Insomnia, depression, cravings and tiredness are the bane of many of our lives. But they could be signs of a simple problem: magnesium deficiency.
The Daily Mail’s Dr Michael Moseley addressed the issue recently when he appeared on BBC Radio Two’s Breakfast Show with Chris Evans – exploring how the humble mineral could treat a range of common ailments including migraines, PMT and constipation.
Yet it doesn’t get a lot of attention. Although magnesium is found in brown rice, green leafy vegetables, beans, avocados, almonds and dark chocolate, most of us don’t get enough of the amount we need.
One study of 8,000 Britons by Mineral Check discovered around 70 percent had low levels, Healthista reports.
Likewise, the Government’s most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed that most children and adolescents fail to get the recommended daily allowance with 53 percent of teenage girls showing levels of gross deficiency.
Yet magnesium is an essential mineral which plays a crucial role in more than 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body each day. Research suggests it can help achieve a restful night’s sleep and reduce the symptoms of restless leg syndrome as well as improve chronic pain, tiredness, mood swings and migraines.
Here are some key signs of magnesium deficiency not to miss.
1. You can’t stay asleep
Studies have shown that when magnesium levels are too low, it’s harder to stay asleep.
‘Magnesium contributes to the normal function of the nervous system thereby offering nervous system support which may then assist with sleep disturbance,’ said Rick Hay, London-based nutritionist and author of The Anti Ageing Food & Fitness Plan.
Magnesium increases a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which encourages relaxation as well as sleep. Low GABA levels in the body can make it difficult to relax.
Magnesium promotes good sleep by helping us unwind, Hay explains, and it’s an important factor in how our body manages its sleep cycle.
Indeed, a 2012 study found that 500mg magnesium taken for eight weeks before bed had a positive improvement on insomnia levels.
2. You’re depressed
‘Magnesium has a role in hormonal regulation and may also help blood sugar balance which can help with mood issues such as depression and anxiety,’ said Mr Hay.
Positive neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin are regulated by magnesium, and such neurotransmitters are essential to a stable mood.
Excitingly, researchers last year published a study in the journal PLoS One that found adults who received 248mg of magnesium a day for six weeks saw a significant improvement in their levels of depression and anxiety.
3. You get migraines
If you’re one of the one in seven people who get migraines in the UK, supplementing with magnesium could help.
‘Although evidence for magnesium’s role in migraine treatment is limited it’s very promising,’ said Mr Hay.
In fact, one study published in the European Journal for Neutraceutical Research found that using topical Magnesium Oil Spray from BetterYou across a three-month period helped improve the severity and frequency of symptoms.
‘This effect on reducing the severity of migraines was probably due to magnesium’s hormonal regulating benefits and its muscle relaxation properties,’ explained Mr Hay.
4. You crave chocolate
Cravings for specific foods can indicate nutrient deficiency and if it’s chocolate you’re craving most often, a lack of magnesium could be the reason.
The sweet treat is high in magnesium and because our levels go down during and before our period, some experts suggest what we’re really craving when we reach for chocolate pre-menstrually is magnesium.
The highest levels are found in dark chocolate that is over 60 percent cocoa.
5. You get muscle spasms
As a muscle relaxant, magnesium works alongside calcium to regulate muscle movement.
If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, the muscles of any part of your body can go into spasm.
This can manifest as leg cramps, muscle pain, tightness and general aches, according to Mr Hay.
6. You suffer eye twitches
‘One of the most common ways magnesium deficiency can manifest is through eye twitches,’ Mr Hay explained.
That’s a symptom related to the mineral’s ability to regulate muscle movement – too little and your muscles, including those of your eyes, can spasm and twitch.
7. You have an irregular heartbeat
Magnesium helps maintain a normal heart rhythm and doctors sometimes administer it intravenously (IV) in the hospital to reduce the chance of atrial fibrillation and cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
It’s central to a healthy heart rhythm because it’s involved in transporting other minerals such as calcium and potassium into cells.
Magnesium deficiency increases irregular heartbeats known as arrhythmias because it causes levels of such nutrients as calcium in the blood to drop. In one study of women, higher dietary intake of magnesium was associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death.
8. You’re always tired
‘Magnesium is part of the body’s natural energy production system and contributes to energy release,’ says Rick Hay.
Low energy levels and fatigue have been linked to low magnesium levels within the body because magnesium is needed for the body to produce adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) which is essential to creating energy.
9. You have acne, eczema or other skin problems
Magnesium is great for reducing inflammation, which often accompanies (or can be caused by) skin disorders such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.
In one study on over 3000 post-menopausal women, increased magnesium intake was responsible for reducing three separate biomarkers for inflammation: CRP (C-reactive protein), TNF (tumor necrosis factor alpha), and IL6 (interleukin-6).
In fact, bathing in magnesium has long been considered a treatment for inflammation related skin problems such as eczema.
Magnesium also helps regulate vitamin D, which is essential for the health of the skin.
Magnesium supplements – what you need to know
Taking an oral magnesium supplement can sometime cause stomach upsets, said Mr Hay. And if you suffer from problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) you might also have problems with absorbing enough magnesium from an oral supplement.
Taking magnesium through the skin has been shown to lead to better absorption, he explains, because it is sustained release and bypasses the digestive system, reaching the bloodstream more directly.
‘For fast-acting use, magnesium chloride has an impressive rate of absorption,’ said Mr Hay.
Indeed, one study on transdermal magnesium found that using magnesium on the skin instead of taking it orally elevated cellular magnesium levels up to five times faster than traditional tablets or capsules.
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