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You probably don't keep as close an eye on your daily magnesium intake as you do on, say, your fat or sugar consumption or, heck, if you have a vitamin D deficiency. Currently, however, about 48% of Americans don't get enough magnesium, and even though you don't need a ton of it, you can be deficient in the essential mineral.
While magnesium plays a role in some 300 chemical reactions that keep us running smoothly, "it can be difficult for someone to know if they are deficient because the early symptoms are somewhat vague," says Paul M. Coates, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements. Symptoms like nausea, fatigue, or loss of appetite could easily be chalked up to any number of other deficiencies or medical conditions. "The best way to make sure you're getting enough is to eat a wide variety of nutritious food including whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables," he says. (Here's a handy cheat sheet for getting all the magnesium you need from food.)
When it comes to natural sources, there's no need to worry about getting too much magnesium, he says. But if you're using supplements to meet your daily needs—320 milligrams a day for women ages 31 and older and 420 mg for men the same ages—youcanoverdo it. Stick to 350 mg or less a day from supplements (and watch for meds that contain magnesium, like some laxatives) or you could risk unpleasant side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps. (Men and women ages 19 to 30 both need about 10 mg fewer per day. Pregnant women need about 40 mg more a day.)
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Certain groups of people have an increased risk of not measuring up because of medical conditions or medications that change the body's natural absorption or excretion of magnesium. People with gastrointestinal problems like Crohn's or celiac disease might not absorb magnesium as effectively, while people with type 2 diabetes appear to lose more magnesium in their urine. (Learn what your pee says about your health.) As we age, absorption naturally decreases and excretion naturally increases, as well. ( is the first-ever plan that tackles the root cause of virtually every major ailment and health condition; get your copy today.)
The tricky part, Coates says, is actually testing for magnesium deficiency. "Most magnesium in the body is inside cells or in bone, so running a blood test doesn't give a lot of useful information." A doctor who suspects deficiency will first try to estimate how much you're getting from food. A test of magnesium in the blood, saliva, or urine can also help get a rough idea of your stores. But because it'ssucha guesstimate, your doctor isn't likely to run a magnesium screen if you're not already at a higher risk for deficiency.
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It takes a while to become truly deficient, Coates says. Getting too little magnesium in the short term doesn't really lead to many symptoms because our kidneys have a way of holding on to magnesium instead of excreting it in the urine when we're running low. Over a longer period of time, though, magnesium deficiency might lead to the following unpleasant side effects:
Your blood pressure might go up.
A diet too low in magnesium can contribute to hypertension, or high blood pressure, but magnesium supplements don't always lower BP. Magnesium may be involved in several chemical reactions in the body that regulate blood pressure, Coates says. One example, he says, is it helps maintain the right levels of potassium and calcium—key minerals for blood pressure control—within our cells. (Find potassium, calcium, and magnesium in these foods that lower blood pressure.)
You might feel tingly.
Extreme deficiency can leave you feeling numb, tingly, or even cause more frequent muscle cramps, Coates says, because of magnesium's role in muscle and nerve function.
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You could be at greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
Getting enough magnesium in your diet typically means higher bone density, a good sign you're safe from fractures and eventual osteoporosis.
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