You know those nights. The ones you wake up in the middle of, clutching your knees to rock yourself back asleep. It’s not a nightmare that roused you. It’s something much, much worse: leg cramps.
The pain is sudden, searing, and seemingly out of your control. But those calf contractions could be trying to tell you something. Muscle cramps are frequently a sign of magnesium deficiency in healthy adults.1,2,3
Table of Contents
In this article, we’ll discuss what magnesium is, why it’s crucial for optimal health, and how pairing it with glycinate makes it the ideal supplement form.
Scoring an atomic number of twelve, magnesium (Mg) is a silver-white metal from the alkaline family. Its strong-yet-lightweight structure, high melting point (1,202°F), and brilliant white flame make it a hot choice for alloys in the aerospace industry, especially gearboxes for helicopters and other aircraft.
Magnesium is the ninth most abundant element on the planet and the fourth most abundant cation (positively charged ion) in our bodies.
Over half of our magnesium lives in our bones, another quarter in our muscles, and the rest in our soft tissues and extracellular fluid (fluid outside the cells).4
You also eat this metal every day. Or at least you should. Magnesium is a critical cofactor for over 300 enzyme systems, including synthesizing proteins, regulating blood pressure, and controlling blood sugar levels. You probably didn’t know you were so dependent on this mineral, but you can’t do much without it; it’s required for aerobic and anaerobic energy production. Want to keep your healthy bone structure? Magnesium. Need to synthesize some RNA? Magnesium. Care to maintain nerve and muscle function? Magnesium.5 You get the picture. It’s an understatement to say magnesium has some pretty crucial health benefits.
Unfortunately, it’s not as abundant in our diets as it should be. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that up to 68% of people in the United States are magnesium deficient.
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Magnesium Deficiency is Everywhere
Before we dive into the problems of magnesium deficiency, let’s review some foods that are great forms of magnesium. Spinach, Swiss chard, and other dark greens are a saturated source of your daily magnesium. Go nutty with almonds, Brazil nuts, and cashews, too. Fiber-rich choices include beans, legumes, and filling whole grains. And the food that really puts the “yum” in magnesium? Dark chocolate.
But even if you’re eating all your leafy greens and fibrous beans to get the essential nutrient, the declining magnesium levels in the soil they were grown in puts you at risk for magnesium deficiency.6
Magnesium levels in the soil are declining because of modern farming practices;6 overuse of the soil disallows it from restoring its natural mineral content before being used to grow food again. By the time vegetables are washed and transported, their meager magnesium content is laughable.7
Other produce processing techniques can strip away the food’s magnesium levels, like bleaching whole grains and overcooking greens.8 Even common medications such as antacids, antibiotics, and diuretics can affect the body’s ability to absorb magnesium or increase your renal (kidney) excretions of the precious mineral.3
The good news? The metal can be found in regular old drinking water—up to a tenth of your daily magnesium intake. The bad news? Purification practices are a little too efficient, so most of the magnesium content never even crosses your lips. But stick with water for a better chance of getting your recommended intake as coffee and alcohol increase your body’s demand for it.3
If you’re worried that you could have low magnesium levels, here are some medical conditions and symptoms of magnesium deficiency:4
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle weakness
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Impaired exercise performance
- Irregular heartbeat
Take another look at the list—how many of these have you experienced just in the past month or so?
The problem with identifying hypomagnesemia (magnesium deficiency) is that it tends to be asymptomatic until levels drop dramatically. And even when the symptoms are present, they can easily be attributed to other factors.
On the flip side, if you’re worried that you may be getting too much magnesium from your diet, fear not; your kidneys can take care of any excess magnesium.3
Magnesium Sufficiency for Overall Health
Sufficient magnesium intake has numerous benefits. Grab a handful of spinach and a piece of dark chocolate for good measure, and let’s discuss the positives of supplementing with magnesium.
Restored Rest for the Magnesium Deficient
Let’s return to our list of hypomagnesemia symptoms. One of the big-ticket items is sleep disturbances. Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to improve sleep quality in individuals with low magnesium levels.9,10
A 2002 study found that taking magnesium before bed led to an increase in slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest phase of sleep characterized by delta waves and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). If you’ve ever been caught sleepwalking, you can thank slow-wave sleep for its zombie-style effects on your muscles.10
Reduced Inflammatory Stress
Unfortunately, those sleep disturbances come at a greater cost than dark circles under eyelids and general crankiness. Inadequate sleep is associated with increases in multiple inflammatory biomarkers.9 These proteins or enzymes are the biomarkers that point to systemic inflammation. One of the most infamous inflammatory biomarkers is the C-reactive protein (CRP), which is an effective predictor of cardiac morbidity. As you lose sleep from a lack of magnesium, these CRPs increase, meaning you’re inflamed.11
Persistent inflammation can lead to serious chronic inflammatory systemic diseases (CIDs), such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and systemic lupus erythematosus—an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly perceives healthy tissues as a threat and begins attacking them.12 Of course, these serious disorders have complicated etiologies based on genetics as well as environment.
You can probably guess an initiative: taking magnesium can reduce the inflammation.