Popeye may have believed that the main health benefit of spinach was its iron content, but he would not have been able to flex his muscles as well if spinach was not so high in magnesium. That’s right – Popeye knows best. Eat your greens!
Magnesium is a vital macro-mineral in the human body, and the second most abundant element within human cells. Unlike trace minerals, macro-minerals are necessary in the human body in large amounts. Calcium, sodium and potassium are also macro-minerals with which magnesium maintains a balance in every cell of the body. Magnesium’s primary role in the body is to control nerve impulses such as muscle contractions like our heartbeat, calm neurotransmitter activity that may cause anxiety, muscle tension, or constipation, and balance nutrient transport throughout the body. Healthy magnesium consumption is likely to increase one’s heart health, decrease risk of migraine headaches, and help to prevent osteoporosis.
Magnesium deficiency is actually quite common in adults. CNN reports that only about 25% of the U.S. adult population consumes the recommended daily amount (or just above that) of magnesium. It is not difficult to consume adequate amounts of magnesium, but avoid the following, which can inhibit the absorption of magnesium.
- Sodas and caffeinated beverages
- Alcohol, which inhibits the body’s ability to absorb Vitamin D, which supports absorption of magnesium
- Beverages and foods high in refined sugars, which cause the body to secrete magnesium by way of the kidney
Magnesium is crucial in regulating other macro-minerals in the body. Along with magnesium, the minerals sodium, calcium and potassium must maintain a very particular balance within and without our body’s cells. Maintaining a balanced state of homeostasis within the body keeps cells healthy, and healthy cells allow for more healthy cells to develop and stabilize DNA within those cells. In the process of equalizing mineral content across cell membranes, magnesium enables cells to expel sodium in order to accept potassium. If one is experiencing a potassium deficiency, it is therefore difficult to rectify without also acknowledging and treating a magnesium deficiency. Similarly, magnesium regulates the body’s calcium levels for optimal heart health; magnesium dilates blood vessels while calcium causes vessels to contract. Magnesium content in the body significantly affects the balance and availability of other macro-minerals essential for bodily functions.
If you’re looking to increase your magnesium intake, the best way to do so naturally is to incorporate more magnesium-rich foods in your diet. The National Institutes of Health outlines the following recommended daily allowances (RDA) if you must take a supplement (keeping in mind that taking a magnesium supplement affects the body’s balance of calcium, sodium and potassium, which may need to be adjusted accordingly, as well; consult your primary care physician for professional guidance).
Recommended Daily Allowance, mg/day
- Infants - 6 months: 30
- 7-12 months: 75
- 1-3 years: 80
- 4-8 years: 130
- 9-13 years: 240
- 14-18 years : 410 for men; 360 for women
- 19-30 years: 400 for men; 360 for women
- 31+: 420 for men; 320 for women
- Pregnant females: 350-360
- Lactating females: 310-320
Before you choose to take a magnesium supplement, though, consider whether or not you may be able to add some of the following magnesium-rich foods to your diet:
- Dark leafy greens: spinach, swiss chard, kale, collard greens
- Legumes: soy beans, white beans, black beans, mung beans, French beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, etc.
- Fish (all, but highest are): mackerel, pollock, turbot, tuna
- Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, bulgur, buckwheat, wild rice
- Nuts and seeds such as: pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, etc.
- Dried fruit: figs, prunes, apricots, dates, raisins
- Dark chocolate
See this comprehensive list featuring milligrams of magnesium per serving size for some of the foods listed above. Or, take an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt is a magnesium sulfate that can absorb into the body through the skin. There are, of course, plenty of other forms of magnesium supplements out there. Perhaps you’ve heard of milk of magnesia?
The reason for magnesium deficiency can be difficult to isolate, but the main reasons one may suffer from magnesium deficiency may be connected to digestive disorders, food produced from magnesium-depleted soils, or excessive consumption of medications and antibiotics that can lead to digestive disorders that make it difficult for the body to absorb magnesium. So, if you have any of the following symptoms, you may benefit from increasing your magnesium intake:
- kidney or liver damage
- hypertension and cardiovascular disease
- abnormal heart rhythms
- numbness or tingling
- vitamin K, vitamin B1, calcium, and potassium deficiencies
- loss of appetite
- nausea and poor digestion
- fatigue and anxiety
- tooth cavities
- insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- restless leg syndrome
- muscle weakness and cramping
- worsened PMS or menopause symptoms
Again, always consult your personal health care professional for an opinion that is specific to how your body works. Since magnesium is such an integral macro-mineral in the body – critical in over 300 biochemical functions in the human body – supplementing your current magnesium intake has an effect on many other processes occurring within the body. Magnesium plays a role in activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for the purpose of producing energy, and activates muscles and nerves, such as the heart. Without appropriate levels of magnesium, one is not able to digest and metabolize nutrients in the body, efficiently synthesize RNA and DNA (genetic building blocks), or maintain overall heart health.
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