Should You Know Your Magnesium Level If You Have Autoimmune Conditions?
There are many elements that are important to proper functioning of the human body, but magnesium resides in the top tier of relevant minerals, along with sodium, potassium and several others. In short, it is absolutely essential for healthy living. It can be found in many types of foods, such as nuts, kidney beans and chocolate.
Magnesium is crucial to maintaining health in the heart, bones, muscles and nerves. It is especially vital to reflexes, among other areas. Deficiencies (or more rarely, excesses) can result in a number of problems, including disorders involving the above systems. And any woman who has experienced premature labor or eclampsia during pregnancy knows about the power of magnesium sulfate in combatting these issues. Here we examine magnesium deficiency and its possible relationship to enhancing treatment of medical conditions, including some autoimmune diseases.
What are some signs/symptoms that I might have a magnesium deficiency?
Because the body so extensively uses magnesium, this list is potentially quite long. However, the most common symptoms occur in the areas and organ systems most often affected, such as the nervous and cardiovascular systems. For this reason, primary magnesium deficiency sometimes manifests with muscle weakness, tremors, seizures and other neurological indicators.
In addition, low magnesium levels (hypomagnesia) can result in electrical disturbances in the heart, such as dysrhythmias and conduction blocks, which may or may not present symptoms such as racing heart and palpitations. Cardiac evidence is sometimes only evident on EKGs. Other symptoms may include nausea/vomiting, anxiety, irritability and trouble sleeping, among others.
On a physical exam, the doctor may detect increased tendon reflexes, spasms of the ankles and wrists, known as carpopedal spasms, and/or muscle fasciculations/fibrillations (where part of or entire muscles develop a fine tremor that is usually intermittent).
How long will it take to correct a deficiency?
This all depends on the severity of the deficiency, along with other contributing or simultaneous factors. Reduced potassium and calcium, which often occurs with significant magnesium decreases, may prolong restoration of levels for all three minerals.
Magnesium can be administered either orally or intravenously, depending on medical need and whether the person can tolerate medications by mouth. There is no absolute timeline, but most patients should be able to restore their levels within a few days to a couple of weeks, assuming no other complications and compliance with supplements/meds, in conjunction with good dietary intake of magnesium.
Do I need to take a daily recommended dose, or a therapeutic dose to lift my low magnesium levels?
This must be discussed with your doctor to decide the right course of treatment for you, which will again depend on your levels and any precipitating factors. For these purposes, the provider will likely order a magnesium level to determine your starting point. Based on the results, the dosage you are advised to take will also depend on your age, gender and pregnancy status, in addition to the medications you may be taking, some of which may interact with and affect absorption/metabolism of magnesium.
In the absence of extreme deficiency, most physicians are likely to tell you to increase your dietary intake, since magnesium is abundantly found in many foods. This is generally preferable, since natural foods tend to offer more bioavailability (how much of what is taken in can actually be used by the body) than nutritional supplements, minerals or vitamins. Still, most people are thought to be somewhat magnesium deficient, even with adequate diets, which suggests that low dose supplementation may be helpful for many people as a means of maintaining correct levels.
Massive doses to correct deficiency are not recommended, as magnesium can become toxic to many organ systems above certain levels. In the event that someone were to have extremely low levels of magnesium that might result in an emergent condition, IV infusion at the hospital would be the likely course of action, under strict medical supervision.
What are the connections between magnesium and autoimmune diseases?
Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence of benefits of magnesium supplementation on autoimmune conditions. Despite the uncertainty regarding the effects of magnesium on autoimmune disorders, there seems to be a potential inverse relationship between magnesium levels and inflammatory response. Because so many autoimmune conditions involve inflammation, it certainly seems that magnesium may indeed have applications in reducing this immune response, if not treating the cause of the disease.
Further investigation into such connections is definitely warranted, and magnesium may be useful in treating the symptoms of disease, if not the disease itself. At the very least, knowing your own magnesium level may be useful to you and your doctor as you pursue treatments for your autoimmune diseases.
There were a handful of studies and reviews which found possible but inconclusive links between magnesium and autoimmune conditions. In a study about lupus SLE, fibromylagia and magnesium deficiency, one recommendation was for magnesium levels to be checked to ensure inflammation is not due to low magnesium, rather than from the autoimmune condition. This ensures the patient is not prescribed medication levels that are too high. Note that this study’s size and parameters can yield very little statistical evidence, so rely on it accordingly.
In an anecdotal review by the Nutritional Magnesium Association, low magnesium was correlated with worsening symptoms in Raynaud’s, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and hyperthyroidism. Note that correlation (where two things appear together) is not the same as causation (where one is caused by the other).
There is limited support from weak human studies and decent animal model studies demonstrating a possible link between magnesium levels and inflammation, where it has been suggested that higher levels result in a reduced inflammatory response, which may lead to more research on using magnesium as a supplemental treatment for other inflammatory conditions. The study can be found in this link to the Journal of Immunology. However, a small study with prediabetes patients who had magnesium deficiency did not find that magnesium helped to decrease inflammation at a statistically significant level, so more research is definitely needed.
We found two other animal studies on magnesium and inflammation. One animal study found benefits of magnesium supplementation on neurological disorders. Another animal study found that magnesium deficiency can cause an inflammatory response.
Magnesium is definitely essential for proper functioning, and either deficiencies or excesses likely do contribute to many sicknesses, although evidence-based connections are lacking at this time. Recent illuminating work with astronauts has shown us that magnesium is not only a crucial component of normal physiology, but may indeed convey significant benefits in terms of life extension.
Questions for your doctor:
- Am I magnesium deficient, and if so, what are my levels? What should they be?
- Should I take a magnesium supplement? How much and how often?
- How long do you anticipate it will be until my levels are restored?
- What signs/symptoms should I watch for as indicators of hypo- or hyper-magnesia?
About the Author
Dr. Rothbard is a professional medical writer and consultant based in New York City, specializing in medical education articles targeted at a variety of audiences, from children through clinicians. After leaving medicine, he worked as a biology and medical science educator for several years, before deciding to pursue writing full-time. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com, written by Dr. Rothbard, and first published on Mar 28, 2013.
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