The dangerous deficiency that’s almost impossible to detect

You probably know magnesium best for its role in laxatives (Milk of Magnesia, Magnesium Citrate) or antacids (Maalox, Rolaids).

Yet did you know that low magnesium may be the possible key to your baffling symptoms?

Let me first mention the myriad of illnesses that can be caused by the lack of this simple mineral. This is especially relevant when you consider that nearly 7 out of 10 adults are low in magnesium — but don’t realize it!

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Illnesses linked to low magnesium

Leg cramps is a very common complaint of my older patients. This is often remedied by magnesium supplementation (I’ll discuss specifics below).

But you might be surprised to know that this is just one of many illnesses known to be linked to low magnesium intake and low serum levels. Other common symptoms and illnesses associated with low magnesium include:

  • Muscle weakness, muscle spasms, eye twitching, tingling, numbness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Depression, anxiety, irritability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin problems such as acne and eczema

Even more significantly, low magnesium is strongly associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, migraine headaches, and more top chronic diseases which I’ll take up in my next report.

But first, you deserve to understand the magnitude of the problem of magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency is very prevalent

Even though magnesium-rich foods include brown rice, beans, avocados, and dark chocolate, a government study shows that 68% of Americans consume below the RDI of magnesium (420 mg a day for adult males), 53% of teenage girls show levels of gross deficiency. and 19% of Americans consume less than half of the RDI of magnesium.

To make things worse, our government’s RDI (recommended daily intake) of magnesium is too low for optimal health.

Magnesium plays a part in more than 300 metabolic reactions such as energy production, DNA synthesis, insulin action, glucose regulation, lipid metabolism, blood pressure control, muscle contraction, nerve innervations, bone strength, and much more.

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Why such magnesium deficiency?

We know that low magnesium is probably the most underdiagnosed electrolyte deficiency in current medical practice.

Why don’t routine blood (serum) tests ordered by your doctor reflect tissue magnesium levels or function? Part of the answer lies in the fact that magnesium deficiency in your muscles is difficult to measure and therefore, is not generally detected or reported.

Consider that 99.7 percent of total body magnesium is found in bones, muscles and tissues, while you’ll only measure 0.3% in serum. Therefore, serum magnesium levels have little correlation with your magnesium level in specific body tissues. Peer-reviewed scientific articles, therefore, reveal that the diagnosis of low magnesium or low calcium is vastly underestimated.

Moreover, your blood is your homeostatic body fluid and will adjust to keep magnesium and other chemical levels optimal — even when your tissue magnesium may be insufficient.

Even the other methods of detecting low magnesium (from red blood cells, saliva, urine, and magnesium tolerance tests) are similarly not satisfactory. Moreover, magnesium serum levels reference range for normal is too low and already represents a mild magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency is now considered the silent epidemic of our times. Since we cannot look to lab tests to discover low magnesium, I recommend you know the illnesses associated with it, symptoms and signs of it, or better, just take a daily supplement if you are at risk for it.

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Beware what lowers your magnesium

In addition to a lack of dietary intake of magnesium, here are other ways your body’s magnesium levels can be reduced:

  • Refined sugars cause increased urinary losses
  • Stress uses it up more quickly (anxiety, insomnia, heavy exercise, surgery, etc.)
  • Hormone imbalances lower our serum magnesium
  • Prescription medications lower our serum magnesium: diuretics (Lasix); proton-pump inhibitors (Prilosec); zinc supplements (over 142 mg/day); gentamicin, digoxin, penicillamine, and chemotherapy drugs.
  • Calcium supplementation with more than 1:1 ratio calcium to magnesium
  • Alcohol consumption increases urinary losses (30 percent of alcoholics)
  • Kidney, liver or heart disease
  • Poor intestinal health reduces absorption. Crohn’s, colitis, celiac, diarrhea states
  • Hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, SIADH (anti-diuretic hormone excess)
  • Age over 55 decreases absorption and increases urinary losses
  • Some evidence indicates our soil and crops are becoming depleted

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Sources:

  1. Combs GF, Nielsen FH. “Health significance of calcium and magnesium: Examples from human studies. In: World Health Organization.” — Calcium and Magnesium in Drinking Water: Public health significance. Geneva: World Health Organization Press; 2009.
  2. How Many Americans Are Magnesium Deficient?
    — Life Extension®
  3. Whang R. Magnesium deficiency: pathogenesis, prevalence, and clinical implications.Am J Med. 1987 Mar 20;82(3A):24-9. PubMed PMID: 3565424.
  4. Gibson, RS. “Principles of Nutritional Assessment, 2nd ed.” — New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  5. Wilhelm Jahnen-Dechent, Markus Ketteler. “Magnesium Basics.” — Clin Kidney J (2012) 5 (Suppl 1): i3-i14.
  6. Hoorn EJ1, van der Hoek J, de Man RA, Kuipers EJ, Bolwerk C, Zietse R. “A case series of proton pump inhibitor-induced hypomagnesemia.” — Am J Kidney Dis. 2010 Jul;56(1):112-6.
  7. Matsuyama J1, Tsuji K, et al. “Hypomagnesemia associated with a proton pump inhibitor.” — Intern Med.  2012; 51(16):2231-4.
  8. Spencer H, Norris C, Williams D. J “Inhibitory effects of zinc on magnesium balance and magnesium absorption in man.” — Am Coll Nutr. 1994 Oct;13(5):479-84.

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Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.