While it may not be as well-known as other mineral nutrients, Magnesium is involved in a variety of the human body's processes, ranging from maintaining bone density to keeping our heart rhythm steady. Without the proper levels of magnesium, we'd suffer from fragile bones, high blood pressure, weak muscles and heart problems, among other health problems.
Most people know that calcium is important in maintaining strong bones. However, many are unaware that without adequate magnesium, the bones cannot absorb that calcium, making it worse than useless. If calcium supplements are taken without corresponding amounts of magnesium (in a proportion of 2 parts calcium to 1 part magnesium), the calcium will tend to build up in the soft tissues and the joints, contributing to osteoarthritis, while at the same time failing to protect against osteoporosis.
There are over 300 different enzymes in the body that require magnesium in order to work. Magnesium helps to lower blood pressure by keeping the muscles of the heart and blood vessels relaxed. It can reduce headaches (including migraines), alleviate symptoms of PMS, and reduce your risk of diabetes. It is also helpful in the treatment of kidney stones, constipation, muscle cramps, depression and anxiety, and reduces inflammation.
The NHANES study (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) of 1999-2000 found that 68% of Americans do not get their recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium. Adults who consume less than the RDA of magnesium are one and a half times more likely to have elevated markers for inflammation than those who get the recommended amount. Increased inflammatory markers indicate a higher risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The recommended daily intake of magnesium is as follows:
- Children 1-3 years: 80 mg/day
- Children 4-8 years: 130 mg/day
- Children 9-13 years: 240 mg/day
- Girls 14-18 years: 360 mg/day
- Women 19-30 years: 310 mg/day
- Women 31 years and over: 320 mg/day
- Pregnant women under 19 years: 400 mg/day
- Pregnant women 19 to 30 years: 350 mg/day
- Pregnant Women 31 years and up: 360 mg/day
- Breastfeeding Women under 19 years: 360 mg/day
- Breastfeeding Women 19 to 30 years: 310 mg/day
- Breastfeeding Women 31 years and up: 320 mg/day
- Boys 14-18 years: 410 mg/day
- Men 19-30 years: 400 mg/day
- Men 31 years and up: 420 mg/day
Although magnesium is found in a number of common foods, it is easily depleted by cooking and processing. There are also certain conditions that put you at risk of magnesium deficiency, including intestinal viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease, pancreatitis and taking diuretics. Signs of magnesium deficiency include muscle spasms or weakness, abnormal blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, sleep disorders, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, irritability and restless leg syndrome. Good food sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens), seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, and flaxseed), nuts (almonds, cashews, and walnuts), baked potatoes and chocolate.