Drinking Bottled Water Can Lead to Possible Magnesium Deficiency
Like many women, Ahlem Gamri was always sipping bottled water in an effort to drink the recommended eight glasses a day.
As a consultant in the oil and gas industry, who travels around the world, she kept a bottle in her handbag to drink on the move.
‘It’s common knowledge that drinking water is fundamental in maintaining health,’ she says.
But despite her best efforts to stay healthy, she was baffled when she began to suffer from a range of symptoms.
‘I felt bloated and wiped out, no matter how much sleep I got,’ says Ahlem, 37, from London.
‘I tried cutting out bread and exercised more in a bid to boost my metabolism and snap me out of it, but I still felt terrible. I had odd symptoms that would flare up and subside without warning — muscle aches, joint pain, dizziness, palpitations, nausea.’
For three years, she consulted endocrinologists, neurologists, gastroenterologists, rheumatologists and immunologists.
Every expert offered different solutions to the symptoms — but none could explain what was actually wrong.
‘It wasn’t until I saw naturopathic doctor Nigma Talib that I got any answers,’ says Ahlem. ‘After a battery of tests, she identified I had a magnesium deficiency.’
Surprisingly, drinking bottled water can cause it.
This little-heard-of deficiency is surprisingly common among women — one survey found one in ten suffers from it, but some experts cite figures as high as seven in ten — and the effects can be devastating.
From maintaining energy levels to steadying heart rhythm, regulating blood pressure and keeping bones strong, magnesium is vital for the body.
Symptoms of deficiency include agitation and anxiety, restless leg syndrome, sleep disorders, nausea and vomiting, abnormal heart rhythms, muscle spasm and weakness, hyperventilation, poor nail growth and even seizures.
And, disastrously, modern diets are not just lacking in magnesium — they actively deplete it.
The recommended daily intake for adults is 420mg for men and 320mg for women. Once this would have been easy to get from a mix of wholegrains, green leafy vegetables, nuts and meat.
But intensive farming has seen the magnesium content in vegetables decline by as much as 80 per cent since 1950.
Caffeine, alcohol, processed grains and sugar prompt the kidneys to expel magnesium, depleting already low levels still further.
Moreover, many of us have swapped a significant source of magnesium — tap water — for bottled water, which often has a far lower content.
Modern lifestyles are also at fault. Stress can be a cause and a symptom of magnesium deficiency. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, released in ‘fight or flight’ situations, deplete the body’s natural stores.
But as magnesium helps to regulate blood pressure and heart rhythm, a deficiency may mean stress is tougher to handle.
These low magnesium levels are difficult to diagnose. A blood test rarely helps as just 1 per cent of the body’s magnesium stores are found in blood. The rest is in our bones and muscles.
Worse still, typical symptoms of magnesium deficiency — pain, fatigue, insomnia and muscle cramps — are common to many other conditions so doctors may wrongly diagnose anything from irritable bowel syndrome and pre-menstrual tension to migraine and fibromyalgia.
In France, magnesium is offered to patients suffering from PMT, stress or fatigue.
Nutritional therapist Dr Christy Ferguson says: ‘Magnesium hasn’t had much publicity — the food industry doesn’t use it to promote its products as it does with calcium. Magnesium deficiency is hard to diagnose, so many people don’t know they have it.’
Ironically, calcium is useless without magnesium, which is why a deficiency is implicated in osteoporosis.
So experts argue that many typical manifestations of ageing — loss of muscle mass, rising blood pressure and diminished nervous system function — are because the body’s ability to metabolise magnesium may decrease with age.
Dr Ferguson uses magnesium to treat migraines as it has a relaxing and calming effect on the body. A German study found a 41.6 per cent drop in migraine frequency among sufferers who were given a supplement, and it can also treat asthma by suppressing histamine production.
But many medications can cause a magnesium deficiency, as Mary Wood discovered. The 60-year-old retired consultant from Warwick suffered from acid reflux for years, controlling it with over-the-counter remedies.
But when her discomfort worsened, her GP prescribed omeprazole tablets, a type of medicine known as a proton-pump inhibitor, which have been found to inhibit magnesium absorption when used long-term. Although they eased the heartburn, after 18 months she had an unusual side-effect.
‘I had a strange sensation down my left side,’ says Mary. ‘Over months, it developed from a kind of fluttering into a spasm, as if an unborn baby was kicking me.’
Mary’s GP was baffled. ‘All his tests were inconclusive, which worried me even more,’ she says. ‘All sorts of horrible illnesses came into my mind, including cancer.’
Her husband, John, did some internet research and within 15 minutes he had found a cause.
‘He told me lots of people were complaining on forums of the same symptoms and that they turned out to have magnesium deficiency,’ says Mary.
‘He told me beetroot contains magnesium, and we had a ready supply on the allotment.
‘We started eating it in salads, soups, everything. Within a couple of days, the pain stopped, just like that.’
Mary told her GP about her self-diagnosis and treatment.
‘He said he’d just been reading new research about magnesium deficiency, so clearly doctors are catching on to it at last,’ she says.
‘I had no idea just how vital it was to our bodies. It’s incredible to think I lived with these symptoms for so long and yet the remedy was so simple.’
In fact, digestive conditions such as acid reflux are often related to magnesium deficiency, and medications can make the problem even worse.
Mary’s GP switched her to another indigestion remedy, Ranitidine, and the discomfort never recurred. But when her heartburn worsened a year ago and the doctor prescribed a stronger medication called Esomeprazole, Mary added a magnesium supplement to her diet, as well as upping her intake of beetroot and other magnesium-rich food.
‘It is common for people suffering from digestive problems to have a magnesium deficiency,’ says Dr Ferguson.
‘If your digestive system isn’t working properly, the acids in your stomach will not break down food, preventing the absorption of vital nutrients.’
For Ahlem, help came in the form of an intravenous vitamin cocktail, including magnesium, prescribed by Dr Talib.
‘Within days, I could feel a significant improvement as my symptoms started to fade away and became more manageable,’ she says.
‘I began eating magnesium-rich foods, such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and avocados.
‘Dr Talib also explained that I needed supplements to support my adrenal gland because poor adrenal function encourages the body to expel high levels of magnesium as waste.
‘No one ever talks about magnesium, so I had no idea I needed it in my diet — let alone that being deficient could have such a dramatic impact on my life.’