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Nutrient Spotlight: Magnesium

Author: Jamie Stephens, NTP

What is Magnesium?

You probably remember magnesium from that time you had to memorize the periodic table in science class.  Oh-Mg, right? And of course you probably know it’s a mineral. But did you know, magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in the human body after calcium, sodium, and potassium?  Not to mention it is an important electrolyte for our metabolism. 

What does Magnesium do in our bodies?

Magnesium plays several important roles in our bodies.  It is involved with over 300 enzymatic reactions including the production of energy, making DNA, and making our muscles contract and relax. Not to mention it supports a healthy immune system, nervous system, skeletal and muscular systems.

Muscle health

Beyond supporting healthy muscle movement, magnesium is actually a great remedy for sore, fatigued muscles and cramps.  Eating extra magnesium rich foods after a workout can really soothe muscle aches and soreness.  One of the most important muscles that needs adequate magnesium to function properly is the heart. Magnesium helps the heart to maintain a regular heart beat as well as regulate blood pressure and support optimal blood flow in the arteries and veins. 

Digestion

In addition to muscle and heart health, magnesium also plays a role in healthy digestion.  It helps relax the intestines and colon and then draws water to the bowel.  If you’re having sluggish digestion or occasional constipation, adding some magnesium into your diet might help get things moving again.

Sleep

Surprisingly magnesium is actually a great natural sleep aid, though it wouldn’t be something you necessarily associate with sleep. Interestingly enough magnesium deficiency is linked to higher stress levels, anxiety and poor sleep quality.  People with low magnesium often experience restless sleep and wake up frequently during the night. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels often leads to deeper, more sound sleep

Where can I get magnesium?

Magnesium is actually very common in most plants as it is a component of chlorophyll, which is vital for plant photosynthesis.  For this reason all dark green vegetables are a rich source of magnesium.  In addition, legumes, nuts, seeds, dry beans, whole grains, seafood and low-fat dairy products are all good sources of magnesium.  Drinking water can also be a source of magnesium, but available magnesium content of water varies dramatically based on the soil content of the magnesium.  Below are some magnesium rich foods with the amount of magnesium per cup.

  • Spinach, 1 cup: 157 mg
  • Swiss chard, 1 cup: 154 mg
  • Dark chocolate, 1 square: 95 mg
  • Pumpkin seeds, ⅛ cup: 92 mg
  • Almonds, 1 ounce: 80 mg
  • Black beans, ½ cup: 60 mg
  • Avocado, 1 medium: 58 mg
  • Salmon, 1 fillet: 53 mg
  • Banana, 1 medium: 32 mg

How much magnesium should I be eating?

The Institute of Medicine recommends 310–360 mg of magnesium daily for women and 400–420 mg for men.  Surprisingly though there is an abundance of magnesium rich food sources, studies have shown that people consuming western diets are magnesium deficient and getting less than 30%–50% of the RDA for magnesium. 

How do I know if I’m magnesium deficient?

It has been suggested that processed foods, fertilizers and poor farming practices which deplete the soil are the cause of magnesium deficiency.  According to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, over the last 100 years, average mineral levels in agricultural soils has fallen worldwide and by 85 percent in North America”.  The loss of minerals in the soil has made magnesium deficiency more common among people today. 

Common early signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness.  Chronic deficiency can result in numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur.  If not corrected long term severe magnesium deficiency can result in hypocalcemia or hypokalemia (low serum calcium or potassium levels) because mineral homeostasis is disrupted.

What about magnesium supplements?

If you do not feel you are able to meet the recommended amounts through diet alone, supplements are a great option.  There are several types of magnesium including magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate and magnesium gluconate to name a few but  it’s best to check in with your health care provider first to find the one for your specific needs. If you are on any medication double check with your health care provider or pharmacist that there are no possible drug- interactions before taking any supplements.

Magnesium is one of the minerals that our bodies need on a daily basis.  Daily stress and activity can deplete our levels and because it is necessary for so many functions in the body, it’s important to make sure we have plenty of it.  Remember to include magnesium rich foods in your meals so that you can keep on Noomin’ strong!