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The Surprising Health Benefits of Magnesium

Foods rich in magnesium

Magnesium is one of seven essential minerals that the body needs in significant amounts to function and maintain good health. While most people understand the value of certain vitamins and other supplements, magnesium is frequently overlooked by consumers as an important nutrient. It does deserve consideration, however, as magnesium deficiency can cause real health problems.

One Mineral, Many Responsibilities

Magnesium helps to regulate and facilitate many essential bodily functions. “Perhaps its most important job is to enable healthy enzyme function,” says internal medicine specialist, Dana Habash-Bseiso, MD. “Magnesium is involved in more than 300 different enzyme activities that help to regulate biochemical reactions in our body,” she adds.

Magnesium also plays a crucial role in supporting the following aspects of our health:

  • Heart health. Regulates nerve and muscle function throughout the body, including the heart muscle. Magnesium helps the heart maintain a healthy rhythm and is involved in the regulation of blood pressure and cholesterol production.
  • Bone health. Crucial for normal bone structure, magnesium plays a critical role in both bone formation and the maintenance of bone density as we age.
  • Metabolic health. Facilitates the digestion of fatty acids and proteins and helps to regulate blood glucose levels.
  • Sleep. Plays a key role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by regulating certain neurotransmitters that calm the nervous system and allow the brain to transition to a restful state.
  • Stress management. Helps to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.

Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is very common, affecting an estimated 50 percent of adults in the United States. It is especially common in older adults and is more prevalent among women.

“Even though magnesium plays such an important role in so many different functions, it is not usually looked at in routine bloodwork,” says Dr. Habash-Bseiso. “However, if people are experiencing certain symptoms and/or take medications that can affect magnesium absorption such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec and Nexium or diuretics (water pills) we will order blood tests to check their magnesium levels.“

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include:

  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Insomnia
  • Heightened anxiety and/or depression

The symptoms listed above can be indications of many different medical disorders, including magnesium deficiency. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor for a full evaluation.

Can I Get Enough Magnesium Through My Diet?

The body does not produce magnesium so it must come from outside sources, either from the food you eat or dietary supplements. The recommended daily allowances (RDA) for magnesium are:

  • 400-420 mg. per day for men 19-51 years of age
  • 310-320 mg. per day for women 19-51 years of age
  • 350-360 mg. per day for pregnant women
  • Adults over 51 should aim for the upper limit of the recommended range for their gender

There are many foods you can eat to reach your recommended magnesium level. Some of the most magnesium-rich foods include:

  • Brazil nuts - 250 mg in half cup whole
  • Spinach - 157 mg in one cup cooked
  • Pumpkin seeds - 150 mg in one ounce
  • Black beans - 120 mg in one cup
  • Almonds - 80 mg in one ounce
  • Cashews - 72 mg in one ounce
  • Dried figs - 68 mg in 11 dried figs
  • Dark Chocolate - 64 mg in one ounce
  • Avocados - 58 mg in one medium avocado
  • Tofu - 53 mg in 3½ ounces
  • Salmon - 53 mg in half fillet
  • Banana - 37 mg in one large banana
  • Raspberries/Blackberries - 28 mg in one cup

Can You Take Too Much Magnesium?

“As with many things, more is not necessarily better. In fact, too much magnesium can lead to nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramping. And in severe cases, it can cause trouble breathing, rapid or irregular heartbeat, shock and cardiac arrest," says Dr. Habash-Bseiso. “But to overdose on magnesium, you’d have to be taking very high amounts. Deficiency is much more common than toxicity.”

Are Magnesium Supplements Recommended?

Ideally, our nutritional needs are met when we eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. And, although it may require some “focused” meal planning to get enough magnesium through diet alone, it can be done. Supplements can be a convenient way to boost your intake but you should always talk to your doctor before taking any non-prescribed supplements to ensure there aren’t any interactions or contraindications based on medications you already take.

“The question of supplements and potential interactions circles back to the importance of the physician/patient relationship. When you have a trusting relationship with a primary care doctor, regular appointments with them provide the time and opportunity to have these conversations and discuss supplements and anything else that is of concern,” says Dr. Habash-Bseiso.

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