Magnesium Deficiency: The Mineral for What Ails You

A couple weeks ago I put out a shout out for help choosing a new topic for the blog.  I have tons of opinions and lots of things that I’m interested in, but I want to write about things that interest you, as my readers.  A pharmacist friend of mine suggested that I write about magnesium deficiency and I thought, “Hm, that could be interesting.  I know some things about it and that could be an interesting blog…”  Little did I know.  Ashley is a fellow naturopathic medicine enthusiast and has been a huge help doing research for this blog.  Ashley, if you’re reading this I (and my readers) thank you!

Magnesium deficiency is fairly common here in the United States.  This has a lot to do with our poor diet choices.  Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, and lean dairy products.  We are very much a “meat and potatoes” society, which don’t contribute much to replacing the magnesium that we lose every day.  Patients with GI problems tend to have low magnesium also.  We’ve talked about calcium, sodium, and a few other minerals, but what in the heck does magnesium do?  The doctor doesn’t talk about it.  It hasn’t been in the news.  So how can it possibly be important?

Magnesium contributes to over 300 enzymes and their functions.  It is necessary to maintaining healthy cell structures, muscle, and heart function.  Magnesium is basically used in every cell and almost every process in the body to function.

Magnesium deficiency can cause muscle cramping, lethargy, heart arrhythmias, tinnitus, mental abnormalities, tremors, esophageal spasms (which can lead to heart burn), low calcium levels (which can effect bone strength), and other mental and musculoskeletal problems.  These things seem to be what ails America the most and, yet, this mineral is mostly ignored.

Treating magnesium deficiencies have shown positive effects in migraines and fibromyalgia (of course this doesn’t work for everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to try).  Heartburn may be helped by magnesium.  Depression and hearing loss have sometimes responded well to magnesium supplementation.  PMS and restless leg syndrome respond to magnesium.  If you are taking medications for osteoporosis, magnesium may be just the thing you need to help maintain your bone density (that’s right, it’s found in your bones too!).

Part of the reason magnesium deficiency seems to be ignored is because the symptoms are so general and can be caused by other disease states that are easier to detect.  Many times blood tests are inaccurate in magnesium deficiency because what is in the blood does not correlate to the amount of magnesium hiding in your cells.  Magnesium test, however, do correlate well to symptomology.  If you’re sleepy or having muscle spasms and aches it may be in your interest to have your magnesium levels tested.

The big question with a magnesium deficiency is how to treat it once it is discovered.  Many doctors prescribe Mag-Ox or magnesium oxide.  This, however, isn’t the best replacement.  Magnesium oxide has a very low bioavailability.  This means that it doesn’t get absorbed by the body well.  In fact in order to take enough to get decent absorption most people will get diarrhea.

Well shoot.  Now what?  Magnesium chloride (also known as milk of magnesia) and magnesium citrate have very good absorption, but it can also cause diarrhea.  Magnesium oroate seems to also absorb well, but doesn’t seem to cause the GI upset of the other oral medications.  You can also apply magnesium topically, whether as a supplement or relax cramping muscles, but it doesn’t seem to cause the GI upset either.  At Mixtures we carry a very good product called “Ancient Minerals,” which has good absorption and comes in a gel, which is easy to apply and use, but does not leave an oily residue.  Need something to relieve achy joints after a long workout?  How about an epsom salt bath?  That’s right folks!  Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate!  It absorbs well, but I wouldn’t suggest taking it orally unless you really knew what you were doing.  Because it absorbs so well it can cause diarrhea within 30 minutes of ingesting… not something to do before that dinner party with your boss.  Of course if you don’t want to supplement, may I suggest a lovely spinach or kale salad topped with walnuts and a greek yogurt dressing?  In order to improve absorption it is normally suggested to take vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).

Magnesium is a little tricky.  Because it is a mineral it binds up with certain antibiotics and thyroid hormones.  It can interact with some heart medications (calcium-channel blockers).  It should not be used in patients who have renal (kidney) insufficiency because it isn’t excreted and can then cause arrhythmias.  Generally, this is a safe supplement, but it’s always a good thing to check with your doctor before you use the medication in yourself or a child, just to make sure that it won’t worsen any conditions.  Also, please ask your pharmacist if this mineral will interact with any of your medications.  We would love to help.  I’m happy to do the interaction check for you or you can stop by mixtures to see if there are any interactions as well.

Ashley, thanks so much for the inspiration!  Folks, if you have questions please email me at:

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