Magnesium is an essential mineral that we all rely on for the health of our cells, our immune function, energy- producing enzymes, the health of our bones and muscles, and the regulation of other essential vitamins and minerals, to name a few. Intake of magnesium has been on a steady decline over the last several years, in large part because of the increase in consumption of processed foods (which do not provide real nutrition) and high-sugar diets (which cause the body to excrete more magnesium).
As magnesium intake has gone down, the prevalence of a great number of chronic illnesses and developmental disorders has risen.
Particularly notable is the link between low magnesium levels and the rise of autism as well as ADD and ADHD. If you haven’t checked the statistics lately, the prevalence of autism is estimated at 1 in 68 today, compared with 1 in 166 in 2000 .
Several studies done in recent years have found that children on the autism spectrum as well as those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD or related disorders are deficient in magnesium (1, 2)– and that magnesium supplementation can improve symptoms such as hyperactivity, restlessness, fidgeting and body rocking, poor concentration, and noise sensitivity (3, 4, 5) . In fact, many experts now believe that what’s being diagnosed as ADHD in some cases is magnesium deficiency.
Besides having the potential to cause these symptoms (not to mention others such as insomnia, headaches, and depression), a major problem with being deficient in magnesium is that glutathione– the body’s primary antioxidant– relies on it for its synthesis. When we don’t have enough magnesium, we don’t make enough glutathione, which leads to oxidative stress. This means there is an imbalance between unstable, harmful cells called free radicals, and the antioxidant cells that fight them. Bodies under oxidative stress are more susceptible to damage and attack by chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxins. In other words, magnesium deficiency could be a big part of the reason why those on the autism spectrum are more sensitive to, for example, toxic heavy metals.
Clearly, magnesium needs to be more present in the diet, not only for those with autism or ADHD, but for all of us in the day and age of refined foods. Many individuals also need to supplement with magnesium. But the solution to the magnesium deficiency problem is not as simple as consuming more magnesium. For some people, even with sufficient intake, deficiency occurs due to poor absorption of the mineral as a result of poor intestinal health (i.e. leaky gut).
Leaky gut– essentially an enlargement of the spaces between cell walls in the intestinal lining due to inflammation– is a common problem among those on the autism spectrum and with ADD and ADHD (6, 7). In order to properly absorb essential minerals, including magnesium, correcting leaky gut and ensuring that we have enough healthy gut flora is essential.
You’ve probably heard us say it before: it all comes back to the gut. Eating probiotic rich foods, supplementing with probiotics, avoiding common contributors to leaky gut (including refined carbohydrates/sugar and antibiotics) and testing for other causes including parasites and heavy metals are all part of the comprehensive approach that is necessary to correct leaky gut.