Magnesium Deficiency & Alcohol

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, peas, beans, whole grains and soy products are all rich sources of magnesium, a mineral necessary for over 300 biochemical reactions in your body. Magnesium also supports nerve and muscle function, keeps your immune system strong and regulates your heartbeat. Alcohol depletes magnesium, leading to potential deficiency. The risk increases with the amount you drink. Consult your doctor if you are concerned about how much alcohol you drink.

Three young women take tequila shots in a bar with lemon and salt. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

According to MedlinePlus, early warning signs include muscle twitches, memory problems, fatigue, confusion, irritability, apathy, anorexia and compromised learning ability. As the deficiency worsens, you may experience cardiovascular changes and a rapid heartbeat. A severe deficiency can result in tingling, numbness, delirium and hallucinations.

Why Alcoholism Triggers Magnesium Deficiency

People who drink a lot of alcohol tend to have poor diets and may not get the foods they need to meet their magnesium requirements. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcoholics may get as much as half of their calories from alcohol, which provides no nutrients. Alcohol also negatively affects digestion, use and storage of nutrients. It decreases the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, thus interfering with the breakdown of nutrients into molecules the body can use. Alcohol also damages the stomach and intestinal lining, which hampers or prevents the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Any alcohol you drink affects your nutrient status, but generally people who drink in moderation and eat a healthy diet shouldn't have to worry too much about it. Moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. Drinking more than this may put you at risk of magnesium deficiency and other health problems.

Getting Enough Magnesium

According to registered dietitian Dr. Amy Burkhart, many people are deficient in magnesium due to the American diet, which is rich in processed, nutrient-poor foods. She also cites gluten-free diets, chronic stress and caffeine as other causes of magnesium deficiency. To ensure you get enough magnesium, drink alcohol only in moderation, limit your caffeine intake and eat a nutrient-rich diet comprised primarily of whole foods, especially magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds; almonds and cashews; black beans and soybeans; spinach and Swiss chard; and quinoa and millet.

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