Magnificent magnesium

Magnificent magnesium

Key Findings

  • Magnesium is one of the seven essential macrominerals; proper functioning of the body requires a relatively high level of intake.
  • It plays many roles in the body, including helping to develop healthy bones, maintaining the cardiovascular system and controlling diabetes.
  • You can get magnesium from many plant- and animal-based foods. Some of the best sources are green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.

A powerful macronutrient

Magnesium, being one of seven essential macrominerals, must be ingested in “macro” (relatively large) amounts. This translates to 400 to 420 mg per day for men age 19 and over. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for women in the same age group is 310 to 320 mg per day.

Over 300 enzymes and biochemical reactions in the body depend on having good magnesium levels. Magnesium plays a vital role in everything from breaking down food, regulating blood sugar and blood pressure, synthesizing protein and fatty acid molecules, to maintaining good bone strength.

Magnesium matters

Since magnesium is involved in so many critical body processes, improving magnesium levels can have remarkable and far-reaching effects.

Take, for example, bone health. Magnesium allows calcium to be stored properly in bones. It stimulates the formation of bone crystals that increase bone density and may decrease the risk of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women. By allowing excess calcium to be quickly absorbed by the bones, it prevents high calcium levels. High calcium levels can lead to kidney stones, hardening of the arteries and heart disease.

When it comes to the heart, magnesium helps keep your heart muscles healthy. It lowers the risk of high blood pressure, strokes and abnormal heart rhythms. Besides controlling blood calcium levels, it also improves your blood lipid levels to further reduce your risk of atherosclerosis. A magnesium-rich diet containing fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products and less fat can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

We shouldn’t overlook the part magnesium plays in glucose and carbohydrate metabolism. Research tells us that the risk of diabetes decreases as magnesium intake increases. On the other hand, low magnesium levels can lead to problems with insulin sensitivity and insulin production.

Finally, here are a few other crucial systems supported by magnesium: DNA and RNA synthesis, conduction of nerve signals throughout your body, muscle contraction and energy production in mitochondria. Supplementing with magnesium can help relieve symptoms of anxiety, migraines and premenstrual syndrome.

Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium is absorbed mostly in the small intestine and has a moderate bioavailability. Magnesium is found naturally in many foods but is also often added to foods or beverages like breakfast cereals and bottled water. It’s a major ingredient in some nutritional supplements and over-the-counter products like laxatives and heartburn remedies.

Leafy green vegetables like spinach are among the best sources of magnesium. Legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains are all excellent choices too. The following foods are especially rich in magnesium (in alphabetical order):

  • Almonds
  • Black beans
  • Cashews
  • Cereal
  • Edamame
  • Peanuts
  • Soymilk
  • Spinach

More on magnesium deficiencies

A well-balanced diet should allow most people to get the required amounts of magnesium through their food. This diet would include green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and meats like chicken breast, beef and salmon. A medical practitioner can prescribe supplements for people who still have a deficiency. Older adults and people with type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, or alcohol dependence need to monitor their magnesium intake, since these health conditions carry an increased risk of magnesium deficiency.

What’s the bottom line?

Magnesium is an abundant mineral in the body. 50 to 60% of the body’s magnesium is present in bones and the remainder is in soft tissues. It is an essential macromineral involved in a myriad of body functions and enzyme reactions, including muscle and neuron function, blood pressure regulation, bone strength, DNA synthesis and energy production. Magnesium is found naturally in a well-balanced diet of animal and plant foods, especially foods high in dietary fiber. For those who need magnesium supplements, we recommend consulting a physician or holistic doctor to determine the right dosage and to understand any potential risks and side effects of supplementation.