Low levels of these 4 key vitamins and minerals could be sapping your energy, causing migraines and putting you at risk for disease.
2 of 4 | Magnesium
This crucial mineral is appearing on more doctors’ radars lately, thanks to emerging research that links low levels to migraines, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Despite its involvement in pretty much everything your nerves and muscles do, magnesium isn’t part of a traditional
blood panel. This is particularly surprising considering a 2012 report in Nutrition Reviews indicating that almost half of the U.S. population don’t get adequate levels.
“Magnesium and calcium work closely to balance each other in the body,” says Andrea Rosanoff, Ph.D., director of research and science information outreach for the Center for Magnesium Education & Research in Pahoa, Hawaii. “When cellular magnesium is low, calcium essentially goes into overdrive. The nerves start to over-fire, the muscles contract, and glands overproduce various hormones. That’s a hyper-response that you don’t need unless you’re facing an emergency.”
The revved-up activity is part of your body’s natural fight-or-flight response: If magnesium is inadequate and can’t control calcium, some of your cells might stay in fight mode all the time, which is stressful.
“You can prevent a lot of problems by having adequate magnesium intake,” says Rosanoff. And if you already have a disorder, such as high cholesterol, hypertension or arteriosclerosis, you might be able to see improvement by increasing your intake of magnesium to healthy levels. It could even help you avoid having to take medications such as statins, anti-hypertensives and anti-coagulants (consult your doctor about this).
The recommended dose: The RDA
for women between ages 19 and 30 is 310 milligrams per day; women 31 and older need
320. Both Rosanoff and Dowd think a healthier amount might be closer to 420 mg per day (or about 2.7 mg per pound of body weight for
a 155-pound woman). “It has a lot to do with your diet,” says Rosanoff. “The worse your nutrition is, the more magnesium you need.”
Warning signs: Magnesium is used
by cells throughout the body, so signs of a deficiency vary widely: Symptoms can be as mild as constipation, irritability and sleep troubles, and as severe as panic attacks, migraines and even atrial fibrillation. Muscle cramping, spasms and twitching are also common signs of a deficiency.
Who’s at risk: Anyone who eats a highly processed diet is likely deficient in magnesium. Also, “if you’ve gone through a stressful
time recently or had some type of invasive medical procedure, you should consider supplementing,” says Rosanoff. Because magnesium is involved in almost every cellular process in the body, when cells are rebuilding bone, blood and skin, or reacting to stress, the deficiency will be magnified, she says.
Get tested: There’s really no definitive test for magnesium deficiency because unless your deficiency is severe and chronic, the body maintains a constant level in the blood. If you do get a test, Rosanoff says you ideally want to be at or above 0.85 millimoles per liter.
How to get it: Cashews, almonds, fresh coconut, shrimp, beans, peas, spinach, bran, whole wheat, brown rice, dried apricots and dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa are all excellent sources of magnesium. Note: You’ll absorb more magnesium from food than you will from a supplement.
Best buy: Nature Made High Potency Magnesium (400 mg) ($14 for 150 softgels; amazon.com); Rexall Magnesium 500 mg ($3 for 30 tablets; dollargeneral.com)