So, what do anxiety, twitchy muscles, fatigue, killer PMS cramps, and chocolate cravings have in common? They can all be signs of low magnesium levels.
Magnesium is an essential mineral with a crazy-important job. It takes part in at least 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body and plays a role in energy production, the relaxation of muscles, nerve transmission, insulin sensitivity, dilation of blood vessels, the body’s stress response, sleep, and more.
The bad news: Most people don’t get nearly enough magnesium in their diet. According to World Health Organization stats, up to 75% of adults in the U.S. may not get the recommended 420 mg per day for men and 320 mg per day for women (this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re deficient, but their levels are sub-optimal).
Here’s why magnesium is so important for physical and mental health, plus ways to boost your levels with foods, supplements, and more.
Why are we so low in magnesium?
There are a few potential reasons that so many people have suboptimal magnesium intake. In general, experts believe people aren’t eating enough magnesium-rich foods, which include things like dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains—staples of a nutrient-rich, minimally processed diet. Instead, Western diets are loaded with things like refined grains (think: white bread, cereal, white rice), which have actually been stripped of their naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
Additionally, levels of naturally occurring minerals in the soil have become depleted due to modern agricultural practices. This means that lower levels of minerals like magnesium are present in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods than ever before. In fact, scientists estimate that in the U.S. and the U.K, vegetables (e.g. cabbage, lettuce, spinach) have dropped in magnesium content by 80-90%.
Why adequate magnesium intake is key for physical and mental health?
Here are some key ways magnesium impacts your health, and why you want to make sure you’re getting enough of it in your diet. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it gives you an idea of magnesium’s widespread role throughout the body.
Magnesium and anxiety
Symptoms such as apathy, depression, agitation, confusion, and anxiety all have been linked to low magnesium, while increasing magnesium intake has been shown to help people cope with stress and anxiety, and sleep better.
Magnesium seems to have this overall calming effect on the body due to its interaction with various neurotransmitter pathways and receptors in the body. For example, magnesium is an agonist for the neurotransmitter GABA, which means that it binds to GABA receptors on cells and activates them in the same way GABA would. This is important because GABA helps counteract excessive neural excitement that might otherwise make people feel on edge or anxious.
Magnesium, energy, and athletic performance
Magnesium plays a role in the production and utilization of ATP—a molecule used to store energy and drive many cellular processes. Some of the first signs of magnesium deficiency are fatigue and weakness. Research suggests that increasing magnesium intake may be beneficial for combatting perceived levels of fatigue, as well as muscle fatigue during exercise.
Magnesium and migraines
Research shows that low levels of magnesium are related to factors that promote headaches such as neurotransmitter release and vasoconstriction (blood vessel constriction), and that people who experience migraines tend to be magnesium deficient. Studies have also found that around 300 mg of magnesium twice a day may help prevent migraines. The American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society both consider magnesium “probably effective” for migraine prevention.
Magnesium and blood sugar
Studies have shown that up to 38% of people with type 2 diabetes have low blood levels of magnesium, and that low magnesium is particularly common among those who don’t have their blood sugar under control. However, in one study, when people with diabetes and prediabetes supplemented with magnesium, they experienced improvements in fasting blood sugar (likely because magnesium plays a role in normal insulin secretion).
Magnesium and PMS
According to a 2017 research review, magnesium supplementation may be effective for preventing dysmenorrhea (painful periods with abdominal cramping), menstrual migraines, and PMS-related mood swings. It may even help prevent symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, mood changes, and sleep disturbances. With period cramps, magnesium is thought to help by relaxing the smooth muscle of the uterus and by reducing levels of prostaglandins, which are the natural chemicals produced in the uterus that cause painful contractions of muscles and blood vessels.
How to increase your magnesium intake?
1. Magnesium-rich foods
Even though foods contain less magnesium than they used to, it’s still possible to hit your daily quota from food alone. Here are some of the best sources to incorporate into your diet. Try to aim for around five servings of magnesium-rich foods every day:
- Brown rice
- Bran cereal
- Pili nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Collard greens
- Swiss chard
- Black beans
- 70% dark chocolate
Several ingredients in Ka’Chava such as kale, spinach, and cocoa naturally contain magnesium, and one serving of Ka’Chava contains 60% of your daily recommended magnesium intake.
2. Epsom salt baths
Soaking in a tub with Epsom salts a few times a week is another way to get a dose of magnesium, since Epsom salts contain magnesium sulfate, which is absorbed directly through the skin. It’s also a great way to quickly feel the muscle-relaxing effects of magnesium. Add about 300 grams (or 1 ½ cups) of Epsom salts into a bathtub of warm water—you should start to experience its soothing effects on muscles and headaches within about 15 minutes, according to the Cleveland Clinic. No tub? You can always just soak your feet!
It’s hard to measure exactly how much magnesium you’re absorbing through your skin, so you should still aim to get plenty of this mineral through your diet as well.
3. Magnesium supplements
If you’re getting several servings of magnesium-rich foods per day and consuming Ka’Chava, you’re probably already hitting your magnesium quota. But this may not be possible every day, so magnesium supplements can still have their place (of course, ask your doc before adding a new supplement to your routine).
Generally, magnesium is well tolerated at doses of 100-300 mg per day, but your doctor may have you take more if you’re using it to alleviate a particular health condition, like migraines. For maximum absorption, spread your magnesium intake throughout the day and take magnesium supplements with meals.