Amy Burkhart, MD, RD, is a board-certified emergency medicine physician and registered dietitian. She also trained in integrative medicine with Dr. Andrew Weil at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Her practice is located in Napa, CA.
1100 Lincoln Ave. Suite 200
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 927-5622 Office
This month Dr. Burkhart talks about an important mineral that needs to be addressed if you suffer from a malabsorption disorder, chronic stress, allergic problems, hormone imbalances and more. What is it? Magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency has been associated with all of the following health problems and more!
Arrythmias/Irregular heart beat
Autism Spectrum Disorder
High Blood pressure
High levels of stress
Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Regular Use of Alcohol or Alcoholism
Restless Leg Syndrome
Why talk about Magnesium?
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies (following Calcium, Phosporus and Potassium). It is vital to health. And MANY of us are deficient in it. The majority of magnesium is stored in our bones and most of the remainder is in our cells. Very little actually circulates in our blood. That little bit in our blood however, is crucial to our heart and plays a key role in maintaining a regular heart beat.
It has a number of other important roles in our body including blood sugar regulation, energy production, blood pressure normalization, muscle and nerve function and maintenance of a healthy immune system.
Why are so many people deficient in it?
DIET. They typical American diet is full of processed, refined foods. Refining carbohydrates removes magnesium in addition to many other important nutrients. The process of refining involves removing the hull (outside portion) of a grain. This turns brown rice into white rice or whole grain wheat into white flour.
As our lives have gotten busier and people rely more on packaged and processed foods, magnesium intake declines. Gluten free diets are notoriously low in magnesium and it is an important nutrient that should be addressed with anyone following a gluten free diet. Wheat bran is one of the foods with the highest concentration of magnesium. When you eliminate wheat from the diet, an important source of magnesium is lost. Also, manufactured gluten free foods are full of refined flours and sugars and void of this important mineral.
Caffeine is also a magnesium depleting chemical, as is alcohol. We all know how well Starbucks does in this country-caffeine consumption is high for the average American.
Chronic stress, in any form also depletes magnesium levels. Combine a poor diet, caffeine intake, chronic stress and alcohol and you have a set up for magnesium depletion.
What are some of the signs of magnesium deficiency?
Abnormal heart rhythms
High blood pressure
Loss of appetite
Low Potassium or Low Calcium
Muscle spasm, twitching
Nausea and vomiting
Poor nail growth
Note: This list is not all inclusive and any of these signs are non-specific and may be due to things other than magnesium deficiency.
How to you test for it?
Because very little magnesium is stored in the blood –blood tests are notoriously poor at monitoring body magnesium levels. Due to the fact that magnesium is important to maintain normal heart function-your body works very hard to maintain a constant blood level. This occurs at the expense of body stores which are not easily measured. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency correlate poorly with serum levels. Which test, if any, is used varies from practioner to practioner. Some examples of tests are serum magnesium, red cell magnesium, ionized magnesium, urinary magnesium. Some practioners treat based on symptoms only. Discuss evaluation with your practioner if you think magnesium deficiency is affecting you.
How can I increase my magnesium intake naturally?
Increase your food intake of magnesium.
The best food sources of magnesium are (from highest to lowest) pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, black and soybeans, spinach, Swiss chard, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, brown rice, Chinook salmon and halibut.
Limit caffeine and alcohol – Both have been shown to deplete magnesium.
Decrease stress – Find a method that works for you. Even fifteen minutes a day will help. Exercise is a great stress reliever and has additional benefits but others include reading, journaling, meditating, breathing exercises…the list goes on. Start by choosing one, and make a point to incorporate it into your daily schedule.
If I need a supplement? Which formulation?
Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diet. If you are considering a supplement please consult with your health care practioner before starting it. The best absorbed forms are magnesium glycinate, aspartate and citrate.
What are the precautions with magnesium?
Side effects from magnesium are rare and most commonly include diarrhea and/or stomach cramps. These side effects are dose dependant. But, due to the fact that magnesium can be dangerous for people with certain health conditions and can interact with many medications, you should consult your health care provider before taking magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency is widespread but you can improve your intake and your health by following a plant based, whole foods diet, decreasing stress and limiting caffeine and alcohol. If you think low magnesium may be an issue for you discuss it with your health care practioner soon. It is easily remedied and may make a world of difference in the way you feel!