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Magnesium Deficiency to Sufficiency

BY: Andrea Nakayama

DATE: 2019-09-26

At the Functional Nutrition Alliance Clinic we tailor our recommendations to meet the unique needs and requirements of our clients. When it comes to helping people reach their healing potential, cookie cutter protocols, magic pills, and the diet of the day are not within our repertoire. As we always say, one size never fits all.

And yet, we broadly believe in the principles of bringing deficiencies to sufficiencies. When evaluating deficiencies, we consider the whole person. Digestive secretions (such as enzymes or acids), psychological nourishment (like love or support), hormones, immune factors and key nutrients (of course!) are all important to explore.

The magnesium deficiency epidemic

Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in numerous biochemical reactions in the body. It plays a vital role in maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, supporting a healthy immune system, regulating blood pressure, and promoting strong bones, among other functions.

Despite its importance, magnesium is a nutrient that is deficient in a large portion of the population. According to an article published in the cardiology journal Open Heart, “because of chronic diseases, medications, decreases in food crop magnesium contents, and the availability of refined and processed foods, the vast majority of people in modern societies are at risk for magnesium deficiency.”

Unfortunately, magnesium deficiencies can fly under the radar while yielding biological impact because of the ways we measure them. Magnesium levels are typically measured through blood tests, despite the fact that blood magnesium levels may not always accurately reflect total body magnesium status. This is because magnesium is primarily stored within cells and bones, with only a small fraction circulating in the blood.

The subclinical magnesium deficiencies that are quite common, particularly in Western societies, refers to a state where magnesium levels may be within the normal range, but there is an insufficient amount to support optimal physiological functions. This can lead to subtle symptoms and health effects that may go unnoticed or be attributed to other causes.

The top 3 benefits of boosting your magnesium intake

  • Relaxation of nerves and muscles:

    Magnesium helps relax nerves and muscles that are tight, stiff or irritable. For a person with restless leg syndrome, joint pain or difficulties falling asleep, magnesium may be a helpful relaxation mineral (or miracle!)

  • Improved digestive function:

    Adding a magnesium supplement in the right form and to meet a person’s particular needs, may help restore morning bowel movement ease and efficiency.

  • Longevity and disease prevention:

    Research indicates magnesium deficiency as an “upstream” driver in chronic health conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease. For people looking to take preventative measures to maintain optimal health, it’s important to pay heed to the research illuminating magnesium’s role in energy production, DNA and protein synthesis, and antioxidant support.

10 Common signs of magnesium deficiency

Symptoms are often nonspecific, meaning they can be attributed to multiple underlying causes. This is true for many health conditions, including magnesium deficiency. And while all signs and symptoms can have various causes, and a true magnesium deficiency should be confirmed through appropriate evaluations, there are some common manifestations: 

  1. muscle cramps and twitches

  2. fatigue and low energy

  3. sleep challenges

  4. stress and anxiety

  5. mood swings

  6. decreased concentration or brain fog

  7. headaches

  8. constipation and/or bloating

  9. weakness or tremors

  10. increased sensitivity to light and/or noise

5 natural ways to increase your magnesium intake

When possible we generally recommend nutrient-dense eating for bringing deficiencies into sufficiencies. “Food first” is a great approach when it comes to meeting nutrient needs, including magnesium. 

Eating a varied and nutrient-dense diet that includes magnesium-rich foods can provide you with an adequate intake of this essential mineral. Many whole foods are excellent sources of magnesium, including:

  • all dark leafy greens, especially Swiss chard and spinach

  • nuts & seeds

  • beans & lentils

  • quinoa & brown rice

  • fish, especially mackerel, pollock and tuna

  • avocado

  • banana

  • dried fruit, especially figs and dates

  • dark chocolate

  • nettles

  • sea vegetables like kelp

  • shrimp

  • dandelion greens

  • garlic

Which form of magnesium is right for you?

For enhanced absorption we recommended taking magnesium supplements before bedtime or between meals, especially when there is little to no dietary fat present in the gastrointestinal tract. There are various options available for magnesium supplements, and the body absorbs each differently. The different forms includes:

  • Taurate:

    promotes calmness and supports heart health

  • Citrate:

    budget friendly yet not always gut friendly

  • Aspartate:

    supports cellular energy

  • Orotate:

    supports heart health

  • Glycinate:

    chelated form of magnesium that is most bioavailable

  • Malate:

    promotes cellular energy

  • Threonate:

    helpful for cognitive health

  • Oxide:

    may create a strong laxative effect

Our clinically preferred form of supplemental magnesium is magnesium glycinate. Magnesium glycinate is known for its high absorption and bioavailability. It’s particularly beneficial for individuals addressing a magnesium deficiency and is most gentle on the stomach and digestive system. 

Bonus Tip:

Taking an Epsom salt bath (epsom salts contain magnesium sulfate) allows you to absorb magnesium through your skin. It’s helpful for soothing sore muscles and promotes relaxation before bedtime. Add 3-4 cups of Epsom salts per tub, relax and enjoy.

Magnesium 411

I’ve gone ahead and put the most important information about magnesium on one page making it easy to remember why magnesium might add some magic to your everyday.

(There’s no magic pill but magnesium might just make you feel like there is!).

From commonly asked questions to my favorite foods that are rich in magnesium, I’ve got you covered with this fun magnesium 411.

FxNA magnesium 411

Quick Health Advisory:If magnesium is new for you, and you’re deciding to add in a supplemental version, be sure to start low and go slow. Magnesium supplementation works well for most, but not everyone will find that supplementation is helpful or needed. If your elimination leans towards loose, you’ll want to be cautious with the type of magnesium you introduce and consider working with a Functional Nutrition Counselor to find the match that’s right for you.

Andrea Nakayama

By: Andrea Nakayama, FxNA Founder & Functional Medicine Nutritionist

Functional Nutrition Alliance provides the comprehensive online Functional Nutrition training in the Science & Art of the Functional Nutrition practice. Learn to address the roots of your clients’ suffering with client education, diet & lifestyle modifications.


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