Magnesium, an invisible deficiency that could be harming your health

Story highlights

  • Often called the "invisible deficiency," a magnesium deficiency can be easy to miss.
  • If you are feeling tired or notice weird muscle cramps it could be a problem with magnesium
  • You may want to change your diet to get more into your system

(Life by DailyBurn)Feeling exhausted? Or noticing weird muscle cramps that are throwing off your workouts? You might be suffering from a magnesium deficiency.

Dubbed the "invisible deficiency" by some experts because it's so hard to spot and diagnose, magnesium deficiencies are more dangerous than you might think. "Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in your body. It affects everything from your heartbeat to your muscles to your hormones," says Dr. Danine Fruge, Associate Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, Florida.
    Between making sure to get enough fiber in your diet and trying not skimp on iron, monitoring your magnesium intake can easily fall through the cracks. "Studies have shown that only about 25% of U.S. adults are at or above the recommended daily amount of 310 to 320 milligrams for women and 400 to 420 for men," says Fruge.
    In fact, the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed that at least half of the U.S. population had inadequate intakes of magnesium.
    Here's how to figure out whether or not you're getting enough of this super nutrient — and how to fix it if you're deficient.
    What you need to know about magnesium deficiency
    Loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue -- the initial symptoms of magnesium deficiency are also common side effects of other health conditions, making it difficult to diagnose.
    This sneaky disorder manifests in three different stages, depending on how lacking you are in the nutrient. While initially symptoms can be minor, a magnesium deficiency may eventually cause noticeable problems with your muscle and nerve function such as tingling, cramping, numbness and contractions (like that annoying eye twitch you just can't shake). In its worst stages, magnesium deficiency could even cause seizures, personality changes, or abnormal heart rhythms.
    To make matters scarier, this condition can be difficult to detect with medical tests. Since only 1% of magnesium is found in your blood (most is in your bones or organs), a simple needle prick often won't help determine your levels. Instead, Fruge says diagnoses are usually made through process of elimination and by examining a patient's lifestyle.
    Is your diet putting you at risk?
    It may be what you're eating — rather than what you're not eating — that's putting you at risk for magnesium deficiency. "It's very easy to get enough magnesium. I think the reason so many people are deficient is because a lot of food and drink can make magnesium unavailable to their bodies," says Fruge.
    The main culprits: soda, caffeinated beverages and alcohol, according to Fruge. If you love sipping on soft drinks, you'll be less likely to have adequate amounts of nutrients including magnesium in your diet, according to several studies. And drinking alcohol doesn't help, either. Consuming too much alcohol can interfere with your body's absorption of vitamin D, which aids magnesium absorption. As for food, refined sugar causes the body to excrete magnesium through the kidneys, resulting in a net loss, according to Fruge.
    We hate to break it to you, but if you're regularly eating or drinking any of the above (and who isn't?), you may be dealing with at least a minor magnesium deficiency, says Fruge.
    Whole foods vs. supplements: Which is best?
    Your best bet when it comes to fending off a magnesium deficiency is to take preventative measures. So, should you turn to food or