A sweet tooth or a mineral deficiency? Why regularly reaching for the chocolate may be a sign of a Magnesium deficiency
Plus, 6 other signs you may need more of this essential mineral
Cravings for specific foods can be an indication of a deficiency in a micro or macro nutrient. In particular, a craving for chocolate could highlight a magnesium deficiency. The theory behind this is that cacao is one of the richest sources of plant based magnesium (though hemp and pumpkin seeds are in fact higher per 100 grams).
Whether you’re reaching for the chocolate or not, the reality is that many of us are magnesium deficient. In fact, I would go so far as to say that almost everyone could benefit from more magnesium in their diet.
Magnesium is an essential mineral used in over 300 biochemical processes in your body. It improves and supports your overall vitality and wellbeing, supporting energy levels and muscle function and reducing aches and spasms.
It also supports a healthy nervous system, calming and reducing anxiety and helping you to function well in times of stress. Magnesium is also helpful in easing Migraines and PMS and is essential in the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. This important mineral also helps your heart by supporting healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as maintaining a steady heartbeat.
Why are most people deficient in Magnesium?
You’ll hear me talk about the damaging effects of stress in a number of my articles and this one is no different. Chronic low level stress depletes magnesium on a significant level, but not only this, a deficiency impairs our ability to deal with stress, meaning we lose even more and we’re in a vicious magnesium deficiency and stress cycle.
The stress of modern day life, cardiovascular disease and diabetes increase the body’s demand for magnesium, add to this medications such as the oral contraceptive pill and alcohol consumption and we can see why many people are depleted. Poor diet choices and a reduced nutrient profile in the soil and our daily requirements of magnesium are consistently not being met.
Risk factors for magnesium depletion
- Excessive intake of alcohol, salt, phosphoric acid (soft drinks) and caffeine
- Hyperaldosteronism, hyperparathyroidism with hypercalcaemia, hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus
- Profuse sweating
- Intense prolonged stress
- Medications such as proton pump inhibitors, antibiotics and oral contraceptive pill
- Coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, malabsorption syndromes, partial bowel obstruction, vomiting/diarrhoea, pancreatitis, infections, parasitic infection
- Hyperthermia, phosphate depletion, potassium depletion, hyper catabolic states such as burns
- Pregnancy, lactation, excessive menstruation, menopause
- High levels of intense exercise
- Imbalance of other nutrients such as calcium, b vitamins and zinc
Craving chocolate aside, what are some other signs and symptoms of a magnesium deficiency?
Stress and anxiety
We talked earlier about the importance of magnesium when it comes to stress, so remember, the more stressed you are, the more magnesium you’ll use and the more you use (and the more depleted you become) the more you impair your ability to deal with stress, reducing it even further.
Anxiety is highly connected to low Magnesium status and one of the reasons is due to its action with GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, one that slows brain activity. Magnesium supports this neurotransmitter activity by binding to and stimulating GABA receptors in the brain. When GABA is low, your brain becomes overactive and struggles to relax.
Brain inflammation has also been linked to numerous neurological and psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression. Inflammatory immune system messengers called cytokines trigger inflammation in the brain, damage brain tissue, and alter brain function. A low magnesium level is linked to high levels of these pro-inflammatory markers.
Muscle tension, twitches, cramping and spasms
Twitches, spasms and muscle cramps are one of the most obvious signs of a magnesium deficiency. In some severe cases, magnesium deficiency can even cause seizures or convulsions. It’s thought that muscle spasms happen due to a higher flow of calcium into nerve cells, which can over stimulate the muscle nerves.
Tension headaches and migrainesA number of double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trials have shown that magnesium is efficacious in relieving headaches and has led to the recommendation of oral magnesium for headache relief in several national and international guidelines. This is because magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation and cellular function, particularly for its ability to regulate calcium levels within nerve cells.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Magnesium is essential in the balancing and production of steroid hormones such as Testosterone, DHEA, Progesterone and Oestrogen. It is useful in balancing thyroid conditions, adrenal imbalance and perimenopausal issues, so it’s no surprise that it supports the body with symptoms of PMT.
Tiredness, lethargy and fatigue
As magnesium is perhaps thought of as more of a muscle relaxing and calming nutrient, the symptoms of tiredness and fatigue may not be the first things you’d associate with a deficiency.
In fact, this power mineral plays a critical role in the production of our body’s energy currency known as ATP, which is produced in the mitochondria of most cells. ATP must be bound to a magnesium ion in order to be biologically active and give us the energy we need to feel vital.
Due to the role of Magnesium with neurotransmitters directly connected with sleep, such as GABA and melatonin, a low level of magnesium in the body can result in insomnia. As anxiety and stress can also be a cause of insomnia, the calming nature of magnesium is helpful in supporting the body to fall and stay asleep.
It’s worth noting the importance between magnesium and blood sugar balance too, which is a common cause of night waking and not being able to fall back to sleep. Magnesium plays a critical role in controlling the action of insulin and insulin reliant glucose uptake at the cell.
Low magnesium can cause irregular heart beats because low levels of this mineral (and low calcium) affect the speed at which cardiac cells depolarize. This disruption causes a specific pattern which predisposes individuals for an arrhythmia called Torsades des Pointes (when the heart’s two ventricles, beat faster than the atria). Low magnesium levels can also increase the number of skipped beats and worsen arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation.
Due to the important roles that magnesium plays in so many biochemical processes, the symptoms above are only some of the symptoms you may see in a deficiency. Hopefully you can see the importance of this essential mineral and how it could support your body.
Choosing the right Magnesium
Not all forms of magnesium are made equal. When you want to increase your body’s magnesium stores, it is important to choose the right form.
Magnesium glycinate (also known as bisglycinate) is a specific form of magnesium chelate that has a superior absorption rate due to L-glycine being the smallest amino acid, making it easier for the body to absorb through mucous membranes and creating a highly bioavailable form of magnesium.
Mix it up as well, take an Epsom salts bath and massage magnesium oil into the soles of your feet. You’ll struggle to overdo it with Magnesium and your body will thank you for it.
Nutritionist and CEO