Magnesium deficiency can show up as stress, insomnia, fatigue, tension and pain. Constipation and poor digestion are other common signs.
Chronic deficiency can even trigger or exacerbate serious health conditions, including low bone density and several cardiac issues.
So, it’s important to get enough! But how much is enough?
For adults in Canada and the US, the recommended intake of magnesium is between 310 and 400 mg per day.
Some experts, including Dr. Carolyn Dean, argue that more is really needed.
“300 mg of magnesium is required merely to offset the daily losses. If you are under mild to moderate stress caused by a physical or psychological disease, physical injury, athletic exertion, or emotional upheaval, your requirements for magnesium escalate.” (The Magnesium Miracle, p. 216).
So, how can you improve your magnesium levels?
We’ve compiled 10 tips that will get you on the path to magnesium sufficiency!
1. Embrace the Power of Plant Foods
According to Dr Dean, an “average good diet may supply about 120 mg of magnesium per 1,000 calories, for an estimated daily intake of about 250 mg.” (p. 216)
The more you privilege plant foods, the better, because greens, nuts, seeds and beans are the best sources of magnesium.
For example, you can get 300 mg of magnesium through a combination of 20 raw almonds, four cups of raw spinach, and one cup of beans.
2. Know Where It’s Grown
While it’s always a good idea to privilege plants, not all plant sources are equal.
The vitamin and mineral content of high-quality organic produce can be as much as 3x higher than standard produce.
That’s because modern industrial farming practices have depleted magnesium from the soils, and even good sources are no longer as naturally rich as they once were. Bones recovered from the 19th century have been discovered to have twice the magnesium levels found in present-day skeletons.
How can you get produce that’s higher in magnesium?
Consider joining a Community Shared Agriculture program with reputable, local organic farmers. Or, grow your own in the summer, and use what you save to buy organic in the winter.
3. Choose Raw More Often
Processing, whether heating or milling, strips foods of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
Whenever possible, eat high-magnesium foods in their natural state.
You don’t need to go completely raw! In fact, there are some benefits to lightly cooking certain foods, including spinach. If you choose mostly unprocessed foods and some raw foods every day, you’re on the right path.
4. Pay Attention to pH
Studies show that sugar, meat, eggs, dairy, salt and carbonated drinks change the natural pH balance of the blood. These foods are considered “acidic”, because they increase the acidity of the blood.
In response, the body draws on stores of alkaline magnesium to restore healthy blood pH levels.
Given these foods are a huge part of the modern diet, it’s no wonder so many people have symptoms of magnesium deficiency! If you’re eating a lot of acidic foods, your body needs much more magnesium.
5. Get Out the Toxins
Toxins are absorbed every day from the air we breathe, our water supply, foods, prescriptions and of course, what we put on our skin.
Magnesium plays an essential role in cleansing the body of pollutants.
“One of the most important neuroprotectants known, magnesium helps defend our cells against potential neurotoxins in our environment, such as pesticides, herbicides, food additives, solvents and cleaning products.” (Dean, The Magnesium Miracle, p. 63)
It’s impossible to eliminate toxins from our lives. But keep toxin-avoidance in mind as you shop for food, personal care and cleaning products.
And if you know your toxin exposure is high, make magnesium a daily priority.
6. Ditch Diuretics
Caffeine, alcohol and diuretic drugs may be undermining your magnesium levels. Much like boiling spinach, diuretics leech the body of water-soluble nutrients, like magnesium, by causing water loss.
The same is true of excessive sweating. If you use a sauna, exercise heavily or have hyperhidrosis, you’re sweating out magnesium.
We’re not about to recommend you cut exercise or saunas! But it wouldn’t hurt to limit caffeine, alcohol and investigate natural alternatives to any diuretic drugs you may be taking.
7. Stress Less
Stress overstimulates the nervous system. Magnesium – when it’s available in adequate supply – slows the nervous impulse, shuts down adrenaline responses and relaxes muscles.
But battling constant stress depletes magnesium levels fast.
“Chronic stress can come from feeling insecure and threatened, or from exposure to toxic chemicals, heavy metals, or even loud noise, all of which assault the nervous system and overwork the immune system. For example, constant loud noise in an industrial work setting induced a significant increase of serum magnesium (as magnesium was released from tissues) and significantly increased urinary excretion of magnesium, indicating a magnesium deficiency, which lasted for forty-eight hours after exposure.” (Dean, The Magnesium Miracle, p. 50 – 51)
So, everyday physical, environmental and psychological stress can deplete our body’s magnesium stores. Major stressors, like surgery, disease and pregnancy can even more dramatically increase the body’s magnesium requirements.
It’s unrealistic to say, “just be less stressed,” in a world that’s stressful. But it really is important to cut out the stressors and increase your magnesium intake.
8. Reconsider Calcium
Most people get too much calcium and not enough magnesium.
In part, we can thank the dairy marketing boards for that. But many processed foods are also fortified with calcium, and calcium is over-represented in supplements. The next time you look at an adult or kids’ multivitamin, scan for the calcium and magnesium levels. You’ll notice that in most cases, the calcium content is way higher than the magnesium!
Our heart, brain and muscles need a ratio of 2:1 magnesium to calcium in our cells, to properly function. Our bones need the reverse ratio, but overall, a balanced 1:1 ratio of calcium and magnesium is best.
To keep that balance, most people should either cut back on calcium or increase magnesium.
9. Be Anti-Antacids
Stomach acid is very important for the absorption of magnesium.
Some research suggests that magnesium citrate helps compensate for low stomach acid, and we know that magnesium citrate does absorb well in lower-acid environments.
But if you are taking antacids, you’re making it harder to absorb magnesium
“By neutralizing normal stomach acids, antacids make it impossible for us to absorb minerals or digest our food properly.” (Dean, The Magnesium Miracle, p. 31)
According to Dr Dean, heartburn and digestion are incorrectly blamed on too much stomach acid. Instead, we have bad diet to thank for heartburn and indigestion. Instead of opting for an antacid, try to remove sugary, greasy and processed foods from your diet.
10. Go With Your Gut
After passing through the stomach, magnesium is absorbed through the small intestine into the bloodstream. How much you absorb may depend on the health of your intestines.
“Whether the intestines are healthy or diseased is probably the most important factor in magnesium absorption.” (Dean, The Magnesium Miracle, p. 33)
According to Dr Dean, one of the biggest concerns is leaky gut.
With leaky gut, “(y)east toxins, inflammatory substances…and undigested food molecules all form barriers to the absorption of dietary and supplemental nutrients, including magnesium.” (Dean, The Magnesium Miracle, p. 33)
IBS, yeast overgrowth and food allergies must be addressed, according to Dean, to deal with poor magnesium absorption.
If you have or suspect these issues with your gut, look for a Naturopath who specializes in digestive health.