Magnesium is essential for health and is necessary for over a thousand enzymatic reactions in the body. It’s needed for DNA replication and repair, controlling inflammation, and for cell proliferation. It is also crucial for detoxification as well as Vitamin D synthesis. Yet dietary surveys of Americans consistently show that intakes of magnesium are lower than recommended amounts.
A magnesium deficiency increases cell membrane permeability allowing viruses, fungi, and heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury, lead, and cadmium to enter cells, potentially triggering carcinogenesis (cancer formation). Plus, low magnesium inhibits the synthesis of glutathione – the master antioxidant, thus leading to an increase in free radical generation.
The Government Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 320 mg for women over 30, and 420 mg for men over 30. However actual requirements will vary for each individual, and most knowledgeable, nutritionally-oriented experts agree that the average adult needs around 400 mg – 1,000 mg per day of magnesium.
How to Best Increase Your Magnesium Levels
One of the best ways to increase magnesium levels is to consume magnesium-rich foods throughout the day, as the body benefits from a steady supply. Foods highest in magnesium are the leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, collard greens, bok choy, broccoli, Swiss chard, and others (the central atom of chlorophyll is magnesium). Other foods high in magnesium include nuts and seeds, fish, beans, avocados, figs, bananas, yogurt, cheese, milk, and cacao (as in pure dark chocolate).
However, as crops today contain far fewer vital nutrients than they once did, a supplement may be a good idea.
Cancer Patients Are Often Deficient in Magnesium
Patients receiving chemotherapy are at high risk of magnesium deficiency as they often suffer from vomiting and diarrhea, which can deplete magnesium levels. Plus, several chemotherapy drugs, such as Cisplatin, lower magnesium levels. Given that magnesium is needed for vitamin D synthesis, and vitamin D is critical for the prevention and treatment of cancer, a magnesium deficiency can impede or prevent healing.
The standard test for deficiency is a serum magnesium test, but unfortunately this test is not reliable – one can be in the “normal” range and not be at all normal. The problem is that 90% or more of magnesium is not in the blood, but rather inside cells, so a blood test will not yield much information. Don’t expect your mainstream doctor to know this.
There are a few other tests available, but none appear to be accurate. It would likely be more effective to pay attention to magnesium deficiency symptoms, such as constipation, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, insomnia, muscle fatigue, low energy, pain, and even cancer to name a few. If adding more magnesium-rich foods or a supplement helps alleviate symptoms, a deficiency was/is likely present.
Magnesium Supplementation Options
- Magnesium glycinate (least likely to cause diarrhea)
- Magnesium citrate (mild laxative effects)
- Magnesium carbonate (good for those with acid reflux)
Magnesium citrate and carbonate are available in powdered form (a good option for those who don’t like to swallow pills). Magnesium chloride is great transdermally, meaning you apply it to your skin. Magnesium oil, as it is often called, usually comes in a spray bottle as well as in the thicker gel form. Absorption will vary, but dosage is 1 to 2 teaspoons daily. Magnesium flakes and magnesium sulfate − known as Epsom salt − can be added to a bath.
Many people over the age of 50 have low hydrochloric acid levels in their stomach and impaired digestion. Obtaining magnesium transdermally (using the oil, gel, or in a bath) can get it directly into cells and the bloodstream and circulating throughout the body. Many well-informed doctors and health practitioners believe that this is one of the best ways to ensure adequate magnesium intake and to achieve healthy intracellular magnesium levels.
Since magnesium can have a laxative effect, absorbing magnesium through the skin also helps to avoid magnesium deficiency induced by too much magnesium.
Can Taking Too Much Magnesium Induce Magnesium Deficiency?
Because ingesting magnesium can have a laxative effect, taking too much magnesium for your body can cause magnesium deficiency through what is called gastrointestinal hurry. This is when digestive transit time increases to the point where absorption of nutrients becomes compromised.
To measure your own transit time (the length of time food takes in the gastrointestinal tract to go from mouth to anus), simply do not take any magnesium for a few days. By consuming an adequate amount of corn (organic and non-GMO of course), beets, or charcoal tablets, observe how long any of these take to emerge. (By the way, a normal transit time is about 12 hours to 24 hours).
Start by taking 100 mg of magnesium and see if your transit time increases. Increase your daily dose 50 mg at a time until you notice a difference and then back off. It’s important to note that spacing out your magnesium dosage throughout the day, say three times a day with meals and then before bed, lessens the likelihood of creating a situation that could induce a deficiency.
According to Jonathan Wright, MD, most people can take between 200 mg and 600 mg of magnesium each day without risking gastrointestinal hurry or magnesium-induced nutrient deficiency. Keep in mind though that it can happen at doses lower than 200 mg. If this is of any concern, you can combine a small amount, say 200 mg, of magnesium orally spaced throughout the day and use magnesium transdermally with oil, gel, or a bath. The other option of course is to just use magnesium transdermally.