If you follow current health news and trends, you’ve undoubtedly been deluged with data proselytizing the critical role vitamin D plays in optimizing health. For years, science has shown how insufficient vitamin D levels contribute to health concerns on virtually every level — immune-system dysregulation, depression, poor bone health, and lack of energy, to name a few. And many have responded, boosting levels through supplementation or quality time in the sun.
Move over, vitamin D (but don’t stray too far). There’s a mineral that has a similarly staggering, wide-reaching effect. Often referred to as “the miracle mineral,” magnesium is proving to be an incredibly versatile and critical nutrient. Norman Shealy, MD, one of the world’s leading experts in pain management and founder of The Shealy Institute, has said, ”Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is the most critical mineral required for electrical stability of every cell in the body. A magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other nutrient.”
As overblown as this might sound, Dr. Shealy isn’t alone in his thinking. Today, many health experts claim magnesium may be the single most important nutrient for human health. Yet it’s estimated that a whopping 68 percent of Americans are deficient.
Not long ago, our ancestors effortlessly satisfied their bodies’ need for magnesium. They drank clean, mineral-rich water straight from rivers, lakes, and streams, and ate naturally organic foods grown in fertile soil.
We live in a different world today. The city water we drink is purified and treated to remove contaminants, a process that can strip minerals. Much of our food is a shadow of its former self, nutrient-poor from harsh factory-farming methods that degrade soil integrity and rely on chemical fertilizers rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Factor in the increasing incidence of gut distress and poor nutrient absorption from which so many people suffer, and it’s easy to see why deficiencies are rampant.
Like vitamin D, magnesium supports seemingly endless functions and bodily systems. It’s the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is a cofactor for the proper functioning of 325 enzymes. Ongoing magnesium deficiency has been linked to numbness and tingling, muscle cramps and twitches, headaches and migraines, constipation, insomnia, irregular heart rhythms, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, premenstrual syndrome, personality changes, anxiety, fatigue and weakness, fibromyalgia, vertigo, and seizures. And this is just the beginning.
While we’re all familiar with the importance of calcium for strong bones, it can’t do the job alone, as it requires magnesium to help transfer the calcium into bone. Magnesium relaxes muscles, including your heart muscle and blood vessels, and helps the heart muscle itself function optimally. It’s also a natural sleep aid; many suffering from insomnia have added magnesium supplementation to their sleep regimen.
The list goes on. Magnesium plays a significant role in our detoxification processes, preventing possible damage to your body and brain from environmental toxins and heavy metals. Even your body’s “master antioxidant,” glutathione, requires magnesium for its synthesis. Considering we live in an increasingly toxic world, anything we can do to decrease our total “body burden” of toxins is a no-brainer.
Additionally, circling back to our ever-popular friend, vitamin D, magnesium activates the enzymes that metabolize and use vitamin D. Magnesium also has been shown to help reverse vitamin D resistance.
Finally, science has shown that magnesium plays a key role in improving insulin sensitivity, regulating glucose, and helping prevent type 2 diabetes. Several studies from 2013 all concluded that magnesium’s ability to improve insulin sensitivity may actually slow or stop progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes. In an October 2013 study from the American Diabetes Association, researchers stated, “Magnesium intake may be particularly beneficial in offsetting risk of developing diabetes among those at high risk.” Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Magnesium Miracle, concurs, stating that supplementing with magnesium can help reverse pre-diabetes.
For an extensive list of symptoms and diseases related to magnesium deficiency, check out the Center for Magnesium Education & Research.
Fortunately, magnesium is available through a variety of whole foods, provided you’re consuming organic, high-quality foods grown in nutrient-dense soil, as mentioned earlier.
Some magnesium-rich foods include:
- Leafy green vegetables, like Swiss chard and spinach
- Beans, especially pinto and black beans
- Nuts and seeds, especially cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds
- Agar seaweed
- Brown Rice
- Coriander leaf
- Cocoa powder (chocolate counts!)
Cooking and processing foods does deplete magnesium somewhat, so including some fresh, raw greens and raw, sprouted nuts and seeds in one’s diet is valuable.
In addition to emphasizing magnesium-rich foods, if you suspect you’re low, you can experiment with supplementation. Functional-medicine practitioners generally recommend supplementing with magnesium citrate, glycinate, or taurate, and avoiding magnesium oxide, carbonate, sulfate, and gluconate, which aren’t absorbed very well.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium for adults is between 310–420 milligrams per day, yet the Vitamin D Council contends these levels aren’t high enough. According to Dean, the best way to tell if you’re getting enough magnesium is how you feel. Symptoms like insomnia, muscle cramps, fatigue, high blood pressure, and migraines can all improve.