Almost all of us know it: sudden muscle cramps - most often at night or during sports. This muscle cramp can be harmless, but is also often a symptom of a magnesium deficiency. Pregnant and breastfeeding women in particular, but also athletes and people who are frequently exposed to stress, suffer from a magnesium deficiency. However, there are many foods containing magnesium that can help to cover the daily requirement. In this article, we will go into the symptoms and causes of a magnesium deficiency and give tips on how you can effectively prevent it.
The function of magnesium in the body
Magnesium is a vital nutrient that cannot be produced by the body itself, but must be supplied through food. It is essential for maintaining the health and function of all our cells, bones, teeth, tissues and organs. Magnesium is needed for a wide variety of processes: it activates the metabolism, helps to calm and relax the muscles and thus increases performance and vitality. It normalises the potassium and calcium levels in the blood and is significantly involved in bone formation and their strength. Magnesium also prevents kidney stones and calcification in the body, plays an important role in protein synthesis and regulates the water balance.
There are about 25g of magnesium in the body of an adult. About 60 percent of it is bound in the bones and about one percent is in the blood. If the body is not supplied with enough magnesium, it releases all its reserves from body cells and bones to maintain the magnesium level in the blood. However, the magnesium level only drops when there is a serious deficiency. This means that a magnesium deficit cannot be detected immediately by measuring the blood.
Causes of a magnesium deficiency
A magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesemia) is a reduced concentration of magnesium in the blood. Causes of magnesium deficiency include insufficient intake, increased excretion, increased need for the mineral or chronic diseases. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the world's population suffers from magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium deficiency should be treated quickly. This is because it can affect the rest of the mineral balance, so that calcium and potassium concentrations also decrease. If it is treated and the magnesium concentration is balanced, the symptoms will disappear quite quickly.
Symptoms and signs of magnesium deficiency
How do you know you have a magnesium deficiency? A deficiency of magnesium in the blood can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Among the most common are muscle cramps, mainly in the calves, chewing muscles and eyelids, psychological symptoms such as inner restlessness, lack of concentration, drowsiness, dizziness, increased irritability or tiredness, lack of energy, and an increased need for sleep
But many other non-specific symptoms can also point to a magnesium deficiency. These include headaches, tension in the neck and shoulder area, lower back and back pain, cardiac arrhythmia, palpitations, gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cold hands and feet, tingling or numbness in the arms and legs, the intensification of allergic symptoms as well as high blood pressure.
Daily magnesium requirement of an adult
The German Nutrition Society recommends a magnesium requirement for adults of 350 mg for men and 300 mg for women. This also applies to pregnant or breastfeeding women.
What diseases or life circumstances cause magnesium deficiency?
Nevertheless, some groups of people should pay particular attention to ensuring that their magnesium intake is sufficient:
- People with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases: People suffering from Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome should consider a magnesium-rich diet, as magnesium can inhibit mild inflammation in the intestines. Frequent diarrhoea also causes more magnesium to be excreted and reduces the absorption of the mineral.
- Diabetics: Type 2 diabetics often have low serum magnesium levels. This is due to increased blood sugar levels. These lead to an altered kidney function, so that magnesium is increasingly excreted in the urine.
- Pregnant & breastfeeding women: During pregnancy, especially in the last months of pregnancy, magnesium is essential for the healthy development of the unborn child. A lack of magnesium in the blood can lead to high blood pressure, water retention, nausea as well as uterine contractions and the associated premature onset of labour. Around the 36th week of pregnancy, however, the additional magnesium intake should be reduced or discontinued altogether, as otherwise labour pains may be inhibited. For breastfeeding women, the requirement increases to 390 mg daily, as the baby also needs to be supplied with magnesium through the breast milk.
- People under stress: In the case of magnesium deficiency, stress leads to the release of more stress hormones than with an optimal magnesium supply. People under stress should therefore make sure they have a sufficient magnesium intake.
- (Competitive) athletes: Studies have shown that the risk of magnesium deficiency is increased in athletes. This is because competitive athletes lose a lot of magnesium through sweat. For athletes whose diet is very one-sided due to their sport (for example, very high in protein or meat), magnesium supplements can be useful. In addition to the daily magnesium intake in the diet, 300mg-450mg of the mineral is recommended.
What can you do if you have a magnesium deficiency?
The following foods can help meet the daily requirement of the mineral, as they are particularly rich in magnesium: Various fruits and vegetables, but also nuts and seeds contain a lot of magnesium, such as figs (dried), papaya, banana, white beans, peas, maize, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseeds, soya meat (dried), wheat bran and pine nuts. Animal foods rich in magnesium are salami, chicken, turkey, shrimp, pollock, pike-perch, Emmental, Gouda and mozzarella. Mineral water, which is particularly rich in magnesium (at least 50mg/l), can also contribute to meeting the daily requirement.
As a rule, the daily magnesium requirement of healthy people can be well covered by a balanced diet. However, some substances can inhibit the absorption of magnesium and should, if possible, not be taken at the same time. These include: Calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin E and protein. In the case of a pronounced deficiency, dietary supplements in high doses are prescribed by the doctor.
Treating magnesium deficiency - Which preparations are recommended?
Dietary supplements with magnesium are available in pharmacies or drugstores. When buying them, however, you should pay attention to the bioavailability and the dosage. If there is a magnesium deficiency or a suspicion of one, it is always advisable to consult a doctor or pharmacist before self-medication.
In order to optimise the absorption of the mineral through the intestinal mucosa, the body should be supplied with magnesium supplements as organic compounds. These include magnesium citrate, aspartate or orate. These preparations are only available in pharmacies. In the case of inexpensive inorganic magnesium salts such as magnesium carbonate or magnesium oxide, the absorption from the intestine is not optimal because the body can only absorb organic minerals. Granules with a magnesium content of at least 300mg are recommended.
If you have any further questions about the correct intake and substitution of magnesium, please do not hesitate to contact our pharmacists at Saint Charles Apotheke Vienna or Berlin. We will be happy to advise you!