by Naomi Mead for Spring Chicken Most of us are aware of the importance of vitamin C for boosting our immune system, calcium for keeping our bones and teeth strong and healthy, and iron for giving us energy. But what about magnesium? This vitally important, and sometimes under-recognised mineral is necessary for over 300 reactions in the human body. Some of its many roles include promoting sleep, keeping bones and muscles healthy, controlling blood pressure, regulating hormones, aiding digestion, and supporting our body’s ability to handle stress. It is believed that many of us could be deficient in magnesium (estimates are as high as 80% of the population), impacted by a variety of factors including modern food processing stripping it from refined foods, antacids and other medications that can disrupt its absorption by the body, and modern-farming practices that are depleting it from our soils. High intakes of sugar, caffeine and alcohol can also negatively affect our magnesium levels. In addition, as we age, magnesium absorption from the gut decreases and magnesium excretion by the kidneys increases. Studies have also shown that older adults have lower dietary intakes of magnesium than younger adults. So how do we know if are low in magnesium, and what are the possible consequences of a deficiency? Here are some of the signs that indicate our magnesium status could be low:

  1. You suffer from muscle twitches & soreness- most of our magnesium is stored in the body tissues; leg cramps, muscle twitches and restless leg syndrome could all be early signs of a magnesium deficiency. Sufferers find that these symptoms occur most commonly at night.
  1. You have trouble sleeping – often referred to as “nature’s tranquilliser”, magnesium has a key role in regulating serotonin and GABA in the brain, chemicals that help us to switch off. Research has shown that even a marginal lack of magnesium can impact on our ability to sleep. Magnesium that is absorbed transdermally in the form of bath oil or flakes can be a really effective way of unwinding and relaxing both body and mind before bed.
  1. You get intense chocolate cravings- chocolate is a rich source of magnesium, and intense cravings may actually be your body crying out for some magnesium. But don’t go grabbing that bar of Dairy Milk quite so fast…it’s only dark chocolate of 75% cocoa solids or higher that contain significant levels of this mineral!
  1. You are under a lot of stress- chronic stress depletes the body of magnesium, and the more stressed you are, the greater the loss. The lower you are in magnesium, the more reactive you can become to stress, and so it can become a viscous cycle. When stress is a factor, managing your stress levels and finding ways to relax is as crucial as maintaining a good dietary intake of magnesium.
  1. You regularly suffer from constipation- magnesium can be thought of as the relaxation mineral. If you’re low in magnesium, your intestines contract more, making it harder to pass stools. Not only can magnesium help to relax the bowels to create a more regular rhythm, but it can also aid the movement of water into the bowels, helping to soften the stool.

If you suspect that you may be low in magnesium, there are a number of approaches you can take- 1. Boost your intake of magnesium rich foods  Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, kale), kelp, beans, buckwheat, barley, oats, Brazil nuts, brown rice, cashews, figs, dates and shellfish are all fantastic sources of magnesium. Include these foods in your diet as often as you can. 2. Consider supplementation The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for magnesium is about 300 mg a day, but is thought that many of us are getting much less than this. Always seek professional advice before taking a supplement, and ensure that you taking it in a highly absorbable form. Magnesium citrate is the most popular magnesium supplement, it is easily absorbed and is particularly effective as a constipation aid. Magnesium oxide is a poorly absorbed form, and is best avoided. Shop for supplements from Spring Chicken here.