Magnesium: Things you need to know

Magnesium is an essential mineral, and plays a part in the human body’s over 300 enzyme reactions. The other functions include helping with the work of muscles and nerves, controlling blood pressure and strengthening the immune system.

An adult body contains around 25 grams (g) of magnesium, of which 50–60 percent are contained by the skeletal system. The rest is found in body fluids, skin, soft tissue, and.

Most people in the U.S. do not get enough magnesium in their diet while signs of deficiency are rare in otherwise healthy individuals.

Doctors connect magnesium deficiency to a number of health problems, so people should try to reach their recommended daily magnesium levels.

Some of the foods highest in magnesium are almonds, spinach, and cashew nuts. If a person is unable to obtain enough magnesium through his diet, his doctor can recommend taking supplements.

In this article, we look at the role and benefits of magnesium, what it does in the body, dietary sources, and potential health hazards that doctors associate with excess.

Benefits

A lady eating nut seeds
Many types of nuts and seeds are rich in magnesium.

Magnesium is one of seven principal macrominerals. These macrominerals are minerals that people need to consume at least 100 mg per day in fairly large quantities. Microminerals such as iron and zinc are just as important while people need them in smaller quantities.

Magnesium is important to many body functions. Getting enough of this mineral can help prevent or cure chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and migraine.

The following sections discuss the role of magnesium in the body, and its impact on an individual’s health.

Bone health

Although most work has focused on calcium‘s function in bone health, magnesium is important for healthy bone formation as well.

Research from 2013 has related adequate intake of magnesium to higher bone density, enhanced bone crystal formation, and lower risk of osteoporosis in females following menopause.

Magnesium can directly and indirectly enhance bone health as it helps control the levels of calcium and vitamin D, which are two other nutrients essential to bone health.

Diabetes

Research has related high diets of magnesium to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This may be because magnesium plays an significant role in insulin metabolism and glucose regulation.

A 2015 analysis in the World Journal of Diabetes notes that most people with diabetes, but not all, have low magnesium and that magnesium may play a role in managing diabetes.

A magnesium deficiency can exacerbate insulin resistance, a condition that often develops prior to type 2 diabetes. In comparison, insulin resistance can cause low levels of magnesium.

Researchers have linked high magnesium diets to diabetes in several studies. Additionally, a 2017 systematic analysis shows that taking magnesium supplements can also boost insulin sensitivity in people with low levels of magnesium.

Scientists however need to collect more data before doctors can regularly use magnesium in people with diabetes for glycemic control.

Cardiovascular health

Magnesium is required by the body to maintain muscle health including the heart. Research has shown that magnesium is an essential part of cardiac safety.

A 2018 review reports that a deficiency in magnesium may increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular problems. This is partially because of their cellular-level functions. The authors find that magnesium deficiency is normal in people with congestive heart failure, and may exacerbate their clinical results.

People who get magnesium shortly after a heart attack have a lower mortality risk. Doctors also use magnesium to reduce the risk of arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm, during treatment for congestive heart failure (CHF).

Growing magnesium intake will lower a person’s risk of stroke, according to a meta-analysis In 2019. They note that the risk of stroke decreased by 2 per cent for every 100 mg of magnesium per day.

There is also some evidence indicating that magnesium plays a part in hypertension. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), however, taking magnesium supplements, based on existing studies, decreases blood pressure “to only a limited degree.” ODS calls for a “significant, well-designed” study to clarify the function of magnesium in cardiac health and cardiovascular prevention.

Migraine headaches

Magnesium therapy may help avoid headaches, or may help alleviate them. This is because a deficiency of magnesium will affect neurotransmitters and limit constriction of the blood vessels, which are causes that doctors relate to migraine.

Those who have migraines in their blood and body tissues may have lower levels of magnesium relative to others. During a migraine, magnesium levels within a person’s brain can be small.

A 2017 systematic review says magnesium therapy can be useful in preventing migraine. The authors say that taking 600 mg of magnesium citrate seems a healthy and efficient method of prevention.

The American Migraine Foundation notes that people frequently use doses of 400–500 mg a day to avoid migraine.

The levels which may have an impact are likely to be high, so people can use this therapy only under their doctor’s guidance.

Premenstrual syndrome

Magnesium may also be a part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Small-scale studies, including an article in 2012, indicate that taking magnesium supplements together with vitamin B-6 can improve symptoms of PMS. A more recent analysis in 2019, however, indicates the evidence is inconsistent, and more studies are needed.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that taking magnesium supplements may help in reducing PMS bloating, mood symptoms and breast tenderness.

Anxiety

Magnesium levels may play a role in mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.

Low magnesium levels may have ties to higher rates of anxiety, according to a systematic analysis from 2017. This is due in part to activation in the axis of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA), which is a group of three glands that regulate a person’s stress reaction.

The analysis points out, however, that the standard of evidence is poor, and researchers need to perform high-quality trials to find out how well magnesium supplements can function to relieve anxiety.

Recommended daily intake

According to the ODS the following table indicates the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for age and sex magnesium intake.

AgeMaleFemale
1–3 years80 mg80 mg
4–8 years130 mg130 mg
9–13 years240 mg240 mg
14–18 years410 mg360 mg
19–30 years400 mg310 mg
31–50 years420 mg320 mg
51+ years420 mg320 mg

During pregnancy, people can increase their magnesium intake by about 40 mg per day.

Experts base the optimal intake for children under the age of 1 on the levels contained in breastmilk.

Sources

Many foods have high magnesium levels including nuts and seeds, dark green vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Many breakfast cereals and other fortified foods also get magnesium from the manufacturers.

The best sources of magnesium include:

SourcePer servingPercentage of daily value
Almonds (1 ounces or oz)80 mg20%
Spinach (half a cup)78 mg20%
Roasted cashews (1 oz)74 mg19%
Oil roasted peanuts (one-quarter cup)63 mg16%
Soy milk (1 cup)61 mg15%
Cooked black beans (half a cup)60 mg15%
Cooked edamame beans (half a cup)50 mg13%
Peanut butter (2 tablespoons)49 mg12%
Whole wheat bread (2 slices)46 mg12%
Avocado (1 cup)44 mg11%
Potato with skin (3.5 oz)43 mg11%
Cooked brown rice (half a cup)42 mg11%
Low fat yogurt (8 oz)42 mg11%
Fortified breakfast cereals40 mg10%
Oatmeal, instant, 1 packet36 mg9%
Canned kidney beans (half a cup)35 mg9%
Banana (1 medium)32 mg8%

When the wheat is refined, wheat products lose magnesium, so selecting cereals and bread products made from whole grains is safest. Most common fruits, meat, and fish have low magnesium content.Wheat products lose magnesium when the wheat is refined, so it is best to choose cereals and bread products made with whole grains. Most common fruits, meat, and fish contain low in magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency

Although many people don’t meet their daily magnesium intake, signs of deficiency are uncommon in otherwise healthy individuals. The magnesium deficiency is referred to as hypomagnesemia.

Inadequacy or deficiency of magnesium may result from excess alcohol intake, a side effect of some medications, and certain health conditions, including gastrointestinal disorder and diabetes. Deficiency is more common in older adults.

Magnesium deficiency symptoms include:

  • a loss of appetite
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fatigue or weakness

Symptoms of more advanced magnesium deficiency include:

  • muscle cramps
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • seizures
  • personality changes
  • heart rhythm changes or spasms

Research has related magnesium deficiency to a number of health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and migraine.

Risks of too much magnesium

This is doubtful that magnesium will be overload from nutritional sources as the body will remove any excess magnesium from food by urine.

Nevertheless, a high supplementary intake of magnesium can lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea, nausea, or cramping.

Very large doses can lead to kidney failure, low blood pressure, leakage of urine, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, lethargy, loss of control of the central nervous system (CNS), cardiac arrest, and even death.

People with a kidney disease do not take magnesium supplements unless told by their doctor to do so.

Drug interactions

Magnesium supplementation may also give rise to some drug interactions. Medications that may interact with magnesium supplements or affect magnesium levels include:

  • oral bisphosphonates that treat osteoporosis, such as alendronate (Fosamax)
  • tetracycline antibiotics, including doxycycline (Vibramycin) and demeclocycline (Declomycin)
  • quinolone antibiotics, including levofloxacin (Levaquin) and ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
  • diuretics, such as furosemide (Lasix)
  • prescription proton pump inhibitors, including esomeprazole magnesium (Nexium)

Should I take supplements?

Magnesium supplements are available for online purchase, but it is easier to get any vitamin or mineral through food as nutrients work better when people mix it with other nutrients.

A lot of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients function in combination. This word means it provides more health benefits than taking them separately.

Focusing on a safe, nutritious diet to fulfill regular magnesium requirements and use supplements as a substitute, but under medical supervision, is better.

Summary

Magnesium is an important macronutrient that plays a key role in many processes of the body, including muscle, nerve, bone, and mood health.

Evidence has related deficiencies in magnesium to a range of health complications. A doctor may recommend taking magnesium supplements if a person is unable to get their daily needs from their diet.

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