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Episode 597
The Doctor's Farmacy

How To Know If You’re Magnesium Deficient And What To Do About It

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Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff—whether it is a body part or even a mood—can be a sign of magnesium deficiency. This critical mineral is actually responsible for over 600 enzyme reactions and is found in all of your tissues—but mainly in your bones, muscles, and brain. You must have it for your cells to make energy, for many different chemical pumps to work, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax. Yet, so many of us are deficient in this important mineral.

In today’s episode of a new series called Health Bites, I discuss why magnesium deficiency is a huge problem, why most of us are deficient, how to identify if you are magnesium deficient, and what to do about it.

This episode is sponsored by ButcherBox and Athletic Greens.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Narrator:
Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And we want to make sure we don’t keep losing magnesium. So cut down on the alcohol, the sugar or the coffee, the colas, learn how to relax. Meditation is super powerful.
Hey, everybody. It’s Dr. Mark Hyman. Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy, a place for conversations that matter. And I’m excited to introduce to you a new feature of the Doctor’s Farmacy called Health Bites, little nuggets of information that you can use to make yourself healthy and learn more about how your body works.
And the one today we’re going to be talking about is magnesium, one of my favorite topics, because magnesium insufficiency or deficiency is so common, so underdiagnosed, such a huge cause of so many chronic illnesses. And it’s something that most doctors don’t know how to test for, look for, or treat. And we’re going to talk all about that today. Now let’s talk about the data, because it is kind of scary. Magnesium is so important, and I’m going to explain why in a minute, but it looks like about 50% of Americans are not getting enough magnesium. And why is that? It’s because there’s a decrease in our diet and the magnesium in our foods because of processed foods. The soils are not able to actually give the plants the magnesium because they’re so depleted and lack organic matter that the bacteria in the soil help the plants extract the magnesium from the soil. We drink a lot of coffee, alcohol, sugar, all which deplete magnesium, more stress, stress depletes magnesium. So there’s a lot of reason why we have low magnesium and it’s super common and it’s so common that it’s linked to heart disease. It’s linked to so many chronic illnesses. And the costs are huge.
So what are the signs of magnesium deficiency? Now, when I first started learning about this, I was shocked because I had treated all sorts of problems when I was in medical school, when I was a resident, as a doctor. And so many symptoms we didn’t even think of as being related to magnesium, but they are, like muscle cramps or muscle twitching, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, sensitivity to loud noises, palpitations in your heart, constipation, spasms in your butt, anal spasms, headaches, migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, PMS, menstrual cramps, irritable bowel, all these and lots more are connected to magnesium.
It’s a critical mineral. It’s involved in over six or 700 different chemical reactions in the body. It is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body. And it plays a role in so many different chemical reactions that if you don’t have enough of it your body starts not to work. So anything that’s irritable or twitchy or crampy, it’s likely magnesium deficiency. And that’s why I call magnesium the relaxation mineral, because it just relaxes everything. Think about taking an Epsom salt bath, which is magnesium sulfate. It relaxes you at night and it relaxes your muscles and it helps sore muscles because it helps the recovery of the muscles. Your muscles need magnesium in order to relax. So it’s super, super, important.
And it works on so many different levels in the body. When I was in medical school, it’s kind of a joke because it’s kind of the last resort we used when nothing else was working and none of the drugs worked. So for example, if someone came in with a heart attack and they went into an arrhythmia where their heart was just beating out of control, we give them all these drugs, epinephrine, this drug, that drug. And then at the last resort, if nothing else works, we give them intravenous magnesium. Why don’t we do that first? Or if, for example, they’re having seizures, for example, from preeclampsia, which is a pregnancy condition, what do we do? We give them, which is irritability to the brain, we give them magnesium. Or if a woman comes in in preterm labor, where their uterus is contracting, then all of a sudden it’s an emergency, right? The baby’s going to deliver. We give them intravenous magnesium as a treatment. If someone is constipated and their spasms basically are not going, we give them magnesium citrate. If we’re doing a colonoscopy prep, we give them magnesium or milk of magnesium. You might have heard about that.
So we use it all the time in life threatening situations, in the emergency room, in the ICU, in the cardiac intensive care unit. And it kind of makes me laugh that we don’t think about using it just everyday medicine. So there’s over 116,000 different medical references on magnesium. And because it’s not a drug, nobody’s pushing it. You don’t really hear that much about it, but it’s super common. Apparently 65% of people admitted to the ICU, the intensive care unit, have magnesium deficiency. So if you want to stay out of the ICU, take magnesium. It also seems to be about 45% of the population that’s not getting enough magnesium their diet. And if you check your blood magnesium level, it’s not that great, because 99% of the magnesium is in your cells, so by the time it’s low in your blood, you’re really screwed.
So the key is to do red cell magnesium, but there’s also another test called magnesium loading. But it’s such a safe mineral, unless you have kidney failure, you can’t hurt yourself with it. You’ll just get diarrhea if you take too much it. So why are we so deficient? Well, I mentioned a little bit of the reasons. Most of the foods we eat contain no magnesium. Where do you get magnesium? Nuts, seeds, grains and beans and greens are not the staples of most people’s diet. All the processed food has no magnesium. Sugar in our refined diet has no magnesium. So it’s really low in most of the foods we eat. And a lot of what we do, like I said, we drink too much alcohol. We drink too much coffee. We have soda, colas are full of phosphoric acid that deplete magnesium. Often, if you’re sweating a lot, like I exercise and I sweat a lot, I make sure I take electrolytes because I want to replenish my magnesium.
Stress, I read a study about Kosovo during the Balkan War. And if you had high levels of stress, people would excrete more magnesium. They’d literally pee it out. Antibiotics are a factor. Diuretics, people take for high blood pressure. High blood pressure is blood vessels that are too spasmy and magnesium helps relax them. But one of the drugs we use is a diuretic to kind of remove fluid from the body, but that causes you to lose magnesium, so it’s kind of weird. So there’s a lot of things that are a factor, but most of the problems we have are just because of our crappy diet and our lack of magnesium in our foods. So make sure you get plenty of those foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, oh, chocolate. That’s a good one. Dark chocolate’s a good one for magnesium. And also sea vegetables, seaweed. I encourage you to eat seaweed. Great, great source of magnesium.
Now you need a lot of other minerals and vitamins with magnesium to make them work like B6, Vitamin D, selenium. So you need those all to how to work together as a team. And we want to make sure we don’t keep losing magnesium. So cut down on the alcohol, the sugar or the coffee, the colas. Learn how to relax. Meditation is super powerful. And make sure you look at your drugs. A lot of people talk about nutrient drug interactions like, “Oh, we shouldn’t be taking this because, oh, don’t take too much of Vitamin K or whatever because you’re taking a blood thinner.” Okay, fine. That’s right. But what about the other way around? The drugs interfere with your vitamins and minerals so if you’re taking an acid blocking drug, you’re going to prevent B12 absorption and even magnesium and zinc absorption. Or if you’re taking a diuretic, you’re going to lose magnesium. So you want to make sure that you reduce your drugs if you can, or switch to different drugs that are not depleting the nutrients or that you actually take the nutrients as a replacement.
Now let’s talk about supplements because I think that we need to be thinking about how do we get enough magnesium. So diet is first. Getting rid of the things that cause you to lose magnesium is second. And then we need to be taking probably 300, 400 milligrams a day. I take about four or 600. I take it at night. It’s great for sleep. It’s great for insomnia. It’s great for muscle cramps. It’s great for constipation. It’s great for headaches. It’s great for anxiety. It’s great for palpitations. It’s great for so, so many things, but you might need more. I mean, some people need up to a 1000 milligrams/.
I have to say a quick magnesium story, a patient, she was a radiation oncology resident. So she was a doctor. And she suffered terrible migraines. And she came to see me and she started telling me about these migraines that were so bad she had to take narcotics and Zofran, which is like a chemo drug for nausea. And she still could barely function. And she was going to have to quit her residency and she’d worked all this time to be a doctor, but she couldn’t function. I say, “Okay.”
Well now as a functional medicine doctor, I just don’t want to know about her headaches. I want to know about everything. So I started talking about all of her symptoms and she said, “Oh, anxiety, palpitations, muscle cramps, constipation.” I said, “How often do you go to the bathroom?” She said, “Well, I’m pretty regular.” I said, “Well, how often do you go?” She said, “I go every week.” I’m like, “What do you mean? That’s not regular.” She said, “It’s regular for me. I go every week.” I’m like, “No you’re supposed to go every day or two or three times a day.” By the way, that’s how often you’re supposed to go. And so she was severely magnesium depleted. I gave her a 1000 milligrams or even more over a number of days. And she dramatically changed. Her headaches went away. Her constipation went away, her palpitations, her anxiety, her insomnia, her muscle cramps, all went away by getting enough magnesium.
Now what kind of magnesium should you take? They’re not all the same. If you take magnesium carbonate or magnesium oxide, those are things you’ll get in a drug store, maybe, and crappy cheap magnesium, but it’s not absorbed well. So you want to get chelated magnesium, you want to get magnesium glycinate or a citrate, if you tend to be more constipated. Magnesium threonate’s great for the brain. There’s many, many different kinds of magnesiums that you can take, but do not take the carbonate or the oxide, or the gluconate. Those tend not to be very well absorbed.
Now, if you take too much magnesium citrate you’ll get diarrhea so you want to use magnesium glycinate. You take them with other minerals and in multi-mineral complex. Also a hot bath is great. Epsom salt baths. I love that every night, especially in the winter with some lavender drops, it really relaxes me, magnesium relaxes me, and I just drop right off to sleep. So magnesium Epsom salt baths are great. And one caveat, if you have kidney disease, you can take too much magnesium. So you want to be careful there or work with your doctor about that.
So magnesium is super important. It’s a relaxation mineral. We’re all low in it, pretty much. Stop doing the things that make you lose magnesium. Start doing the things that make you actually get magnesium in your diet and keep the magnesium in your body and take the right supplements. And that’s it for this week’s Health Bite on The Doctor’s Farmacy. I hope you liked it and learned about magnesium. If you love this podcast and you think someone’s suffering from magnesium deficiency, send it to them on social media. Leave a comment how’s magnesium treatment helped you? Maybe you have a story you want to share. We’d love to hear from you. And subscribe wherever you get your podcast. And we’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Narrator:
Hi, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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