Magnesium is a mineral needed in the body to perform over 300 enzymatic processes necessary for optimal health.
Magnesium is also responsible for energy production, DNA and RNA regulation and mineral balance, just to name a few.
It is well known that people with autoimmune diseases experience symptoms of extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Magnesium deficiency is thought to play a role in the expression of these autoimmune symptoms.
In this post, we will discuss:
- the symptoms of magnesium deficiency
- the causes of magnesium deficiency
- the role of magnesium deficiency in autoimmunity
- how we test for magnesium levels
- how much magnesium is needed daily
- 7 ways to increase your magnesium levels
Let’s dive in…
Magnesium Deficiency Causes
There are several possible reasons why one could be low in magnesium:
- not consuming enough magnesium rich foods
- depleted food and water sources of magnesium
- poor digestion and absorption from gut dysfunction and leaky gut
It is the latter cause that is the most relevant to folks with autoimmune diseases, as it is well known that all disease starts in the gut and most people with autoimmune diseases have leaky gut.
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency in Autoimmune Disease
Because magnesium is responsible for so many activities in our body, it isn’t surprising that a deficiency would lead to many symptoms, most of which can be related to autoimmunity.
- Muscle pain, cramping and spasms
- Chronic fatigue
- Depression and anxiety
- Heart attack
- Heart palpitations
- Hormone imbalance
- Blood sugar control
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep disorders
Any of these sound familiar to you?
I know I had 7 or 8 of them back in the beginning of my healing journey from autoimmunity.
When it comes to autoimmunity, in this research study, people struggling with lupus had significantly lower than optimal magnesium levels.
In another study, people with fibromyalgia saw improvement in their symptoms after only 2 weeks of transdermal magnesium supplementation.
In an anecdotal review by the Nutritional Magnesium Association, low magnesium was correlated with worsening symptoms in Raynaud’s, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and hyperthyroidism.
In this animal model study, it was found that magnesium deficiency can be correlated to a higher level of inflammation.
While correlation does not equal causation, I feel confident in stating that most people with autoimmune diseases are likely to be low in magnesium and that this is having detrimental effects on their health.
Testing Magnesium Levels & Optimal Ranges
The real problem with testing magnesium levels is that, IF your doctor tests it at all, he uses a useless measurement.
The best blood test we currently have for assessing magnesium levels is Magnesium RBC, or magnesium levels found in the red blood cells.
Measuring how much magnesium you have at the cellular level is the best way to know how much you have inside your cells – where it’s needed to do its many jobs.
Most doctors are using a serum measurement of magnesium instead, which doesn’t help us much at all to figure out how much magnesium is located in the places in the body that truly matter.
The optimal range for magnesium RBC is 6.5-7.0 mg/dL.
You may be wondering how to get your magnesium up to those levels…
Sources of Magnesium
There are two ways to consume magnesium – food and supplementation.
Let’s go through each one…
Magnesium Rich Foods
First, I want to remind you that, as someone struggling with an autoimmune disease, you should be strictly following the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) to help decrease your levels of inflammation.
Within the confines of the AIP, there are many great sources of magnesium.
The top 5 AIP sources of magnesium include:
- Spinach — 1 cup: 157 milligrams (40% DV)
- Chard — 1 cup: 154 milligrams (38% DV)
- Avocado — 1 medium: 58 milligrams (15% DV)
- Figs — ½ cup: 50 milligrams (13% DV)
- Banana — 1 medium: 32 milligrams (8% DV)
Start to add a little bit of these AIP compliant foods to your diet everyday to guarantee you give your body the raw materials it needs to run optimally.
Again, the problem here is twofold – not only is there way less magnesium naturally occurring in our food and water these days, but that which is there isn’t being readily absorbed by people with autoimmune disease because of digestion, absorption and gut dysfunction.
That said, if you can’t get what you need from food then how do you get enough magnesium to support your body?
Enter magnesium supplementation…
In addition to natural food sources, you can obtain magnesium through various supplemental forms.
Water that contains magnesium is a highly effective way of obtaining adequate levels of magnesium because it is highly absorbable.
However, the water we drink these days, whether it be the tap or from a bottle, just doesn’t have the level of magnesium we need for our bodies to run optimally.
In fact, many of the minerals that does naturally occur in water is filtered out before it reaches your lips.
Therefore, I recommend searching out water that does contain magnesium.
I happen to live near Saratoga Springs, NY, home to dozens of naturally occurring mineral springs.
You my have a natural mineral spring near you too, but the odds of that are likely slim.
If that’s the case, heading to your local grocery store and picking up San Pellegrino mineral water is your next best bet.
Here’s a quick video I did where I talk about how San Pellegrino water can help alleviate the muscle and joint pain associates with lupus, fibromyalgia and related autoimmune diseases:
San Pellegrino has many of the necessary minerals your body needs in addition to magnesium and the best part is it actually tastes way better than the natural springs near me that has A LOT of minerals in it (think rotten egg water).
I most often opt for San Pellegrino despite having free access to so many naturally occurring mineral springs. It tastes good, is lightly carbonated, and is affordable enough to drink everyday.
Ionic magnesium is awesome and I also use this every day, especially in the morning when I wake up and in the afternoons when I get that mid-day slump.
Ionic magnesium is simply a concentrated liquid form that comes in a little bottle with a dropper. You add it to water, smoothies or anything that you drink.
Similar to mineral water, ionic magnesium is a highly absorbable form that your body will be able to easily use.
This is also a very affordable method for supplementing with magnesium.
Epsom Salt Baths
Another highly affordable option, epsom salt baths are a great way to absorb magnesium because it bypasses your gut altogether and is absorbed through the skin.
Simply add 1-2 cups of epsom salts to your bath and soak for 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times per week.
Epsom Salt Foot Baths
If you’re short on time, hate taking baths, or don’t have a full tub like me (tear) then epsom salt foot baths are a great alternative to the full bath.
As noted above, simply add 1/4-1/2 cup epsom salts to the foot bath and soak for 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times per week.
As with the epsom salts, transdermal absorption of magnesium oil is a great way to be sure your body is taking in the magnesium it needs by bypassing dysfunctional digestion and gut absorption of people with autoimmune diseases.
Magnesium oil can be sprayed all over your body but some people like to spray it on their feet before bed and sleep with it on.
Whatever way you choose to use it, after the oil is absorbed or rubs off, there can be a thin layer of white salts left on your skin that can be itchy and irritating to some people so just be careful of that. Simply wipe off the salts left behind and you’ll be good to go again.
Another transdermal way to absorb magnesium, simply apply the magnesium lotion anywhere on your body you would normally apply moisturizing lotion.
Despite your digestion and gut absorption being compromised, it *may* still be worth it to use a magnesium supplement in pill form to your daily regime.
However, this should NOT be your main or only source of magnesium consumption.
There are a TON of different forms of magnesium in pill form, but many of them are inferior and shouldn’t be taken.
For example, you will find most magnesium supplements on store shelves are in the forms of magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate.
Both of these forms inherently are poorly absorbed and can cause extreme diarrhea if you take too much (think Milk of Magnesia).
Therefore, I only really recommend two forms of magnesium pills for you to try if you choose to go this route.
Both work well and are easy on the bowels!
Combination of All of the Above
If you try all of the above options you will likely find a few of them that you feel works best for you, is affordable and is the most convenient for you to use regularly.
They’ll be your favorites!
It’s great to use a combination of magnesium sources so you can maximize your exposure. Don’t just settle on one form and stick to that exclusively.
Here’s how a day of magnesium supplementation might look:
- drink a glass of San Pellegrino mineral water upon waking
- add a dropper full of ionic magnesium to your morning smoothie containing magnesium-rich spinach and other ingredients
- take magnesium glycinate with your other daily supplements
- eat a magnesium rich lunch and dinner
- take an epsom salt bath before bed
- use magnesium lotion on any areas of your body needing moisturizing
How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
According to magnesium expert, Morley Robbins, to build up magnesium levels to an optimal state one should consume 5 mg of magnesium per pound of body weight per day.
For example, if you weigh 175 pounds, you would aim to consume 875 mg of magnesium per day.
I recommend keeping tract of your magnesium sources and supplementation each day to be sure you’re taking in enough to build up your levels.
The Root Cause of Magnesium Deficiency and Autoimmune Disease
While replacing our magnesium inadequacies through food and supplementation are great ways to replenish our magnesium levels, we must remain aware that we still need to discover WHY we have a magnesium deficiency in the first place.
As with all autoimmunity and nutrient deficiencies, you have a root cause that is the main contributor to why these things are occurring.
My goal as a Functional Nutrition Practitioner is to:
- Decrease chronic inflammation.
- Discover the root cause of the inflammation and work to eliminate it.
- Heal the body and rebuild health.
Common root causes include:
- bacterial infections
- fungal infections in the gut
- bacterial infections in the gut
- heavy metal toxicity
The Autoimmune Recovery Project changes lives! Click here to learn more about my 3-step strategy for reversing autoimmunity that your doctor doesn’t tell you. This is the same exact strategy I use with my one-on-one clients to discover and eliminate their root cause and reverse their worst autoimmune symptoms.