Magnesium is a mineral found in many types of foods; it plays an essential role in human DNA production and repair, and in maintaining healthy bones, nerves and muscles. Though it is readily available, most Americans do not meet their need for magnesium through their diet.
The National Institutes of Health reports that teenage girls and men over the age of 70 are the most likely to suffer from a magnesium deficiency; if you're not in either of those categories, you still should consider getting your magnesium level checked if you suffer the following 12 symptoms.
1. Low energy. "Magnesium is involved in at least 300 different chemical reactions in our body, and a lot have to do with energy production," functional medicine nutritionist Alison Boden told Reader's Digest. "A sign of low magnesium can be low energy."
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2. Twitching or cramping. Because magnesium plays an important role in muscle relaxation, insufficient intake can result in unintended muscle movement. "Without magnesium, our muscles would be in a constant state of contraction," says Ancient Minerals.
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3. Frequent headaches. Magnesium deficiency lowers serotonin levels, causes blood vessels to constrict and affects neurotransmitter function, all related to headaches -- especially migraines. MigraineAgain estimates that 50% of migraine sufferers have a magnesium deficiency. Here are 8 ways to treat headaches without medication.
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4. Insomnia. If you're having a hard time falling or staying asleep, it may be due to low levels of magnesium, particularly if you are experiencing a lot of stress. Stress hormones increase blood pressure and heart rate; this is partly accomplished by depleting the body of its magnesium, explains Dr. Ronald Hoffman. If there isn't enough magnesium available for the body to replenish itself, sleeping becomes a problem. According to science, here's the best way to fix the sleeping problem.
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5. Irregular heartbeat. With low magnesium levels, the heart can have trouble staying in its regular rhythm. Lab Tests Online says that doctors often prescribe magnesium supplements for patients who complain of an irregular heartbeat.
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6. Increased sensitivity to noise. Not having enough magnesium curtails its role in stabilizing the nervous system, Hoffman says. This often results in hyperflexia, an enhanced startle reflex.
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7. Seizures. Seizures can result when the nervous system is severely compromised due to lack of magnesium, reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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8. Low bone density. Magnesium plays a major role in bone formation, and the majority of the body's magnesium is stored in the bones. "People with higher intakes of magnesium have a higher bone mineral density," says the NIH.
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9. Constipation. Bowel movements often slow down without enough magnesium in the body. WebMD notes that magnesium is the main ingredient in many over-the-counter laxatives.
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10. High blood pressure. Magnesium is very important in maintaining a healthy blood pressure; a deficiency can definitely cause pressure to be too high. "Eating foods high in magnesium and other minerals can help prevent high blood pressure in people with prehypertension," says WebMD.
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11. Type 2 diabetes. Breaking down blood sugars is another of magnesium's jobs in the human body. "People with higher amounts of magnesium in their diets tend to have a lower risk of developing diabetes," says the NIH. Research is ongoing to determine whether magnesium therapy can be used in diabetes treatment.
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12. Depression, anxiety, confusion or personality changes. Low levels of magnesium in the brain can affect neurological functions that result in all sorts of problems. Studies have shown that some phobias -- such as agoraphobia -- have developed as a result of low magnesium levels, Dr. Hoffman says. Magnesium has long been used as an effective home remedy for these symptoms, says Psychology Today in an article titled "Magnesium and the Brain: The Original Chill Pill."
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If you suspect that you may be suffering from a magnesium deficiency, it is advisable to confirm your suspicion with medical testing before taking supplements. Supplements are beneficial when needed, but they can cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea, and they have adverse interactions with some other medications and medical conditions.
The safest way to increase magnesium intake is to simply adjust your diet. In the unlikely event of ingesting excess magnesium in food, it is safely eliminated by healthy kidneys. Excess magnesium from supplements cannot be eliminated in this way and can result in enough toxicity to cause cardiac arrest.