Jewels Doskicz is a registered nurse, freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. Jewels is the moderator of Diabetic Connect’s weekly #DCDE Twitter chat, and she and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.
A magnesium deficiency may be the last thing on your mind—that is, until a healthcare provider suggests your bothersome symptoms may be related to it.
Dubbed the “invisible deficiency,” low magnesium levels are often vague in their symptoms, rendering it difficult to diagnose.
Commonalities with other diagnoses may create a gray area for healthcare providers, resulting in magnesium levels being overlooked as the source of the problem. Once diagnosed, the right diet changes can be successful at stifling the chronic symptoms associated with low magnesium levels.
Signs and symptoms
Common signs of low magnesium levels may include “agitation and anxiety, restless leg syndrome (RLS), sleep disorders, irritability, nausea and vomiting, abnormal heart rhythms, low blood pressure, confusion, muscle spasm and weakness, hyperventilation, insomnia, poor nail growth, and even seizures,” according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Lack of tests to assess magnesium levels often compounds confusion. Magnesium is found in both cells and bone, making phlebotomy an incomplete measure to gauge the deficiency. It may take a practiced healthcare provider and perhaps some patient advocacy on your part to connect the dots.
There are populations at high risk for magnesium deficiencies that should raise a red flag for providers: those living with gut diseases that may affect absorption of nutrients due to inflammation and bowel habits; those living with diabetes and high blood sugars that may have kidneys working overtime to flush out extra sugar; aging adults; and alcoholics.
Magnesium consumption is a two-way street with regard to preventing or aggravating disease.
But high blood sugars and certain foods encourage magnesium excretion through urine. Four of the major culprits are:
To help our bodies keep healthy magnesium levels, it’s best to avoid these foods and drinks.
The relationship between magnesium and vitamin D
Beyond diet, vitamin D also aids with the absorption of magnesium, and many people living with diabetes also happen to have chronically low vitamin D levels. “Most people think that calcium is the most important factor in bone health. Some are now realizing that vitamin D is also a necessary component. However, it's not well known that magnesium is necessary to convert vitamin D into its active form so that it can turn on calcium absorption,” said Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, in The Huffington Post.
There are multiple components in bone health. We can take vitamin D supplements until we’re blue in the face, but without the magnesium, calcium absorption is taking a turn for the worse.
Magnesium is readily available in the foods that should be a large part of our diet—healthy and fibrous choices. These foods include green leafy vegetables, beans, a variety of nuts, seeds, grains, and a few surprises: blackstrap molasses, seaweed, and chocolate. The National Institutes of Health has a comprehensive list of foods that are high in magnesium as a reference.
Magnesium can also affect the absorption of many different medications, such as those used to control diabetes, hypertension, infections, hormones, and osteoporosis.
Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider prior to increasing or replacing magnesium in your diet or with supplements.