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Do You Need Magnesium Supplements, and, if so, Are You Taking the Right Kind?

Updated: Jan 27


Approximately 10-20% of the U.S population suffers from magnesium deficiency. Many people do not care about their deficiencies, but deficiencies are at the root cause of many disorders and chronic illnesses. A lack of magnesium, for example, can adversely affect the heart, muscles, sleep, energy level and feeling of well-being. Are you having trouble sleeping at night but are fatigued during the day? Do you have trouble with digestion and are chronically constipated? You may be suffering from a magnesium deficiency.

What About Magnesium in Food?

Magnesium levels in food have declined by 80-90% according to some research. That means getting magnesium from food, unless it is added, is difficult. Also, many medications, such as a popular antacid. Omeprazole, causes low magnesium levels.

Won’t Magnesium Deficiency be Corrected with a Multivitamin?

Couple a low intake with drug nutrient interactions with a medical profession not trained to monitor magnesium levels when warranted and we have a population deficiency problem that can easily be corrected through supplementation. In most cases, your One- A- Day won’t do it, however. A scrupulous look at your multivitamin label will often find magnesium lacking. The reason it is often not included is it overpowers the smaller minerals also needed by the body like selenium. So, read the label before you feel confident your multivitamin is meeting your magnesium needs.

Forms of Magnesium

Magnesium comes bound to another molecule which affects how well it is absorbed and the action of the molecule in the body. Examples include:


Magnesium sulfate: Found abundantly in Epsom salts, it has good absorption with low toxicity. It is wonderful for tissue application and is absorbed well through the skin. It is used intravenously to prevent preterm labor, for bronchospasm, acute nephritis, and toxemia of pregnancy.


Magnesium Glycinate: This form of magnesium is one of the gentlest on the stomach. It is this form that is used for those recovering from bariatric surgery as it is the best absorbed and is also the supplement of choice for those recovering from low blood levels. It is the ideal form of magnesium for those who can not tolerate the laxative effects of magnesium oxide or magnesium citrate. Glycine, the molecule bound to magnesium, has a calming effect on the nerves and is supportive of cognitive function. It is often the form used for migraine headaches.


Magnesium L-Threonate: This is a newer form of magnesium and research is showing it to have a cognitive and neuropathic advantage in the animal model. The fact that this form of magnesium restored memory to aging rodents poses possible applications at a clinical level that need to be studied further.


It is the only form of magnesium that has been shown to penetrate the blood brain barrier thus directly raising brain magnesium levels. Anecdotal evidence suggests that magnesium L-threonate may help get rid of “brain fog” and helps with vestibular migraine. The downside is it is expensive and new and needs further research.


Magnesium Malate: Most commonly used form for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is said to have a high bioavailability, supports energy production and the ability to chelate toxic metals. Malate also creates less gastrointestinal stress and irritation than oxide and citrate. It may be too energizing for some.


Magnesium Citrate: It is great for relieving constipation. It is not as bioavailable as the other forms of magnesium.


Magnesium Oxide: Not very bioavailable and is used most frequently as a laxative or for heartburn.

What is the Dosage for Magnesium?

Most experts agree that 3-4 mg/kg/day will replete magnesium levels. However, keep in mind, though, that the recommended daily intake for adults for magnesium is between 310-400 mg per day depending on age and sex so this repletion dosage may be on the low side for some. Repletion can be done based on conditions as below:


*Cluster headache: 1 gram of magnesium

*Vasoplastic Angina: 65 mg/kg given by IV

*Constipation: 8.75-25 g of magnesium citrate in a 150 ml to 300 ml solution

*Indigestion: 400-1200 mg of magnesium hydroxide up to 4x per day; 800 mg of magnesium oxide may also be used

Low blood levels: 3 grams of magnesium sulfate taken every 6 hours for 4 doses according to one reference. A glycinate version would probably be more effective. A 5% solution of magnesium chloride for 16 weeks may be used

*Heart disease: 800-1200 of magnesium oxide for 3 months

*Migraine: 400 mg/day

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Low Magnesium Levels?

· Irritability

· Muscle twitches or cramps

· Lethargy and fatigue

· Irregular heartbeats

· Dizziness

· Nausea and vomiting

· Numbness

· Personality changes

· Anxiety and panic attacks

· Insomnia

· High blood pressure

· Type 2 diabetes

· Osteoporosis

· Migraines

· Constipation

· Acid reflux

Foods High in Magnesium

· Avocados

· Leafy vegetables

· Cashews

· Tuna fish

· Flaxseeds

· Pumpkin seeds

· Dark chocolate

· Legumes

· Tofu

· Whole grains

· Fatty fish

· Bananas

· Soybeans

· Almonds

So, Do You Need Magnesium?

Magnesium deficiency is relatively common in clinical practice but goes largely unrecognized due to a lack of testing. For example, low magnesium has been found in 84% of premenopausal women with osteoporosis. Magnesium deficiency may persist despite normal serum levels. It has been suggested that the lower limit of normal for serum magnesium actually references an early deficiency. Measuring red blood cell magnesium is more accurate than serum magnesium.

What are the high-risk groups for low magnesium?

· Athletes

· Those with digestive or absorption issues

· Alcoholics

· Those over 60

· Those on proton pump inhibitors such as Omeprazole

· Those with diabetes


If you are experiencing symptoms such as those in the list above and are in one of the high-risk groups listed, you may be at risk for magnesium deficiency. Wouldn’t it be great if you could start sleeping better and have more energy just by taking a supplement or changing your diet?


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Kathy J. Shattler

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist