Magnesium is a mineral that’s critical for the human body’s functioning. It’s important for maintaining a healthy blood pressure, keeping the heart beating steadily, and strengthening the bones.
Eating a diet with sufficient magnesium is linked with a lowered risk of diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer. Yet according to Dr. David Perlmutter, more than 50% of Americans aren’t getting sufficient magnesium from the foods they eat.
What Magnesium Does in the Body
Magnesium plays a role in the function of more than 300 of the body’s enzymes, including the enzymes that play a role in the body’s blood sugar control system. The mineral plays a role in how each cell in the body produces energy as well as the function of DNA. Magnesium is important for the body to be able to make many of the proteins that it needs.
The body stores 50-60 percent of its magnesium in the bones. Over time, not getting enough magnesium contributes to bone loss, which could turn into osteoporosis if not addressed.
Magnesium plays a role in the transmission of electrochemical messages in between cells. Because of this role, a lack of magnesium in the body can lead to an increased risk for depression. Magnesium deficiency may also affect the way painkillers are recognized by the body.
Recommended Daily Allowance of Magnesium
How much magnesium does a person need each day? The answer depends on the person’s age. Recommended daily allowances for the various age groups are:
- 1-3 years: 80 mg
- 4-8 years: 130 mg
- 9-13 years: 240 mg
- 14-18 years: 360 mg for females, 410 mg for males
- 19-30 years: 310 mg for females, 400 mg for males
- 31 years and up: 320 mg for females, 420 mg for males
The kidneys are important for helping the body release the magnesium in foods. Because older adults have gradually decreasing kidney function, those over 30 need more magnesium than those under 30.
Slightly different recommendations are made for those who are pregnant or breast feeding. Pregnant and breast-feeding persons under the age of 19 should strive for 400 mg per day. Those aged 19 to 30 should try to get 350 mg per day, and those over the age of 30 should try for 320 mg.
Excessive Magnesium Risks
It is possible to eat too much magnesium. Those who get adequate magnesium from their diets should not take additional magnesium supplements. Magnesium supplements can also interact with certain medications, including diuretics (water pills) and prescriptions for diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and some intestinal conditions.
Taking too much magnesium can cause these symptoms:
- Low Blood Pressure
- Muscle Weakness
An overdose of magnesium supplements, if taken in very high quantities, can be fatal. Someone who has taken more than the recommended dose of magnesium supplements and is experiencing any of these symptoms should be given emergency medical treatment immediately.
Foods Rich in Magnesium
To help ensure adequate amounts of magnesium in one’s diet, one can focus on eating from at least some of these categories of foods every day:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Peas and other legumes
- Whole grain cereals
Fish with some of the highest levels of magnesium include cod and canned tuna. Shrimp is also rich in magnesium. Broccoli and beets are among the vegetables that are high in magnesium, and nuts that contain plenty of the mineral are almonds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.
Of all these foods, sunflower seeds are the single greatest source of dietary magnesium. Whole grain cereals that are especially rich sources of magnesium include cooked oatmeal, bran flakes (40%), and shredded wheat (or puffed wheat). As a general rule, if a food is high in dietary fiber, it is probably high in magnesium content as well.
Cooking methods can have an effect on the amount of magnesium in foods. Boiling is known to decrease the amount of magnesium in foods. Whenever possible, magnesium-rich foods should be eaten raw to get the full amount of magnesium.
Magnesium-rich foods can be supplemented with mineral waters that naturally contain magnesium. Tap water from many municipalities does not contain any magnesium, but some bottled mineral water contains naturally-occurring minerals that include magnesium. Water products that contain magnesium will have the mineral listed in the nutrition information.
Conditions That Make Magnesium
Deficiency More Likely
Some adults are more likely to suffer from magnesium deficiency due to health conditions. These individuals may have difficulty eating enough foods rich in magnesium to get sufficient magnesium in their diets. Health care providers may prescribe magnesium supplements to these individuals.
Conditions that make magnesium deficiency more likely include:
- Age of 55 or older
- Alcohol abuse
- Crohn’s disease and other digestive disorders
- Kidney disease
- Parathyroid conditions
Taking certain cancer drugs, diabetes medications, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) used to treat acid reflux, or antibiotics may also make magnesium deficiency more likely.
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Because of the way the body processes magnesium, true magnesium deficiency is relatively rare. If one does have a magnesium deficiency, symptoms of the condition might include:
- Loss of appetite
- Migraine headaches
- Restless leg syndrome
Whatever one’s age, one should try to eat a wide enough variety of foods to include sufficient magnesium to stay healthy. Getting enough magnesium is linked to reduced inflammation in the body, which in turn is linked with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure as well as a healthy immune system.