Magnesium: an essential mineral

According to available data from over 110,000 published studies on magnesium, approximately 60-70% of adults have insufficient magnesium intake, leading to deficient levels of this mineral in the body.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body (after calcium, potassium, and sodium), with a total body content of only about 20 to 28 grams.

Around 60% of magnesium is deposited in our bones and teeth, where it, along with calcium and phosphorus, participates in the constant formation and remodelling of our skeleton.

On the other hand, 39% of magnesium is contained within our cells, where it plays a fundamental role, among other things, in the normal performance of kinases.

Kinases are the largest superfamily of human enzymes, and they are proteins whose role is to activate or inhibit essential chemical reactions for the proper functioning of our body. In fact, as shown by over 200,000 publications on the subject, dysfunction of kinases is directly or indirectly involved in more than 400 human diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, or conditions like fibromyalgia. Finally, only 1% of total body magnesium is present in our blood.

Magnesium deficiency: a multifactorial problem

Despite being crucial for our existence, chronic magnesium deficiency is often a widely prevalent condition in the Western population. Numerous studies conducted in the past 30 years have shown that magnesium deficiency is implicated in the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, etc. (Table 1).

Magnesium deficiency is primarily explained by the depletion of essential minerals in the soil caused by our current model of agricultural production, which is based on intensive and industrialized exploitation of our soils, resulting in crops with increasingly lower mineral content. This means that even those who strive for better nutrition by prioritizing whole foods may fall short on magnesium.

In addition to this primary problem, there are other factors that can exacerbate magnesium deficiency, such as:

  • excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are extremely low in magnesium due to industrial processing (refining);
  • intestinal absorption issues due to various diseases (intestinal dysbiosis, hypochlorhydria, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, among others), gastrointestinal surgeries, daily intake of certain medications (omeprazole, diuretics, among others);
  • increased losses of magnesium (higher excretion through urine and sweat), which often occurs in the following situations: intense physical activity, chronic stress, excessive alcohol consumption, and diseases that involve increased renal elimination of magnesium.
Table 1: Conditions associated with or exacerbated by chronic magnesium deficiency
Ref: adapted from QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 2018, Vol. 111, No. 11
Ref: adapted from QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 2018, Vol. 111, No. 11

Magnesium deficiency: an underdiagnosed problem

Chronic magnesium deficiency is not only an increasingly prevalent problem but also tends to be underdiagnosed by healthcare professionals. This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are often general and nonspecific (fatigue, anxiety, reduced stress resistance, muscle cramps, headaches, among others).

On the other hand, plasma magnesium measurement is still used as a parameter to assess magnesium reserves instead of measuring magnesium levels in red blood cells (RBC). The latter is a more accurate marker of the actual magnesium levels in our body (as explained earlier, approximately 39% of magnesium is inside our cells, compared to 1% in the blood).

Magnesium deficiency: solutions

To obtain all the benefits that magnesium offers for our health, it is necessary to have a proper daily intake of it, considering that a recommended intake of 300 to 400 mg of magnesium per day is advised for an adult.

To achieve this amount, it is necessary to:

  • consume organic foods that are rich in magnesium since they will have higher magnesium values compared to non-organic foods;
  • prioritise the consumption of whole grains (flour, bread, etc.);
  • limit alcohol consumption and maintain a balanced lifestyle, including relaxation exercises (such as meditation, heart coherence, etc.), in order to minimise magnesium losses, which can be significant in cases of chronic stress.

In some cases, magnesium supplements can be useful as an alternative, especially for individuals who cannot meet the aforementioned measures, or those who have some form of kidney or digestive pathology, or experience significant daily stress. For supplements, prioritise the following forms of magnesium: citrate, bisglycinate, malate, and taurate.

By Dr Aurélien Núñez

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Aurélien Nuñez is a Functional and micronutritional Medical Doctor, graduated from the Favaloro University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Specialised in Micronutrition, Food, Prevention and Health (MAPS) from the Paris Descartes University. He is working at Hotel Capela Das Artes in a project named Smart Treatments, where with his colleague, Silvestre Gonzalez, an Ayurveda-oriented Medical Doctor, and a team of therapists, are offering consultations, body therapies, retreats, yoga, meditation classes and workshops.
Instagram: @smart_treatments