The 5 Causes of Magnesium Deficiency
Hypomagnesia is the technical term for dangerously low levels of magnesium in the body.
It’s typically caused by inadequate intake of dietary magnesium or the body’s inability to absorb magnesium. How does that happen?
We know that as many as 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium — how is it that so many people are not getting enough from their diets or are having trouble absorbing what they do eat?
It’s an important question. If magnesium deficiency gets out of hand it can lead to all kinds of serious health issues.
Writing for Food Matters TV, Melissa Breyer notes that “high rates of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis and joint pain, digestive maladies, stress-related illnesses, chronic fatigue and a number of other ailments” in the United States are partly due to widespread magnesium deficiency.
Getting enough magnesium has a long list of benefits. Check out our top 10 benefits of magnesium post to discover more.
We’ve created a checklist of common magnesium deficiency symptoms. Click the button below for a handy free pdf that you can print.
Magnesium deficiency is often caused by these 5 things:
1. Eating a “standard” American diet.
Wellnessfx.com has a list of the most magnesium-rich foods you can eat. It includes oat bran, spinach, swiss chard, brown rice, almonds and lima beans… not exactly the typical American fare, which consists largely of meat, refined grains, processed foods and dairy products, none of which contain much, if any, magnesium.
Even if you do eat a lot of foods on the ‘magnesium-rich’ list, you might still be magnesium deficient since our industrial agriculture system has led to mineral shortages in many of our crops as well.
Paul Fassa at Natural Society observes that: “Thanks to modern monoculture farming methods that rely heavily on using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides that are absorbed into the soil, our topsoil has been heavily depleted of its mineral content. The master mineral, magnesium is missing from most of our topsoil, leaving the vast majority, perhaps 80%, with a failure to meet even the USDA’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 240 to 420 milligrams (based on age). It’s important to note that government RDAs are known to be well below optimum levels. Many experts think our magnesium levels should be twice the amount.”
2. Regularly drinking caffeinated beverages, soda or alcohol.
Sodas contain phosphates that attach themselves to the magnesium inside your body, making it unavailable for absorption. Plus, your kidneys filter and excrete excess magnesium and other minerals as part of their normal function.
Jillian Michaels explains “The diuretic and mild laxative effects of caffeine in coffee result in the loss of minerals, including magnesium, via the urine and feces. Additionally, the acid present in coffee wears away at the villi of the small intestine, reducing its ability to absorb nutrients, which is why most heavy coffee drinkers have mineral deficiencies, according to Paul Pitchford.”
If you frequently drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol, it can cause your kidneys to excrete magnesium even before you’ve had a chance to absorb it. That’s why alcoholism is a common cause of hypomagnesia.
3. Drinking soft water.
If the city you live in has soft water or if you have a water softener in your home, your drinking water likely contains much less magnesium than it should.
In some parts of the world, magnesium in drinking water can account for 50% of the recommended dietary intake. Some cities may replenish the water supply with magnesium after softening it, but you’d need to contact the city to know for sure.
Some brands of mineral water contain significant quantities of magnesium, depending on where the water is sourced from. Check the label to see if your favorite brand is magnesium-rich.
4. Taking calcium supplements.
Women should be especially wary of the effects of certain supplements on magnesium absorption. If you have been instructed to take a calcium supplement to prevent bone loss or to treat osteoporosis, this could be the reason for low magnesium levels.
MD, Catherine Northup writes:
“For the majority of human history, the ratio of calcium to magnesium in the diet was 1:1, a ratio that’s considered optimal. A ratio that’s between 1:1 and 2:1 is adequate (for example, 800 mg of calcium to 400 mg of magnesium). Unfortunately, today’s diets contain an average of ten times more calcium than magnesium.”
If you’re taking a calcium supplement or eating foods fortified with calcium, magnesium supplementation can help to restore a proper ratio and ensure that the calcium you’re taking is being properly absorbed.
You should not stop taking your calcium supplements, especially if you have been advised by a doctor to take them. It’s important to talk to your healthcare team about diet and supplementation, including combinations and dosages, before making any changes.
5. Experiencing constant or chronic stress.
The Nutritional Magnesium Association website cites a study that investigated chronic stress and magnesium levels. It was found that chronically stressed individuals had lower magnesium stores when compared with control groups.
On the flip side, those who had sufficient magnesium in their systems exhibited fewer signs of stress. In other words, stress causes magnesium loss while, at the same time, getting adequate magnesium protects against stress.
Writing for healthy.net, Leo Galland, MD explains the process further: “Chronic stress depletes your body of magnesium. The more stressed you are, the greater the loss of magnesium. The lower your magnesium level to begin with, the more reactive to stress you become and the higher your level of adrenalin in stressful situations. Higher adrenaline causes greater loss of magnesium from cells. Administering magnesium as a nutritional supplement breaks this vicious cycle by raising blood magnesium levels and buffering the response to stress, building your resistance.”
What Kind of Magnesium Supplement Should I Take?
How do you make sure you’re getting enough magnesium? How do you make sure that your body can use what you give it? You need to make sure that you’re supplementing with a bioavailable form of magnesium.
When you take magnesium in pill form, most of the mineral isn’t absorbed by your body.
It’s like depending on your diet to get your magnesium, you can get some, but depending on your gut health, you may not absorb much of what’s in your food. Magnesium in pill or tablet form is even harder to absorb, regardless of how functional your digestive system is.
When oral supplements don’t seem to be making a difference, sometimes people will just increase their dose. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t one of intake, it’s a question of absorption so taking too many magnesium pills causes side effects like diarrhea and stomach cramps.
You can use Epsom salts in your bath to absorb magnesium through your skin; many people do notice a difference when they enjoy a soak in the tub this way. The quality of the magnesium in Epsom salts is not high enough to fight off deficiency.
While regular Epsom salt soaks can certainly help (12 minutes at least, 3 times a week), you’ll likely still find yourself suffering from deficiency symptoms, due to poor quality salts or your body’s inability to use the magnesium you’re getting.
There are numerous ways to supplement with magnesium, but they’re not created equal. We recommend getting the magnesium your body needs from a top quality topical spray, which experts agree is a better way to absorb it. We posted a report about that recently, check it out here.