Published on August 5, 2020
Reading time: 10 minutes.
This article is written by someone who knows first hand what a magnesium deficiency can do to your health. It’s the package of information I wish I had to hand at the beginning of my quest for wellness.
This article provides the answers to the obvious questions:
- What is magnesium?
- Why is magnesium crucial for optimal health?
- What is the problem with magnesium?
- What are some of the symptoms of deficiency?
- What can I do to improve my magnesium levels quickly?
What is magnesium?
You’ve probably heard of magnesium (or mag for short). You might remember it as a shiny grey metal from science class that burns with a brilliant white light when placed in a Bunsen burner (remember them?).
Mag is also talked about as a ‘mineral’, meaning it is a solid, naturally occurring substance that is required as an essential nutrient by organisms to perform functions necessary for life.
In nature, mag is only found in combination with other elements (these combination are known as compounds), for example Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom salts) and Magnesium Chloride. These compounds are referred to as ‘salts’ because their structures resemble that of natural salt crystals, as you’ll see in the image at the bottom of this article.
Compounds of mag are found in concentrated amounts in our seas and oceans and in the earth. They are also found in plants, animals and humans. Hardly surprising since mag is the 9th most abundant element in the universe.
Why is magnesium crucial for optimal health?
Life on earth isn’t possible without mag and life for humans becomes very difficult where mag is in short supply. This is because mag is everywhere in the human body. An adult body contains approximately 25g of mag – about half of that is in our bones and the other half is in our soft tissues, organs and bodily fluids.
Going back millions of years, our early ancestors lived in what were very ‘mag rich’ environments. The water they drank, fished and bathed in and the plants and animals that they consumed, were all very rich sources of mag. Getting a good daily dose of mag back then, estimated to be in the region of 1000 – 1500mg/day, wasn’t much of a problem for our early ancestors.
And so our bodies have evolved over millions of years having easy access to mag.
In terms of its functional roles, mag is involved in many important processes across many of the body’s systems. You’d need a far longer article than this one to properly explain why mag is crucial for optimal health, but in summary, mag:
- is needed by every cell in the human body
- serves as a cofactor for more than 250 biochemical reactions in the body such as enzyme systems involved in cell metabolism and cell detoxification
- maintains normal muscle and nerve function and is responsible for keeping the heart healthy and beating steadily
- is responsible for keeping the immune system healthy
- plays a key role in the production of proteins and for the utilisation of fats and carbohydrates which aid in energy creation
- is involved in the synthesis of DNA
- helps bones remain strong
- helps adjust blood glucose levels
- is responsible for regulating other minerals in the body like Potassium, Calcium and Sodium
- plays an important role in relaying signals between your brain and body
- influences nerve cells and aids in brain development, memory and learning
- is involved in the maintenance and function of healthy eyes.
Mag plays a hugely diverse and influential role in the body and almost everything can start to go wrong when you become deficient. Here in the 21st century, our environments, diets and lifestyles are alien to what our early ancestors were used to. Yet our need for Mag close to the quantities that our ancestors were getting remains unchanged.
As a maintenance dose, some government backed advice points to a daily amount of around 300mg daily for adults, but the reaction from the experts tends to suggest that is on the very low side and actually our daily requirement should be much higher.
What is the problem with magnesium?
First of all, mag has become forgotten knowledge. We don’t get taught in Chemistry or Biology that it is an important mineral vital for health. People have heard of it (maybe they spray some on their body to help sore muscles or to sleep better), but they don’t really ‘know’ about it and it isn’t talked about or thought about as an important mineral we need in high amounts, daily. If the oxygen in the air was suddenly to disappear, we’d notice pretty fast; Mag is in the same ‘essential for life’ category as O2, yet its disappearance goes largely unnoticed.
Nowadays, we live away from the water and modern agriculture has, over time, both stripped the earth of its minerals and also replaced the food and environments of the animals we eat. The consequences of these changes is that mag is much less available from what were once rich sources.
On top of this we now eat lots of refined foods like flour and salt where unwanted (healthy!) minerals are removed and processed foods like breakfast cereals, crisps, and biscuits where there is little if any nutrition, including mag.
our bodies have evolved over millions of years having easy access to mag
Whilst our lives have evolved significantly from those of our early ancestors, our bodies need for mag has not changed, yet we are increasingly unable to get a sufficient daily intake.
Not only are we getting less mag in our diets, our modern lives are placing a lot of stress on our bodies and minds – not just mental stress, but stress from pollution and chemicals, low nutrition diets, immune challenges like Covid-19 but also in terms of a lack of sleep and sunlight. This has the effect of accelerating the rate at which mag is used up and lost by the body.
If things start to go wrong for you and symptoms develop, most doctors won’t know enough to raise mag deficiency as an underlying problem. If you are lucky enough to be tested for a mag deficiency, the results are unlikely to lead to a proper conclusion.
Magnesium deficiency is often misdiagnosed because it does not show up in blood tests – only 1% of the body’s magnesium is stored in the blood.Dr Mark Sircus, Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms and Diagnosis
Published on December 8, 2009
In short then, mag is being drained from our bodies at a faster rate than we are able to put it back in, and most people, doctors included, aren’t aware.
In my opinion, if you are not aware of mag, don’t have a high nutrition diet or supplementation regime in place and/or you eat refined and processed foods, it is safe to assume that you will be deficient and should immediately start a supplementation regime whilst you make changes to your diet.
What are some of the symptoms of deficiency?
For me, the mental symptoms started first – my mood became low, my outlook on life and temperament changed for the worse, and eventually depression set in. Meanwhile my thinking became clouded and I easily lost a train of thought and the ability to retain information.
In terms of the physical symptoms, what I really noticed first were tingling sensations in one then both my arms and then legs which progressed to vibration sensations and also muscle weakness. Climbing stairs started to feel like a real effort. After a while, I had convinced myself that I had developed MS.
The more I understood, from my own research, the important roles of mag, the more I understood the pervasive effect a deficiency was having on me which helped me to cope a bit better mentally through my recovery.
However, I understand that a deficiency can present differently, so it is important to talk about the fuller list of symptoms so that people can more easily associate their symptoms with a mag deficiency.
Dr. Mark Sircus in his article, “Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms and Diagnosis (December 8, 2009)” neatly sets out a comprehensive list of symptoms based on the severity of the deficiency. It should be said that whilst many of these symptoms tend to present themselves together, that isn’t always the case.
“Suggestive early warning signs of magnesium insufficiency:
- Physical and mental fatigue
- Persistent under-eye twitch
- Tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck
- Pre-menstrual fluid retention and/or breast tenderness
Possible manifestations of magnesium deficiency include:
- Low energy
- Seizures (and tantrums)
- Poor digestion
- PMS and hormonal imbalances
- Inability to sleep
- Muscle tension, spasm and cramps
- Calcification of organs
- Weakening of the bones
- Abnormal heart rhythm
Signs of severe magnesium deficiency include:
- Extreme thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Frequent urination
- Sores or bruises that heal slowly
- Dry, itchy skin
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurry vision that changes from day to day
- Unusual tiredness or drowsiness
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Frequent or recurring skin, gum, bladder or vaginal yeast infections”
We all know of at least one person who is struggling with their mental health, whether it is anxiety or depression and the media is full of celebrities sharing their mental health issues and how they have resigned themselves to a life of managing the symptoms. These diseases are occurring at pandemic levels in particularly Western populations due to poor diet and lifestyle and a lack of understanding about nutrients like mag.
What can I do to improve my magnesium levels quickly?
The good news is that you can get your mag levels back up quickly through some relatively intensive supplementation. Longer term however, and like I did, you must shine a spotlight on your diet and lifestyle.
I experienced great results using Magnesium Chloride which I’ve come to understand is more absorbable but also more retainable in the body than other mag salts, for example Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulphate), Magnesium Citrate or Magnesium Glycinate.
My approach was to get as much mag into me using the different routes of administration: drinking mag rich water, applying a mag solution as a spray to my skin (also known as transdermal supplementation) and bathing in mag baths. I understood from my research that this is a safe strategy, as mag (even in concentrated amounts) isn’t toxic in the body.
To drink, I added a pinch or 2 of mag flakes to half a litre of water and drank that a few times a day. I drank it at home in the morning, during the day at work and in the evening. Mag can have laxative effects if you drink too much of it. You’ll start to get a feel for what is too much – staying at home when you start to supplement is a good idea!
To spray, I bought 4 x 100ml glass bottles with an atomiser spray. I filled the bottles with a good amount of flakes (about 1/3 to 1/2 full) and then added water making sure not to fill the bottle. Sometimes not all the flakes dissolve so you know the water is saturated. Every morning and evening I sprayed my body top to bottom with Mag and rubbed it in. I kept a bottle at home, in my work bag for travelling and in the office. It can sting a little when you apply a strong solution to your skin – you get used to it and it eases off when your mag levels start to go up.
To bathe in mag, at least once a week I’d add about 1 kg of the flakes to a relatively deep (not too hot) bath along with about 1kg of sodium hydrogen carbonate (aka baking soda) which helps to usher the mag through the skin and into the body. I’d stay in the bath for at least 30 mins and in some cases a lot longer. You can feel the calming, relaxing effects of mag after about 10 mins – be careful you don’t fall asleep.
Since I was using so much mag, I started buying it in 5kg containers which is much more economical than ready-made mag sprays of around 200ml which can cost about half the price of the 5kg containers.
I started feeling much better after a couple of weeks of following this regime, but I kept it going for around 4 months which I understand is about how long it takes to get up to a healthy level from a deficient starting point.
Post supplementation, I still follow the regime but less stringently. You start to get a feel for when you need a good spraying or bath. I got into some healthy routines for example leaving a jug of water around with some Mag in it, keeping a spray bottle next to the shower or bedside to remember to apply a few sprays.
In terms of a maintenance dose, I mentioned above that government backed advice points to a daily amount of around 300mg for adults, but that a much higher amount is more appropriate for our fast paced lives. When I was supplementing I didn’t really know how much I was consuming through the different routes of administration; my attitude was simply that more is better and my body will use what it needs.
Finally, and in terms of my attitude to spending money on these products, when I was feeling my worst I would have given up all my earthly possessions to feel better. I will forever more, happily spend money on minerals like mag to keep me feeling good. I would encourage you to adopt a similar attitude – the future you will be very grateful!
Share this post with you family and friends and anyone else you suspect could benefit from this information. Thank you!
About Robbie Mack
Robbie is a lawyer not a doctor. Robbie took an interest in nutritional and lifestyle health research after developing depression in his early 30s. Some years later his research has helped him find the answers to his problems. He believes that everyone should have access to the correct diet and lifestyle information based on the evolution of the human species. Robbie has taken full responsibility for his own health and thinks that everyone should try to do this.
Robbie-mack.org is the result of thousands of hours of research found on the internet and platforms like YouTube, where you can access the impartial and honest views of real experts on health and wellbeing.
Robbie isn’t a doctor so please don’t rely on his articles as medical advice as they are not intended to be used in this way.