Magnesium Deficiency --- A Crisis in the US
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Magnesium Deficiency--A Crisis in the US

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February 13, 2015, last updated April 18, 2016
By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Did you know that two out of every three people in the US are magnesium deficient? Could you be one of them?

A massive 68 percent of Americans do not get the recommended daily intake of magnesium, and 19 percent of us do not get even half of what the government recommends, according to a 2005 study by the Medical University of South Carolina. Why is this so frightening?

Magnesium deficiency has been linked to many different health problems from heart disease to diabetes and migraines. Magnesium is naturally present in hundreds of foods and it is available as a supplement. So why aren’t we getting enough?

Why is magnesium so important? And why exactly is the US suffering a magnesium crisis of such mammoth proportions?

Why is Magnesium So Important?

It’s not surprising that magnesium deficiency is linked to such diverse health issues as headaches and heart disease – magnesium has a role in more than 300 enzyme systems. Magnesium helps to regulate a huge variety of biochemical body reactions, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In fact, there are very few chemical reactions in your body that do not rely on magnesium.

Magnesium helps protein synthesis --which occurs in every cell of your body. Magnesium aids in blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation, muscle function, nerve function, and energy production. Magnesium is necessary for bone development and the synthesis of DNA. Magnesium also helps to control normal heart rhythm and muscle contraction.

How Much Magnesium Does the Body Need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of magnesium for a female aged 19 to 30 years is 310 mg and 400 mg for a man.

If you are over the  age of 31 you need slightly more --- 420mg for men (around 5 ounces of almonds) and 320 mg for women (around two cups of boiled spinach).  That's every day.  Teens aged 14 to 18 need 410 mg (boys) and 360 mg (girls.)

Who Suffers Most From Magnesium Deficiency?

The surveys state that magnesium intake in the US is consistently lower than these RDAs.

In particular, adult men aged 71 years and older and teen girls are more likely to have low intakes (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of 2005–2006). 

Other people in the US are more likely to suffer from magnesium deficiency as they suffer from health conditions that affect the absorption of magnesium in the gut – for example, people with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, Type 2 diabetes, and alcohol dependence.

What are the Signs of Magnesium Deficiency?

Because magnesium helps so many bodily processes, the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are diverse. Early signs include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, and fatigue. As the deficiency gets worse, you can suffer from muscle cramps and contractions, numbness, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, and even personality changes.

What Are the Health Risks of Magnesium Deficiency?

If your magnesium intake is low over a long period of time you raise your risk of suffering from several serious diseases such as heart disease.

According to the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study (2010, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis), people with the highest intake of magnesium had a 38 percent reduced risk of sudden cardiac death compared with people with the lowest intake.

A 2013 study from Harvard School of Public Health found that higher levels of magnesium were significantly associated with lower risk of heart disease.

Higher magnesium intake reduces the risk of stroke, according to a 2012 study from the National Institute of Environmental Medicine, Stockholm, Sweden.

And increasing your intake of magnesium may help lower your blood pressure, according to a 2006 study from the University of Newcastle in the UK.  A diet higher in magnesium from a greater intake of fruits and vegetables, plus low-fat dairy products, lowered blood pressure according to a 2006 study from the Louisiana State University System, Baton Rouge.

If you have a diet low in magnesium you are more likely to suffer from diabetes, says a 2007 study from the National Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Magnesium affects the growth of bone and therefore if you are magnesium deficient you risk osteoporosis. A 2007 study from Erciyes University, Kayseri, Turkey discovered that women with osteoporosis have lower magnesium levels than women not suffering from the disease, and higher magnesium intake is associated with greater bone density, according to a 2009 study from Tufts University, Boston.

Magnesium deficiency also contributes to migraine headaches, according to a 2009 study by The New York Headache Center.

Why is Magnesium Intake in the US So Low?

You may think that only one thing causes magnesium deficiency - not eating enough food containing magnesium. But studies show that other factors are causing a magnesium epidemic in the US.

Overuse of synthetic fertilizers is depleting the soil of magnesium, according to “The Fatal Harvest Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture” by Jason McKenney.

Once magnesium has been washed from the soil it is available at lower concentrations in our food. Modern water processing techniques may be removing magnesium from our water supply. And taking supplements like zinc and calcium, plus medications like estrogen and oral contraceptives, is linked to a reduction of magnesium in the blood.

How Can You Get More Magnesium?

We could all do with increasing our magnesium intake. Nutrients like magnesium are better when they come from food, rather than in supplement form, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Good sources of magnesium include dry roasted almonds (1 ounce contains 80mg of magnesium), boiled spinach (1/2 cup has 78mg), dry roasted cashews (74mg per ounce), shredded wheat cereal (61mg per serving), soymilk (61mg per cup), black beans (60mg per cup), edamame beans (50mg per 1/2 cup), and avocado (44mg per cup.)

Two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter provides 12 percent of the recommended daily magnesium amount, and two slices of whole-wheat bread provide 12 percent – a peanut butter sandwich once a day is a great magnesium boost. The high magnesium content of peanuts may be one of the reasons that peanuts boost your restung metabolism by 11%.


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