Magnesium – The Forgotten Nutrient.
Many Americans are living in a perpetual state of magnesium deficiency. Although many people don’t realize it, magnesium is an essential nutrient and a lack of it can cause a higher risk for health conditions such as heart problems, type 2 diabetes, and depression. One of the main reasons why Americans are low in magnesium is because of their diet. More and more people are eating processed foods and refined grains. To increase your level of magnesium it is recommended that you have a better diet by eating whole foods and decreasing the consumption of processed foods. In some cases, a daily supplement of ≥300 mg of magnesium may be needed to replenish the body’s levels of magnesium.
Like many of the other ions necessary for good health, magnesium is needed as a cofactor. About 300 enzymes need magnesium to function properly. Magnesium is also necessary for cell growth, cell membrane stabilization, energy production & storage, and nerve & muscle function.
Most of the magnesium in your body is being used within cells: about 90% of it can be found in bone, muscle, and other tissues.
Your diet is responsible for 25% to 75% of the magnesium in your body. Most of it is absorbed in your gut. Interestingly, how well you absorb magnesium also depends on the level of magnesium already inside your body. The level of magnesium you have depends on:
- how much you ingest,
- how much you lose through your kidneys,
- how much you lose by sweating (during heavy exercise),
- and your biology. For example, your magnesium levels are affected if you are pregnant, under extreme stress, or are taking certain medications.
If you don’t have enough magnesium, your body will mobilize it from your muscle and bones in order to maintain cellular function. This leads to health issues which are difficult to diagnose.
Potential Health Consequences of Magnesium Deficiency
Lower magnesium levels have been linked to a broad array of chronic health conditions, ranging from cardiovascular disease to depression.
Health Benefits of Higher Magnesium Intake
Studies have shown that high levels of magnesium may lead to a reduced incidence of major diseases, less stress & depression, and fewer/less intense migraines. Increasing your dietary intake of magnesium may also increase skeletal muscle, increased grip strength, reduced symptoms of fragility, increased bone density, and reduced risk of mortality due to liver disease.
Magnesium Levels as you Age
As people age, there appears to be a higher risk of magnesium deficiency. This might be due to changes in intestinal absorption, or decreased renal function. It is recommended that the aging population takes special care in maintaining an adequate magnesium status. In addition to avoiding the above-mentioned conditions, magnesium may also preserve chromosomal function.
Improving Dietary Magnesium Intake: Whole Foods
Dietary sources of magnesium include many whole foods, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole-grain cereals, and many vegetables. The levels of magnesium are different in different type of plants and in different parts of a plant. Thus it’s important to have a variety of foods from leaves to roots and from seeds to fruits.
For example, magnesium levels are higher in the leaves of beets, chard, and spinach. In kale, different cultivars can vary in magnesium concentrations ranging from 45.8mg to 69.3mg per 100g of kale. Similarly, carrots can have anywhere between 8.7mg to 12.3 mg magnesium per 100g carrot.
Given the wide range of magnesium levels within and between plants species, eating a variety of plants may be a good strategy for getting enough dietary magnesium.
The Benefits of Magnesium Supplementation
For some people, it may be challenging to get enough magnesium from their diet. In these cases, magnesium supplements may be a viable option to maintain good health. Because magnesium is involved in absorption and gut function, taking magnesium supplements significantly increases the absorption of other nutrients. As a consequence, taking magnesium supplements may have the added benefit of reducing nutrient deficiency in adults.
Currently about half of the US population has some level of magnesium deficiency. This is predominantly due to the consumption of processed foods. Magnesium is important for good health and a decreased risk of diseases. A deficiency in magnesium may lead to chronic diseases. To remedy the situation, people should try to eat more whole foods (unrefined grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts) and reduce the intake of refined or processed foods. A magnesium supplement may be needed if you are severely deficient in magnesium stores. However, there are different forms of magnesium so it is difficult to determine which kind you will be able to absorb best. In plants, different kinds of magnesium exist in the same plant so you do not need to worry about which one to buy and eat.