Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in your body and one that plays a part in over 300 metabolic reactions in your body. These include reactions that contribute to the health of your heart, bones, muscle function, nervous system, and blood vessel health. So, to say it’s important is an understatement.
Plus, studies show that consuming enough magnesium may reduce the risk of some health problems, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetics are at greater risk of magnesium deficiency than healthy people.
How prevalent is magnesium deficiency? Estimates are that up to 40% of the population doesn’t get enough dietary magnesium for optimal health. Why are so many people falling short in this important mineral? There are at least six factors that enhance the risk of magnesium deficiency. Let’s look at some things that drain the body’s magnesium reserves, so you can sidestep being low in magnesium.
Health Problems That Reduce Magnesium Absorption
If you don’t absorb enough magnesium from your gut, it’s easy to see how you could become deficient. Some inflammatory conditions of the gut, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, make it harder for the gut to absorb magnesium. If you have one of these conditions, you may be deficient even if you eat magnesium-rich foods. If that’s the case, you may need supplemental magnesium. That’s something to discuss with your physician.
Have you ever had several days of diarrhea? During those unpleasant bouts of loose or watery stools, you lose electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and chloride. But you also excrete magnesium. Conditions that cause chronic diarrhea can decrease your magnesium level. This is mainly a problem if you have prolonged diarrhea.
Other causes include conditions that produce frequent urination since you lose magnesium through urination too. For example, if you have poorly controlled blood sugar, you urinate more and flush more magnesium down the toilet. Kidney failure can also cause a drop in magnesium.
Eating Ultra-Processed Foods
Ultra-processed and junk foods might be convenient short term, but food processing destroys much of the fiber and nutrients in the food, including magnesium. In fact, refined grains retain only about 16% of their magnesium. You can imagine how detrimental this is to your body’s magnesium stores if you consume these foods daily. When you bite into refined carbohydrates and processed junk, you’re usually eating something high in sugar and sodium and low in fiber and nutrition too. Choose wisely!
Magnesium is vital to many of your body’s functions, which include keeping your heart healthy, muscle contractions, muscle relaxation, energy production, mood, and brain function. There are studies showing that people who suffer from stress have lower magnesium levels in their bodies. The journal of Stress recently published a study showing that stress can decrease magnesium levels in the brain.
With so many people dealing with emotional stress, it’s not surprising that low tissue stores of magnesium are common. Studies also show that higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, released during times of physical and mental stress, is linked with lower magnesium. Make sure you have effective ways to deal with stress such as meditation, exercise, spending time in nature, and deep breathing to preserve your body’s magnesium status.
Taking Certain Medications
Some medications cause the body to excrete more magnesium into the urine. An example is loop diuretics that doctors prescribe for some heart conditions and high blood pressure. Other medications that lower magnesium include drugs used in cancer chemotherapy, medications used to treat heart failure, corticosteroids, medications used for psychotic disorders, and some asthma medications. Even some antibiotics can lower magnesium. Always ask your physician whether you’re taking prescriptions that could affect your magnesium level.
A common group of medications you can get without a prescription called proton pump inhibitors also lowers tissue magnesium. These medications, available at most drug stores, treat acid reflux, but they also have a variety of side effects, including a risk of magnesium loss.
The Food and Drug Administration points out that you would need to take this medication for a year or longer before magnesium deficiency becomes an issue. It’s a reminder to ask your doctor about whether the medications you take could contribute to nutrient deficiencies.
What You Drink
Consuming large amounts of alcohol can lower the body’s magnesium reserves. Even the water you drink may affect your magnesium status. Hard water contains magnesium while soft water does not. Some nutrition experts recommend drinking hard water to increase your body’s magnesium reserves. Research suggests, however, that you can’t easily absorb magnesium from hard water since it’s inorganic. Therefore, the best way to meet your body’s magnesium needs is to add more magnesium-rich foods to your plate.
Not Consuming Enough Magnesium-Rich Foods
With people eating so many convenience foods, it’s not surprising that many people are low in magnesium. Some of the best sources of magnesium include leafy greens, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Notice these are all whole foods and that’s where you get the most vitamins and minerals. Imagine the incidence of nutritional deficiency would plummet if people ate whole foods rather than ultra-processed junk?
The Bottom Line
It’s obvious that magnesium deficiency is a problem and that being low in this critical mineral has health consequences. Know your risk factors for deficiency, consume enough magnesium-rich foods, and ask your physician if you could benefit from a magnesium supplement.
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