Naturopath Paul Keogh shares some of the clues that indicate you might benefit from topping up your magnesium levels.

Magnesium is vital to a vast number of the body’s processes and metabolic reactions, but many Australians don’t consume enough of it in their diets.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a reliable and inexpensive test to determine the body’s total magnesium levels. Instead, clinicians often rely on their knowledge about who’s most likely to be affected by magnesium deficiency, and the types of symptoms that it causes.

Here are some of the red flags we watch out for.

You’re physically active

Athletes and active people may need magnesium in greater quantities than other people, so if you exercise regularly, it’s important to be aware that being magnesium deficient may impair your exercise performance and reduce your stamina and endurance.

Magnesium supports exercise performance, endurance, and recovery in several ways, including helping to maintain electrolyte balance, assisting muscle recovery after exercise and reducing fatigue.

Taking a magnesium supplement may assist with all these issues, and also help prevent and/or relieve exercise-induced muscle cramps, spasms, pain, and weakness.

You experience muscle tension, cramps or twitches

Magnesium deficiency can lead to a wide variety of muscular symptoms, ranging from tiny twitches in your eyelid right through to those agonising cramps in the soles of your feet that only ever seem to creep up on you in the middle of the night.

Taking a magnesium supplement may help to prevent or relieve these symptoms, and may also provide relief from the symptoms of restless legs and fibromyalgia.

You’re experiencing stress, mood problems or sleeping difficulties

High levels of stress can lead to magnesium depletion, especially if the pressure you’re under is particularly intense or persists for an extended period of time.

In a vicious cycle, magnesium deficiency can interfere with your normal biorhythms and the excitability of your nervous system, which in turn can disrupt your sleeping patterns and play havoc with your moods.

Magnesium supports healthy moods, and taking a magnesium supplement during times of stress may help to relieve nervous tension, mild anxiety, and irritability.

Magnesium also enhances restful sleep. For instance, in a study involving older people with insomnia, taking magnesium supplements for four weeks helped them fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and be less prone to waking in the early morning.

You’re overweight

People who are overweight or obese tend to consume lower quantities of magnesium than those whose weight is in a healthier range.

Since magnesium plays an important role many metabolic functions, taking a magnesium supplement to correct this deficiency may help people who are overweight but otherwise healthy to maintain healthy blood sugar balance and may also have beneficial effects on their maintenance of healthy blood cholesterol and blood pressure.

You get migraines

Studies have shown that people who get migraines often have low levels of magnesium, and women whose migraines tend to correlate with their menstrual cycle are particularly likely to be affected.

Taking a magnesium supplement may help reduce the frequency and duration of migraines.

You get PMS or period pain

The blood cells of women who experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) contain lower levels of magnesium than those of other women, and studies have shown that taking a magnesium supplement (especially when taken with vitamin B6) may help relieve symptoms such as cravings, fluid retention, and mood changes, as well as being effective against period pain.

You’re over 65 years old

Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicates that the diets of many older Australians don’t supply the recommended quantities of magnesium.

Half of all Australian men over 65 years old consume three-quarters or less of their recommended dietary intake (RDI) of 420mg per day, and half of all women of the same age consume less than 80 percent of their RDI (320mg per day).

The diets of people living in nursing homes, hostels and other forms of residential care are considered particularly likely to be magnesium deficient, but those living in their own homes are also affected.

Since magnesium is involved in such a wide variety of body processes, correcting any imbalance that’s present may have far-reaching effects on your health and wellbeing.

For example, in recently published research, older women participating in a gentle exercise program who took a magnesium supplement for several months experienced improvements in a range of aspects of physical performance that have an impact on day-to-day quality of life, including walking speed and their ability to stand up after sitting in a chair.

Choosing a magnesium supplement

Not all magnesium supplements are created equal. Some are difficult to absorb or are prone to causing tummy upset.

When selecting a supplement, choose a product that contains a highly bioavailable, easily absorbed source of magnesium, such as magnesium glycinate.

If swallowing large tablets is difficult for you, consider taking a powdered supplement that can be dissolved in water, smoothies or juice – these have the added benefit of being suitable to use in your drink bottle when you’re training. They also often include additional nutrients to support muscle health and exercise performance, such as the amino acids carnitine, glutamine and taurine, sometimes boosted with coconut water to support natural hydration.