Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in muscle relaxation, blood pressure regulation, and nerve function. Magnesium is also involved in the production of energy from food. That’s why some people call it the “energy mineral.”

Despite its importance, not everyone gets enough. Magnesium deficiency is relatively common in Western diets because so many people eat a heavily processed diet low in magnesium. Plus, they eat too few whole grains, nuts, seeds, and leafy green vegetables naturally high in magnesium. According to a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, as many as half of Americans have low tissue levels of magnesium. But how would you know if you have it? Here are some signs and symptoms that you may not get enough magnesium in your diet.

You experience frequent muscle cramps

Although no one knows exactly what causes painful muscle cramps, low magnesium seems to play a role. Although studies looking at magnesium supplementation for muscle cramps are conflicting, there’s substantial anecdotal evidence that supplementing with magnesium helps prevent muscle cramps. This isn’t surprising since magnesium plays a key role in muscle contraction. So if you’re having frequent muscle cramps, it’s possible your diet needs more magnesium. But always see your doctor if you have muscle cramps, as some medical conditions can cause them, too.

You’re depressed, anxious, and stressed out

Without enough magnesium in your diet, you may have a difficult time relaxing. You may also experience anxiety or symptoms of depression. Magnesium deficiency is associated with various mood changes because of the role it plays in nerve function. In fact, some psychiatrists and mental health professionals prescribe magnesium supplements for people suffering from anxiety or symptoms of depression. There are reports of people recovering from depression after supplementing with 125-300 milligrams of magnesium daily, but don’t supplement with magnesium without talking to your physician first.

You’ve got insomnia

Magnesium deficiency can also cause sleep problems. When you’re magnesium deficient, it’s harder to relax and enter a relaxed state. Can consuming more magnesium help? A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of elderly individuals with insomnia found that supplementing with magnesium significantly improved insomnia and measures of sleep quality. But before supplementing with magnesium, see your doctor and make sure there’s no other cause for your insomnia, such as sleep apnea.

Your blood pressure is creeping up

If your blood pressure is rising, magnesium deficiency could play a role. Magnesium helps regulate blood pressure by relaxing the muscles in the arteries and veins so that your blood pressure comes down. There are many reasons your blood pressure could be rising. If you have an unhealthy diet or lifestyle habits — like smoking, being overweight or obese, or eating too many processed foods — these factors may explain the rise. Some people are genetically predisposed to developing high blood pressure; it runs in their family. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so now would be a good time to ensure you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet. Magnesium plays a key role in heart health, so make sure you’re eating enough magnesium-rich foods.

You have low bone density

Magnesium deficiency has been linked to low bone density (osteopenia) and increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become fragile and break easily. Magnesium plays a key role in bone metabolism. It helps activate vitamin D, which is important for bone health. In addition, magnesium helps transport calcium into the bone, where it can be incorporated into new bone.

Some research suggests magnesium may help prevent osteoporosis, although the results are mixed. Some studies show that magnesium supplements can increase bone mineral density, while other studies have not reached this conclusion.

It’s important to get enough calcium and vitamin D for bone health, but ensure you’re balancing it out with enough magnesium, too. Some health professionals believe the ratio of magnesium to calcium in an individual’s diet should be at least two to one for optimal health and bone density

Are you at high risk for magnesium deficiency?

Certain factors and medical issues increase your risk of being deficient in magnesium.

You may be at increased risk of magnesium deficiency if you:

  • Eat a diet high in processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables
  • Are taking medications that prevent absorption of magnesium or cause diarrhea (diuretics, antibiotics)
  • Drink alcohol regularly
  • Have anorexia or bulimia
  • Are recovering from alcoholism or alcoholism treatment

If you think you’re not getting enough magnesium, talk to your doctor about testing your level via a blood test. However, blood tests for magnesium deficiency will only detect moderate to severe magnesium deficiency. Your tissue levels may still be low, even if you have a normal blood level of magnesium.

The Bottom Line

Talk to your physician before taking a magnesium supplement, as there are many types. But you can also get more magnesium through your diet. The best dietary sources of magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Enjoy these healthy, natural sources of magnesium.

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