What Is Magnesium?

Marina O’Connor, CNP

What is magnesium?

Why Is Deficiency Common and What Are The Risk Factors Of Deficiency?

Magnesium is one of the top 10 most abundant elements in the world and should be the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies. Yet, it is suspected that more than a third of Canadians are deficient in this crucial nutrient (Statistics Canada, 2012). Perhaps most notably, magnesium is important for the proper development and maintenance of bones, teeth, muscle and nerve function, but magnesium’s role in the body reaches beyond these preliminary functions. In fact, it has hundreds of roles in the human body, some of which are basic functions required for surviving and thriving. Some of the common reasons magnesium may be recommended by a practitioner might be for the following circumstances:

  • Bone and teeth building
  • Muscle soreness and function
  • Nervous system function
  • Dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps)
  • Inflammation
  • Arrhythmia
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Constipation
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Insomnia

Why are we so deficient in Magnesium? Firstly, due to years of gradual soil depletion from modern farming practices, our food has significantly lower levels of magnesium than it once had and it is lacking in our diet. Secondly, a growing number of individuals have compromised digestion, stomach acid and absent enzymes due to processed diets, which means that absorption of crucial minerals such as magnesium is limited. Finally, the modern lifestyle consists of moderate to high levels of stress, which also depletes magnesium. This occurs because high levels of stress cause an increase in a hormone called cortisol, which is downregulated in part by magnesium stores in the body. Chronic stress, even if it may be low-grade, causes significant depletion of magnesium.

What are some further risk factors of magnesium deficiency?

    • Consuming less than one serving of greens per day
    • High caffeine and/or high alcohol consumption
    • High levels of physical activity
    • Pregnancy
    • Diarrhea
    • Heavy menstrual bleeding
    • Certain medication (biphosphates (for osteoporosis), antibiotics, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors) (National Institutes of Health, 2018)

The good news is, even with magnesium supplementation the risks of consuming too much magnesium are minimal. Excess magnesium is evacuated through the digestive tract in the form of diarrhea. It is very difficult to overdose on magnesium if dosage instructions are followed accurately. Like any other supplement, prior to beginning a supplement regimen with magnesium, it is best to consult your health care provider or practitioner.