Why Magnesium Levels Decline With Age & What To Do About It

mbg Contributor By Jennifer Chesak
mbg Contributor
Jennifer Chesak is a freelance medical journalist with bylines in several national publications, including Washington Post, Healthline, Prevention, Greatist, Runner’s World, and more. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School.
Medical review by Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Physician
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who completed her family medicine training at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia.
Older Woman Smiling

Image by Lumina / Stocksy

Our bodies either need a trace amount of a mineral or a whole lot of it. Magnesium falls into the latter category. This mineral is required for a host of chemical reactions in the body, according to a review in the International Journal of Endocrinology.*

Magnesium plays a role in blood sugar and blood pressure management, muscle and nerve transmission, the transport of other nutrients, and immune system support.* Magnesium is also paramount to the health of our bodily structures—from our bones down to the tiny mitochondria in our cells.* But unfortunately, many of us have low levels of magnesium, a problem that can worsen as we get older.

Why magnesium levels often decline with age.

Getting enough magnesium through diet alone is challenging at any age. Soil depletion in farming has resulted in a steady decline of magnesium in the foods we eat. And food processing results in a loss of the mineral as well, according to a review in the journal Nutrients. These days, at least 60% of people in the United States don't get the recommended daily amount of magnesium through foods.

So what does aging have to do with it? "As a person ages, a big factor in their magnesium decline is because their appetite and intake also decline," explains Christina Fitzgerald, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian and sports nutrition expert. "So they're taking in much less dietary magnesium."

Plus, aging involves a lot of changes within the body that can affect magnesium levels: "Three of the most common reasons magnesium deficiency is seen in the aging population are reduced intestinal absorption, reduced bone store, and excess urinary loss," says Alex D'Elia, R.D., a functional registered dietitian in New York City.

Physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., adds that some prescription medications can also contribute to magnesium depletion, including antibiotics, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, and certain drugs used to treat osteoporosis.

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How to maintain healthy magnesium levels for life:

1. Add a supplement.

Even if you try your best, dietary changes may not be enough to sustain optimal magnesium levels. You may need a supplement.

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D'Elia recommends supplementing with magnesium glycinate (also called bisglycinate), which has an added bonus of promoting quality sleep.*

If you do take a supplement, follow dosing instructions on the label. Check with your physician first regarding any health issues and medications and supplements you take. Although rare, magnesium in high doses can be toxic, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Specifically, toxicity has resulted from ingesting too much magnesium through high doses of laxatives and antacids.

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2. Change your diet.

You can up your intake of this crucial mineral by making a habit of eating more magnesium-rich foods. "Include a variety of sources daily, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy veggies in addition to fortified cereals and milk and yogurts," Fitzgerald said. "These can easily be included in both meals and smoothies."

Signs of a deficiency.

Even if you haven't been diagnosed with a deficiency, your body could still be lacking the right amount of this mineral. Magnesium deficiency is often diagnosed via a serum test, but 99% of the body's magnesium is stored in our bones and soft tissue. Serum levels of magnesium can be in the normal range while the rest of the body may actually be quite deprived, according to a review in the journal Open Heart. Symptoms of low levels range from mild to severe. As a result of missing out on enough magnesium, you might experience headaches, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, vertigo, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to light, or muscle cramping, spasms, or weakness.

"Chronic magnesium insufficiency has been linked to several conditions and outcomes, including stroke, heart disease, hypertension, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, inflammation, oxidative stress, cardiovascular mortality, asthma, chronic fatigue, as well as depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders," says D'Elia.

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The bottom line.

Magnesium is a macromineral, meaning we need much more than trace amounts to keep our bodies running smoothly. Our magnesium levels tend to decline with age for several reasons, including normal changes in the body. Low levels of magnesium can lead to health issues ranging from headaches to serious heart issues. Although we can always aim to eat more magnesium-rich foods to counteract low levels, getting enough of the mineral from diet alone is tough. Taking a supplement can help boost your body's amount of magnesium for better health at any age.*

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