A vitamin or mineral deficiency is a relative term in that one can be deficient on multiple levels. A huge difference exists between a deficiency and an inadequacy. A good example is vitamin C. When you are truly deficient in vitamin c, you will show overt signs of your gums bleeding, poor blood coagulation, and poor healing in general; this disease is called scurvy. A lab test will reveal a low value of vitamin C (compared to a healthy population). If you have an inadequacy of vitamin C, the signs will be subtler. Maybe you will have brittle hair or a weakened immune system. Recent evidence suggests that an inadequacy of vitamin C leads to atherosclerosis and heart disease. Your lab value of vitamin C will be normal.
Studies and surveys suggest that 40% of Americans are inadequate or deficient in magnesium. There are many reasons for this, it’s mostly the environment and our standard diets. See my previous blog posts:
A magnesium deficiency presents when an alcoholic depletes his/her magnesium levels to the point serum blood levels are depressed and clinical signs are ominous. An inadequacy of magnesium on the other hand may present in an athlete who sweats out copious amounts of magnesium and a sub clinical form of magnesium deficiency may appear where fatigue or cramps are the only signs, but lab measurements are normal.
The most common causes of magnesium deficiency are alcoholism, disease and malnutrition. However, prescription medications such as diuretics, oral contraceptives, statins, antibiotics, corticosteroids, psychiatric medications, and proton pump inhibitors cause disruptions in magnesium homeostasis. Chronic gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, sports related issues, low level of vitamin B6, alkalosis, and high aluminum levels may inhibit magnesium absorption from your intestines to the blood.
Early signs of magnesium inadequacy are fairly nonspecific, but look for things like loss of appetite, irritability, insomnia, headache, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, weakness and fatigue. Muscular fatigue and decreased reflexes may also present in the face of a true magnesium deficiency. A chronic magnesium deficiency can lead to more serious symptoms, including: numbness, tingling, cramps, seizures, heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, personality changes, bone density changes, coronary spasms and kidney stones.
More than 50 percent of alcoholics have low serum levels of magnesium; as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Kidney disease causes excessive loss of magnesium in urine. Advanced age is associated with magnesium deficiency because absorption decreases with age; also the elderly take many medications that interfere with absorption. Diabetes leads to increased magnesium loss in urine. Certain medications such as antibiotics, diuretics, and chemotherapy can all result in magnesium deficiency.
Lab tests do not really give an accurate reading of the magnesium status in your tissues. Only when you are grossly deficient in magnesium, does it show up on a lab test. Only one percent of the magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood. A red blood cell (RBC) magnesium tests the intracellular level of magnesium and may be more informative than other available tests. Other tests evaluate your magnesium status include a 24-hour urine test, or a sublingual epithelial test. At the end of the day, doctors need to evaluate your clinical situation in conjunction with the lab results.
So remember that having adequate magnesium is essential for good cellular function. Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 enzyme reactions. If your body does not have enough magnesium, many important functions will suffer. This is basically what the Triage theory of nutrition tells us.
Next time, I will write about environmental reasons for magnesium deficiency.
To your health,
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