Health Benefits of Magnesium
Magnesium plays a critical role in the body, and is required for hundreds of different processes. Scientists believe that it plays a part in everything from healthy teeth and bones through to muscle function. It is found primarily in the cells and skeleton of the body, and due to its far-reaching influences magnesium deficiencies can impact a wide range of systems.
Interestingly, studies suggest that many of us may not be consuming the optimum amount of magnesium in our diets. Magnesium is present in a variety of foods, and it is possible to consume enough magnesium in the diet. Due to the risks of deficiencies, however, many health-conscious individuals take magnesium supplements to ensure they are meeting their body’s needs.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body, where it works at a cellular and molecular level in nearly every system in the body. This mineral is required for hundreds of biochemical reactions and is a co-factor for over 300 enzymes, which means it helps to release energy which other processes rely on.
Magnesium also works within cells to promote DNA and RNA stability, normal nerve function, muscle contraction and a regular heartbeat. The organs with the highest concentrations of magnesium are those which are the most metabolically active, such as the brain, heart and liver.
Health Benefits of Magnesium
Magnesium is important for so many functions it's tricky to know where to start. A few of the main benefits of magnesium are:
Calcium may be the most common mineral found in the body, but magnesium plays a critical role in maintaining teeth and bones. It is essential for the body’s absorption and metabolism of calcium from the diet, and is necessary for the conversion of vitamin D into its active form. As a result, it is crucial for the maintenance of strong bones.
A popular area of research in recent years pertains to the risks of osteoporosis. It is known that the skeleton is being continually rebuilt, and that as this process becomes less effective with age, so bone density can drop.
One study investigating the relationship between magnesium consumption and bone density found that higher intakes of magnesium were associated with a smaller decline in bone density in older individuals. Interestingly, another study found very similar results in much younger individuals, and concluded that “magnesium supplementation may have beneficial effects in reducing bone loss”. If maintaining a healthy skeleton is a priority for you then making sure you’re getting enough magnesium therefore makes a lot of sense.
The cells in your heart require a steady supply of magnesium to maintain smooth muscle function and keep a steady rhythm. There is also evidence that taking magnesium supplements can prevent high blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Studies of magnesium supplementation have indicated that it may play a part in the fight against coronary heart disease (CHD); currently one of the biggest sources of mortality in western countries.
A wide-ranging study of over 7,000 men in Honolulu compared magnesium levels in the body with the risk of suffering from heart disease. The experts found that individuals with the lowest levels of magnesium in their bodies were roughly twice as likely to suffer from heart disease when compared to those with higher levels. They concluded that “the intake of dietary magnesium is associated with a reduced risk of CHD”. Another study found similar patterns and suggested that “it is reasonable to encourage diets high in magnesium as a potential means to lower the risk of CHD”.
Magnesium is a popular relaxation mineral which helps to calm the nerves and muscles, and regulates the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Low levels of magnesium can cause nervousness which makes it harder to fall asleep. Some people find that adding Epsom salts (high in magnesium) to an evening bath or taking a nightly magnesium supplement help them to drift off to sleep more easily.
Magnesium plays an important role in maintaining a normal, healthy metabolism - the process of breaking down the foods we ingest. This bodily process provides us with the energy we need to keep up with our day-to-day lifestyle demands.
In addition, magnesium’s role in the creation and utilisation of enzymes in the body mean that sufficient magnesium in the body can further help to support natural energy levels.
Magnesium is needed to produce insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which improves the strength and integrity of muscles. This essential mineral also helps to refuel the muscles and relieve any muscle spasms and cramps.
Low levels of magnesium can cause feelings of anxiety, irritability, fatigue and low mood. There is also promising evidence that magnesium can help to increase recovery speed from depression.
This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. Magnesium has also been suggested to impact all manner of other bodily processes including:
The nervous system
Headaches and migraines
Restless leg syndrome
It is therefore difficult to underestimate the importance of ensuring you are consuming enough magnesium each day to keep you at the peak of health.
Dietary Sources of Magnesium
A wide range of foods contain magnesium, and it is possible to achieve all your body’s nutritional requirements through diet alone. Some of the richest sources of magnesium in the diet can be found in:
- Whole grains
- Leafy vegetables such as spinach and chard
- Seeds and nuts including pumpkin seeds and almonds
- Fruits such as avocados and figs
All the same, magnesium supplements can be a cost-effective and practical manner to boost your daily intake of magnesium.
The Dangers of Magnesium Deficiency
Mineral deficiencies are becoming increasingly common in the UK due to poor soil quality. Over farming and the use of pesticides over the past seventy years have significantly reduced mineral levels in the soil, and as a result, the foods we eat contain fewer minerals. There are also several other causes which contribute to magnesium insufficiency or deficiency.
Common causes of magnesium deficiency include:
- Excessive consumption of caffeine and alcohol
- The use of certain prescription drugs
- Poor diet
- Athletes with physically demanding training sessions
- Gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease
- Age - as the gut becomes less efficient at absorbing magnesium
- Type 2 diabetes
- High stress levels
Because magnesium is involved in so many different processes, a magnesium deficiency can display manifest itself in many different ways. Common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Irritability and nervousness
- Mood swings
- Muscle weakness and cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Severe PMS symptoms
- Numbness or tingling
How Much Magnesium Should I Take?
It is currently recommended that we consume the following volumes of magnesium each day...
- 300 mg per day for adult males
- 270 mg per day for adult women
- 280-300 mg per day for adolescents
- 60mg per day for babies up to 6 months
Currently, there is no official tolerable upper limit (UL) for magnesium, but the NHS advises that taking up to 400mg per day is safe.
Side Effects of Magnesium
Magnesium is an extremely safe supplement and is well tolerated by most adults as long as it is not taken in super high doses. Taking too much may result in loose stools or diarrhoea, so if you are prone to loose stools you may want to avoid high doses of magnesium. However, if you regularly suffer from constipation, magnesium supplements may provide a beneficial laxative effect.