Are you getting enough magnesium?
The shocking reasons you may not be getting enough of this vital mineral, which supports healthy cell growth and organ health. Here’s everything you need to know about magnesium, one powerhouse vitamin, and how to up your vitamin regimen game against deficiency.
Q: I have been hearing a lot about magnesium lately. Why is it so important and how much should I take? – Kim V., Goleta, GA
Lower Amounts of Magnesium in American Diet
A: Magnesium intake in the average American diet has declined dramatically in the past 100 years. Boiling vegetables causes a 50-percent magnesium content loss. Brown rice loses 80 percent when refined into white rice. This nutrient is rarely added back to the soil in conventional farming methods, which depend on synthetic fertilizers. Additionally, most Americans now eat fewer of the foods traditionally rich in magnesium (tofu, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables), preferring calories from refined foods, meat, and dairy products, all of which are low in magnesium.
After potassium, magnesium is the most concentrated intracellular mineral. In the body, about 60 percent is found in bone, 26 percent in muscle, and the rest in the organs and blood. Although calcium supplementation gets all the headlines, magnesium deficiency is much more likely to be a problem than calcium deficiency.
This vitamin is critical to almost all enzymatic functions in the body. It is involved in energy production, protein formation, cell replication, and muscle relaxation. For example, it is essential in the biochemical cycle that converts sugar to ATP (adenosine triphosphate, which is the “fuel” or energy for human cells). Just as iron is the mineral “heme” in red blood cells, magnesium is the central heme of chlorophyll, which can be thought of as “plant blood.” A heme is a mineral that acts like a magnet to bind oxygen to living cells.
Plant life would not exist without magnesium, and without plants there would be no oxygen or food on the planet, nor any human beings!
It is also hugely important in contractile tissue-which means muscles and arteries. Along with calcium, they work together to promote smooth muscle relaxation (magnesium) and contraction (calcium). Because magnesium acts as a natural calcium channel blocker, supplementation to at least the minimal daily requirement of about 500 mg can help reduce blood pressure (vascular resistance) and promote more efficient heart function.
Cardiovascular health and supplementation
Many cardiovascular problems can be helped with adequate supplementation. It is well established that people who die from heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) have lower heart magnesium levels than people of the same age dying from other causes. Intravenous therapy is widely used in Europe to reduce the damage from a heart attack. Because the vitamin can improve energy production within the heart and dilate the coronary arteries (promoting improved oxygen flow to the heart muscle), adequate levels will protect against angina, arrhythmias, enlarged heart, congestive heart failure, hypertension, intermittent claudication (a type of intense vascular leg cramp), mitral valve prolapse, stroke, and toxemia of pregnancy.
Improvement of common health problems
Magnesium is also well-documented to aid many other common health problems, including fibromyalgia, glaucoma, hearing loss, hypoglycemia, kidney stones, migraines, osteoporosis, PMS, and menstrual cramps. If you are prone to kidney stones, beware of calcium supplementation, as well as spinach, rhubarb, and strawberries, which are high in oxalic acid (which is linked to kidney stones). The only occasionally unwanted side effect of this nutrient is that, as a muscle relaxant, it will sometimes cause a loose stool. This simply means your body can’t absorb the whole dose you took the prior day. Try taking magnesium in two divided doses of 250 mg each.
Most absorbable forms
Most forms of this nutrient are well absorbed, although magnesium oxide is not the best form. Better forms include magnesium aspartate, citrate, glycinate, or malate. It is best to take a supplement in the evening, when it can act as a light relaxant and promote good sleep. Look for a progressive multivitamin or mineral that contains equal amounts of magnesium and calcium. If you can’t find any, take additional magnesium at bedtime. If you take a supplement that contains, say, 500 mg of calcium and 200 mg of magnesium, hardly any of the magnesium will be taken up, because absorption will be blocked by the calcium.
Magnesium sulfate can be found very inexpensively in big bags on the bottom shelf of most health food stores. This wonderful form is more usually known as “Epsom salts” and is well absorbed through the skin. This nutrient very effectively displaces lactic acid (a byproduct of anaerobic respiration), which is why Epsom salts are so helpful to athletes after a hard workout. For any kind of cramping or threatened muscle cramping, make time before bed for a long soak in a warm (not scorching hot) tub of water with several cups of Epsom salts poured into the water. Don’t use Epsom salts internally, because they have too strong of a laxative effect.
Can you test for magnesium deficiency?
Magnesium is not routinely measured on standard lab tests. One reason for this is that by the time the nutrient shows up as deficient in the bloodstream, symptoms would most certainly have appeared. This nutrient is so critical for heart and other organ function. To evaluate your status, the best test is a red blood cell test, which assesses the reserves within the body.
Optimal calcium/magnesium ratio
Finland may serve as an example of the perils of a high-calcium/low-magnesium diet, which is prevalent in this northern country. Published research shows that the average Finn ingests 1,300 mg of dietary calcium daily (possibly the highest in the world) and yet Finland is plagued with an exceptionally high death rate from cardiovascular diseases. Japan, with the lowest heart disease rate of modernized countries, has a roughly 1 to 1 calcium/magnesium dietary ratio.
How much do you need?
For most people, about 6 mg of magnesium per kilogram of body weight is necessary to ensure optimal nourished status. This is almost 3 mg per pound of body weight, or 300 mg for a 110-pound person, and 540 mg for a 200-pound person.
Written by Better Nutrition Editors for Better Nutrition and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network.
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Vitamin & Me: Everything to Know About Magnesium
We agree with Better Nutrition. This nutrient is a powerhouse component of our bodies, and adequate supplementation is key for healthy growth. Our founder, Jessica Houston, knew how confusing finding the right vitamin for specific health needs. That’s why she created a personalized vitamin quiz, which pairs you to the best supplement for your body and then ships it right to your door!
Regarding magnesium, our team at Vitamin & Me believes that supplementation starts with the plate. The article listed some vitamin-rich foods, such as: tofu, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains and green leafy vegetables. If you have a picky eater or are pinched for time, that’s where a vitamin comes into play. To see more vitamin recommendations, check out our Essentials page on our website!
Still have questions? We’d love to help. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pair you with one of our healthcare professionals!
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