With so much emphasis on other minerals like calcium and iron, magnesium sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. That’s unfortunate since the role magnesium plays in human health is vastly underappreciated. It’s common to hear health experts talk about the importance of getting enough calcium – but how often do you hear magnesium mentioned? When you take a closer look at this mineral, involved in more than 300 reactions in your body, you’ll quickly see why you should make room for magnesium-rich foods in your diet. Here are four reasons magnesium deserves a place on your breakfast, lunch, and dinner plate.
You might think calcium is the head honcho for bone health, but magnesium also plays a powerful role in preserving bone density. Did you know almost 60% of the magnesium in your body is stored in your bones? One way magnesium enhances bone health is by helping vitamin D do its job. Vitamin D acts as a co-factor, or helper, in several vitamin D reactions, including the activation of vitamin D. Simply put, magnesium and vitamin D work best when you have adequate amounts of each.
As far as taking extra magnesium to ward off osteoporosis, there’s no evidence that supplementing when you’re already getting enough through diet makes a difference, but if you’re not getting enough, you may be placing your bones at risk for osteoporosis. Magnesium deficiency may be more common than you think. A study published in the journal Nutrition Review showed between 2005 and 2006, only about half of Americans consumed the recommended amount of magnesium.
We’re facing a growing epidemic of metabolic syndrome, marked by rising rates of insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Although a number of factors are contributing to the problem, magnesium deficiency is likely a factor. Research shows people with type 2 diabetes have lower magnesium stores and having a high level may offer some protection. In animal studies, supplementing with magnesium improves insulin resistance. If you have insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes, supplementing with magnesium or adding more magnesium-rich foods to your diet may help. Skip the supplement and add more magnesium-rich foods to your diet.
Your heart is one organ you want to keep healthy. When it doesn’t function properly, every cell in your body is deprived of oxygen. Magnesium plays a vital role in heart health AND in healthy blood vessel function. As integrative cardiologist, Frank Sinatra M.D. points out:
“A shortage can cause or worsen congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, chest pain (coronary vasospasm), high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), heart attack and even sudden cardiac death.”
Research suggests magnesium may modestly lower your risk for coronary artery disease. It may do this in a number of ways: by lowering blood pressure, by improving insulin resistance, and by reducing the risk for abnormal heart rhythms. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels, which has the benefit of lowering your blood pressure and reducing stress on the inner walls of blood vessels.
We now know inflammation is a factor in a number of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. The good news is magnesium may help your body suppress inflammation. A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition found a link between higher intake of magnesium and lower markers for inflammation, as measured by a blood test, in women. If magnesium truly does reduce inflammation, it may lower the risk for a variety of health problems.
Sources of Magnesium
Now that you know how important it is to supply your body with enough magnesium, what’s the best way to do it? Eat more green, leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains – all excellent sources of magnesium. Eating a whole food, predominantly plant-based diet, will boost your magnesium intake naturally. Processing of foods removes magnesium and other minerals and nutrients from foods, although manufacturers often fortify foods like breakfast cereal and dairy products with magnesium.
How much magnesium do you need? According to the daily reference intake, women need 320 milligrams per day and men need 420 milligrams. So why are so many people falling short of meeting these requirements? Most animal foods are relatively low in magnesium. People who don’t consume enough plant foods may not meet their body’s need for magnesium. How much magnesium is available in foods also depends on the content of magnesium in the soil. Foods grown and raised in magnesium-depleted soil make it harder to get enough of this vital mineral.
Are There Drawbacks to Getting More Magnesium?
If you consume large amounts of magnesium, you might experience diarrhea, but this is usually only a problem if you take a magnesium supplement. In fact, some laxatives contain magnesium as the active ingredient. Getting magnesium naturally through diet is safe and beneficial. Diabetics and alcoholics are also at higher risk for magnesium deficiency.
You also need to boost your magnesium intake as you age since absorption becomes less efficient over time. If you’re taking certain medications, including diuretics, some types of blood pressure medication, or proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux, you also may have a magnesium level that’s sub-optimal. Ask your doctor if any of your medications could affect your magnesium status.
The Bottom Line
Now you know why you need more magnesium and the best sources of this essential mineral. Are you getting enough? If not, modify your diet so you’re enjoying more plant-based foods, especially leafy greens, whole grains, and nuts.
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