having sufficient magnesium levels. Magnesium has a natural laxative effect in the gut helping to move our stools through the bowel. We should all be aiming to pass a sausage like stool at least once a day.
The recommended daily intake for magnesium is 375mg per day. To achieve this, you would need to eat at least 150g edamame beans, 150g baby spinach, 100g sardines, 30g dark chocolate and 10 almonds - every single day – and that would be if soils and sources were magnesium replete!
To increase your intake of magnesium focus on getting lots of anything dark, green and leafy into your diet. Other good sources include pumpkin seeds, avocados, organic tofu, tuna, sardines, bananas, almonds and dark chocolate (at least 85%).
Epsom salt baths can be another great way of boosting your magnesium intake or of course if you are struggling to get adequate amounts through your diet you could choose to supplement.
Sarah Gale is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Clinical Nutritionist DipION mBANT and hormone expert and helps women who just can’t lose weight break free of the diet cycle, rebalance their hormones and feel confident in their own skin again.
After a lifetime a hating her body and chronic yo-yo dieting, Sarah realised that yo-yo diets didn’t have the answers and by balancing her hormones, fixing her metabolism and working on her mindset she could finally lose the weight and get her self-confidence back.