Magnesium: it’s so important, but Are You getting enough?

Magnesium is one of the minerals humans need the most. Responsible for more than 300 important biological functions in the body, a lot of magnesium’s to-do list relates to muscle and nerve function. Other important functions include energy production and regulating heartbeat. But what happens when you aren’t getting enough?

Magnesium And Agriculture

Magnesium is a mineral that naturally occurs in plants and in the soil, so it should be present in a whole lot of different foods we eat. However, it’s not. Testing of foods is revealing lower than expected levels of magnesium, and that means grandma was right: food really was more nutritious back in her day. Evidence points to lowered levels of magnesium in the soil, thanks to agricultural farming methods that deplete this valuable natural resource and don’t replace it properly.

According to PubMed, a respected database run by the National Institutes of Health, a mere 2% of Americans have a diagnosed magnesium deficiency, but up to 75% are not meeting their recommended daily intake either. What’s going on here? It makes sense that people are no longer meeting their recommended daily intake of magnesium through their diet, but how can only 2% of people have a deficiency?

It is difficult to get a read on a person’s true magnesium levels, and the short answer for why is that our bodies are an incredible miracle. 

The longer answer is that magnesium is so important to your body’s overall function that it will rob Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. Your body will always keep enough magnesium within easy reach for all the functions it needs to perform, but behind the scenes it’s emptying the coffers. It’s tapping into your bones, muscles and anywhere else it has some magnesium stashed. So, testing for a magnesium deficiency might turn up negative, but meanwhile the structure of your bones, muscles and soft tissue is weakening every day. 

Are You Magnesium Deficient?

So, now we have a decent understanding as to what those numbers from PubMed are really saying. But what does this mean for you specifically? 

It’s good to be aware that your body needs magnesium for many things, so it taps that resource a lot. Since testing would likely turn up an “all clear” result, you’ll want to look at the symptoms, the canaries in the coal mine. But there are different lifestyle factors too, that may be doing your levels no favors at all. The most common of these is drinking alcohol. Alcohol really hits the magnesium stores hard, and over time, even moderate drinkers may show signs of magnesium deficiency. If you’re a type 2 diabetic, experience any of a host of gastrointestinal issues, or are simply getting older, these are also important factors to be aware of where potential magnesium deficiency is concerned. 

Muscle cramps and spasms

If you get a lot of muscle twitches and random cramps, this may be a sign of magnesium deficiency. In their worst states this can even mean convulsions and seizures. Of course, there are a lot of reasons for twitches and cramps, so if magnesium supplements don’t help alleviate the problem, it could be something else.

Mental and emotional challenges

Magnesium deficiency has been linked to depression in some individuals, and more commonly, a feeling of general apathy and emotional numbness. Many scientists believe magnesium deficiency contributes to anxiety disorders too.


This one makes a lot of sense in light of what we now know about the way magnesium deficiencies “hide”… it can rob from the long-term strength of your bones in order to serve a more immediate function, and that may later manifest in a disease like osteoporosis.

Irregular heartbeat

Also known as heart arrhythmia, this is a condition that puts a pause in heartbeats at random intervals. It’s often present with no symptoms but it can increase risk of stroke and other more serious events. Though many people experience no notable symptoms, arrhythmia may also cause chest pains and shortness of breath.

High blood pressure

Magnesium deficiency may increase blood pressure, putting you at greater risk for a host of heart complications. Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to lower blood pressure, which is great because some patients with heart issues have been shown to have lower magnesium levels than their peers with no heart issues. 

How To Get More Magnesium In Your Diet

It’s safe to say that healthy magnesium levels are important to an all-around healthy individual. With such responsibilities as keeping your heart beating and muscles strong, it’s important to get enough magnesium. 

For some, this requirement may be best served with a supplement. There are different types of magnesium, and each of them serves a different purpose. Ask your healthcare provider or do a little research on your own to decide which one is best for you. The most important factor to look for is that it is bioavailable… that your body will understand it and be able to make use of it.

If supplements aren’t really your thing, great news! It’s not really necessary for most people. Just start by eating more foods that are known to be rich in magnesium. Here’s a short list of magnesium-rich foods to get you started:

Dark chocolate 

Is it candy, or is it health food? It’s all of the above, friend. You’ll be pleased to learn that a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of dark chocolate gives you 16% of the recommended daily intake for magnesium. It’s also loaded with antioxidants, and benefits gut and heart health too.


Not just high in magnesium, nuts and seeds are some of the most nutritious foods a person can eat. All varieties of nuts can play a part in your healthy diet, but nuts that are particularly high in magnesium include almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts. A one ounce serving of cashews offers a whopping 82 milligrams of magnesium, 20% of your recommended daily intake. 

Fatty fish

Fish is another one of those universally good-for-you foods, and if it’s something you like, the fattier the fish the better for magnesium. Salmon fits the bill perfectly, as does halibut and mackerel. If you’re a vegetarian, legumes can do the trick. Look to lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas and soybeans for your magnesium fix.


I know, this list is amazing. You’re welcome. Just one medium avocado gives you 58 milligrams of magnesium, around 15% of the recommended daily intake. Avocados fight inflammation, help cholesterol levels, increase satiety after meals and are just generally packed with all kinds of good-for-you nutrients.

Being aware of things like muscle cramps and weakness in your body – and what these symptoms can mean – is one of the most important ways that you can care for your body on a daily basis. It’s a small way you can stay on top of your health now, and possibly have a huge impact later.


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