Medical News Today: Magnesium plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body, including the metabolism of food, synthesis of fatty acids and proteins, and the transmission of nerve impulses.
The human body contains around 25 gram (g) of magnesium, 50 to 60 percent of which is stored in the skeletal system. The rest is present in muscle, soft tissues, and bodily fluids.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of key vitamins and minerals.
It looks at the recommended intake of magnesium, its effects on health, dietary sources, and possible health risks.
FAST FACTS ON MAGNESIUM
Here are some key points about magnesium. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Magnesium is vital for the proper functioning of hundreds of enzymes.
- Consuming adequate magnesium might help reduce premenstrual symptoms.
- Sunflower seeds, almonds, and shrimp are some of the foods high in magnesium.
- Magnesium supplements can interact with different drugs, so it is best to check with a doctor before taking them.
Magnesium is one of seven essential macrominerals.
These are minerals that need to be consumed in relatively large amounts, at least 100 milligrams (mg) per day.
An adequate intake can help prevent problems with bones, the cardiovascular system, diabetes, and other functions.
The following health benefits have been associated with magnesium.
1. BONE HEALTH
Magnesium is important for bone formation. It helps assimilate calciuminto the bone and plays a role in activating vitamin D in the kidneys. Vitamin D is also essential for healthy bones.
Optimal magnesium intake is associated with greater bone density, improved bone crystal formation, and a lower risk of osteoporosis in women after menopause.
2. CALCIUM ABSORPTION
Calcium and magnesium are important for maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis.
Without magnesium, a high intake of calcium can increase the risk of arterial calcification and cardiovascular disease, as well as kidney stones.
Anyone who is taking calcium supplements should also take magnesium to ensure their calcium intake is properly metabolized.
Magnesium plays an important role in carbohydrate and glucose metabolism, so magnesium status can also impact the risk of diabetes.
Several studies have associated a higher intake of magnesium with a lower risk of diabetes.
For every 100 mg per day increase in magnesium intake, up to a point, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by approximately 15 percent. Low magnesium levels were linked to impaired insulin secretion and lower insulin sensitivity.
In most of these studies, the magnesium intake was from dietary sources. However, other studies have shown improvement in insulin sensitivity with a magnesium supplement intake of between 300 and 365 mg per day.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Diabetes Association note that further evidence is needed before magnesium can be routinely used for glycemic control in patients with diabetes.
4. HEART HEALTH
Magnesium is necessary to maintain the health of muscles, including the heart, and for the transmission of electrical signals in the body.
Adequate magnesium intake has been associated with a lower risk of:
- atherosclerosis, a fatty buildup on the walls of arteries
- hypertension, or high blood pressure
In the Framingham Heart Study, people with the highest intake of magnesium were found to have a 58 percent lower chance of coronary artery calcification and a 34 percent lower chance of abdominal artery calcification.
Patients who receive magnesium soon after a heart attack have a lower risk of mortality. Magnesium is sometimes used as part of the treatment for congestive heart failure (CHF), to reduce the risk of arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm.
A daily intake of 365 mg of magnesium a day has been shown to improve lipid profiles.
The NIH cite findings “significantly” associating higher magnesium levels in the blood with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and of ischemic heart disease resulting from a low blood supply to the heart. They also note that higher magnesium levels may lower the risk of stroke.
However, they point out that taking magnesium supplements lowers blood pressure “to only a small extent.”
The NIH call for a large, well-designed investigation to understand how magnesium from the diet or from supplements might help protect the heart.
5. MIGRAINE HEADACHES
Small studies have suggested that magnesium therapy may help prevent or relieve headaches, but the amount likely to be needed to make a difference is high. It should only be administered by a health professional.
6. PRE MENSTRUAL SYNDROME
Ensuring an adequate intake of magnesium, especially combined with vitamin B6, may help relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as bloating, insomnia, leg swelling, weight gain, and breast tenderness.
7. RELIEVING ANXIETY
Reductions in magnesium levels, or changes in the way that it is processed, have been linked to increased levels of anxiety.
This appears to related activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a set of three glands that control a person’s reaction to stress.
Research has shown that a low-magnesium diet may alter the types of bacteria present in the gut, and this may impact anxiety-based behavior.
Natural News: WHY SHOULD YOU NEED MAGNESIUM IF YOU’RE CONSTANTLY STRESS OR ANXIOUS
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Severe cases of stress and anxiety can be difficult to deal with and may even require medication. Unfortunately, prescription medicines are not only expensive, but they also cause a wide variety of side effects. Magnesium, an important dietary mineral, has been called the “original chill pill” because of its ability to lift mood and improve anxiety. Because of its effects, it is now being considered as a natural aid for stress management.
Magnesium performs many roles in the body. In fact, it takes part in over 600 different metabolic functions. Despite this, it is the second most common nutritional deficiency in the world, occurring even in developed countries.
A deficiency in magnesium has been linked to an increased incidence of depression and anxiety. As proof of this, researchers sometimes induces depression in mice by depriving them of magnesium. The mineral is crucial to preventing and treating depression, thanks to several specific functions:
IT INCREASES THE LEVELS OF GABA
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that the nervous system uses to communicate with its components, as well as other parts of the body. Neurotransmitters are related to specific functions and bodily phenomena. As it happens, GABA is crucial to relaxation.
Magnesium binds with GABA molecules and stimulates GABA receptors in the brain. As an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA is able to put the brain’s functions on hold, enabling the mind and body to relax and rest.
Low levels of GABA are associated with a variety of symptoms, including confusion, sleeplessness, and stress-related disorders. These include generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and even irritable bowel syndrome.
IT LOWERS STRESS HORMONE
Stress leads to the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Excessive levels of this natural chemical have been linked to depression, anxiety, brain fog, memory loss, and other mental disorders. Research indicates that stress triggers the release of cortisol, which begins a cascade of responses that consume magnesium. After some time, magnesium deficiency can occur because of repeated stress responses.
A lack of magnesium causes cramps or tight muscles, which then triggers the fight-or-flight response. When this happens, more cortisol is released and the cycle continues. Boosting one’s magnesium intake helps the muscles relax, thereby ending the exhausting cycle.
IT HAS ANTI-INFLAMMATORY EFFECTS
Chronic inflammation in the brain is one of the causes of anxiety, depression, and memory loss. As an anti-inflammatory nutrient, magnesium inhibits the expression of cytokines that trigger inflammation and destroy brain tissue and disrupt brain function in the process.
IT STABILIZES BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Glucose is the brain’s main fuel. When there is not enough glucose in the blood, the adrenal glands release epinephrine and cortisol, which trigger a stress response. Low levels of glucose, also known as hypoglycemia, is characterized by symptoms similar to those of a panic attack – nervousness, tremors, perspiration, palpitations, and dizziness. Hypoglycemia may also lead to anxiety. Hypoglycemia-related anxiety may be treated not just with diet, but also with the supplementation of magnesium.
Medical News Today: Magnesium deficiency is rare, but it may affect older people. It can resultfrom excess consumption of alcohol, some health conditions, such as a gastrointestinal disorder, and the use of some medications.
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- fatigue and weakness
More advanced symptoms include:
- numbness and tingling
- muscle cramps
- personality changes
- heart rhythm changes and spasms
Deficiency is linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, and osteoporosis. It can lead to low calcium or low potassium levels in the blood.
FOODS RICH IN MAGNESIUM
Natural News: Consuming the following foods is among the best way to boost one’s magnesium intake:
- Dark chocolate – This is one of the most nutritious treats you can find. Apart from being rich in antioxidants, copper, manganese, and dietary fiber, dark chocolate also contains plenty of magnesium – enough to fill 16 percent of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for the nutrient.
- Avocados – This delicious and versatile fruit contains good fats, potassium, B-vitamins, and vitamin K. It also provides 15 percent of one’s RDI for magnesium.
- Nuts – There are many reasons to love nuts. Most of them are excellent sources of heart-friendly fatty acids, as well as dietary fiber that supports probiotic populations in the human gut. Almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts, in particular, are high in magnesium, with just an ounce (28 g) of cashews providing approximately 20 percent of the RDI for the nutrient.
- Tofu – This soy product is well-loved by vegetarians because of its high plant protein content, making it a great substitute for meat. It also delivers up to 13 percent of the RDI for magnesium, as well as a bunch of other nutrients.
- Seeds – These are the very definitions of superfoods – they pack diverse and large quantities of nutrients in very small packages. For instance, an ounce of pumpkin seeds provides about 37 percent of the RDI for magnesium.
OTHER SOURCES OF MAGNESIUM
Medical News Today: The best sources of magnesium are nuts and seeds, dark green vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Magnesium is also added to some breakfast cereals and other fortified foods.
Image credit: Dr. Taylor Wallace
Here are some good sources of magnesium:
- Sunflower seeds, dry roasted, 1 cup: 512 mg
- Almonds, dry-roasted, 1 cup: 420 mg
- Sesame seeds, roasted whole, 1 ounce: 101 mg
- Spinach, boiled, 1 cup: 78 mg
- Cashews, dry-roasted, 1 ounce: 74 mg
- Shredded wheat cereal, two large biscuits: 61 mg
- Soymilk, plain, 1 cup: 61 mg
- Black beans, cooked, 1 cup: 120 mg
- Oatmeal, cooked, 1 cup: 58 mg
- Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup: 51 mg
- Edamame, shelled, cooked, 1 cup: 100 mg
- Peanut butter, smooth, 2 tablespoons: 49 mg
- Shrimp, raw, 4 ounces: 48 mg
- Black-eyed peas, cooked, 1 cup: 92 mg
- Brown rice, cooked, 1 cup: 84 mg
- Kidney beans, canned, 1 cup: 70 mg
- Cow’s milk, whole, 1 cup: 33 mg
- Banana, one medium: 33 mg
- Bread, whole-wheat, one slice: 23 mg
Magnesium is lost as wheat is refined, so it is best to choose cereals and bread products made with whole grains. Most common fruits, meat, and fish, are low in magnesium.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium depends on age and gender.
The NIH recommend the following intake of magnesium:
- From 1 to 3 years of age: 80 mg a day
- From 4 to 8 years: 130 mg a day
- from 9 to 13 years: 240 mg a day
From 14 years, the requirements are different for men and women.
- Males aged 14 to 18 years: 410 mg a day
- Males aged 19 years and over: 400 to 420 mg a day
- Females aged 14 to 18 years: 360 mg a day
- Females aged 19 years and over: 310 to 320 mg a day
- During pregnancy: 350 to 400 mg a day
- During breast feeding: 310 to 360 mg a day
HOW WELL DO WE ABSORB MAGNESIUM?
The “bioavailability” of a nutrient is the degree to which it is absorbed and retained in the body for use.
Magnesium has a medium level bioavailability. It is mainly absorbed in the small intestine.
How effective absorption is depends on:
- the amount of magnesium in the diet
- the health of the gastrointestinal tract
- the overall magnesium status of a person
- the diet as a whole
An overdose of magnesium through dietary sources is unlikely, because any excess magnesium that is consumed in food will be eliminated in the urine.
However, a high intake of magnesium from supplements can lead to gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, nausea, and cramping.
Very large doses can cause kidney problems, low blood pressure, urine retention, nausea and vomiting, depression and lethargy, a loss of central nervous system (CNS) control, cardiac arrest, and possibly death.
Anyone with a kidney disorder should not take magnesium supplements, unless their doctor advises it.
Magnesium supplementation may also give rise to some drug interactions.
Medications that may interact with magnesium include:
- Mycophenolate Mofetil
- Mycophenolic acid
SHOULD YOU TAKE SUPPLEMENTS?
Magnesium supplements are available to purchase online, but it is best to obtain any vitamin or mineral through food, because nutrients work better when combined with other nutrients.
Many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients work synergistically. This means that taking them together brings more benefit for health than consuming them separately.
It is better to focus on a healthful, balanced diet to meet daily requirements for magnesium, and to use supplements as a backup, but under medical supervision.
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WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY?
If left untreated, hypomagnesemia can cause chronic health problems and decrease the body’s levels of calcium and potassium.
In this article, we take a close look at what factors can cause low levels of magnesium. We also explore the effects on the body and methods of treatment.
What is hypomagnesemia?
Magnesium is a mineral and electrolyte that has a number of vital roles in the body. Because the body cannot produce it, magnesium must be consumed as part of a person’s diet.
According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 50–60 percent of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bones, and less than 1 percent is found in the blood.
Detecting a deficiency can be difficult, as it is not part of routine blood work.
Results of a 2012 study suggest that around 48 percent of Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diets. However, it is relatively uncommon for low magnesium intake to cause symptoms in healthy people.
Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 of the body’s enzyme reactions. It contributes significantly to the:
- health of muscles and nerves
- regulation of blood pressure
- production of energy in the body’s cells
- synthesis of DNA and RNA
People with mild hypomagnesemia may have no symptoms, but these can include:
- twitches, particularly in the facial muscles
- weakness and exhaustion
- nausea and vomiting
- personality changes
- very pronounced reflexes
More severe magnesium deficiency can cause:
- muscle contractions
- changes in the heart’s rhythm
In rare cases, the change in rhythm can be life-threatening.
Hypomagnesemia can occur when a person does not absorb enough magnesium from their diet. Or, they may release too much magnesium from the kidneys or through the gastrointestinal tract.
Malnutrition, possibly caused by anorexia, bulimia, or frequent vomiting can result in a magnesium deficiency. However, malnutrition is unlikely to be responsible for low levels of the mineral in otherwise healthy people.
Other causes of a magnesium deficiency include:
- Alcoholism. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to imbalances of electrolytes or nutrients, and it may cause the body to release more magnesium than usual.
- Breast-feeding and pregnancy. These factors increase the need for magnesium.
- Diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes. People with related conditions such as Crohn’s disease are more vulnerable to hypomagnesemia.
- Age. As a person ages, it becomes more difficult to absorb magnesium.
- Diabetes. High levels of glucose in the kidneys can cause the body to release more magnesium. People with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance may develop magnesium deficiencies. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening complication of diabetes, and it can reduce magnesium levels.
- Organ failure. Organ failure, particularly of the kidneys, may cause the body to excrete too much magnesium.
People on certain medications may also lose large amounts of magnesium. These medicines include:
- some antifungal drugs
- proton pump inhibitors
- the chemotherapy drug cisplatin
Individuals receiving the hormone vasopressin or certain thyroid hormones may be similarly affected.
When a magnesium deficiency causes symptoms, a doctor will usually prescribe supplements.
The following foods are also rich in this electrolyte:
- almonds, peanuts, and cashews
- other legumes and nuts
- brown rice
When deficiencies are severe, or the methods above are ruled out, a doctor may recommend oral magnesium salts. Magnesium can also be injected into a muscle or vein. Ongoing monitoring can determine whether the treatment is working.
A magnesium deficiency is linked to other mineral deficiencies, and a doctor may treat them at the same time. For example, it is common to receive calcium and magnesium together.
It is important also to treat any underlying condition, such as diabetes, that could be responsible for low magnesium. A magnesium deficiency can indicate that the current treatment is not working. An improved treatment plan may include lifestyle changes or new medication.
Links with hypocalcemia and hypokalemia
A person with very low levels of magnesium may also have a calcium deficiency, called hypocalcemia, and a potassium deficiency, called hypokalemia.
Magnesium helps to transport calcium and potassium ions in and out of cells. It may also contribute to the absorption of these important minerals.
Treating only a magnesium deficiency can make a calcium deficiency worse because magnesium binds to calcium. Doctors who suspect hypomagnesemia will often test for other deficiencies at the same time.
A doctor may suspect that magnesium levels are low based on symptoms, or because a person has a condition commonly linked to a magnesium deficiency.
A blood test can confirm the diagnosis, and it is important that a doctor also check levels of calcium and potassium.
However, because most magnesium is located in the bones or tissues, a person may still have a deficiency, even when levels in the blood are normal. A person with a calcium or potassium deficiency may still need treatment for hypomagnesemia.
Most people with low levels of magnesium are unable to absorb the right amounts. Others may see improvement by adding magnesium-rich foods to the diet.
Foods that contain large amounts of both magnesium and calcium, such as milk and cheese, may provide more benefits.
Many people with a magnesium deficiency will never know it. When symptoms develop, immediate treatment is required. The deficiency is easily reversed, and a person may be surprised by how quickly their symptoms improve.
It is important, however, not to self-diagnose a magnesium deficiency and begin supplementation without seeing a doctor. Too much of any nutrient, including magnesium, can be harmful and may cause an imbalance in other minerals.
Speak with a doctor about any symptoms of hypomagnesemia.
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