The foods we eat provide us with a plethora of healthy and necessary nutrients. From carbohydrates to fats and vitamins to minerals, a diverse and inclusive diet ensures our body is running as efficiently as possible.
Yet unfortunately it’s not always so easy to eat a well-balanced and comprehensive diet. Some suffer from allergies that limit their intake of specific foods, while others adhere to strict diets that eliminate options entirely.
As a result of this reality, deficiencies often arise. For instance, common vitamins and minerals that thousands consume inadequate amounts of include iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, and others.
When such deficiencies occur, we often elect to consume supplements, and thus ensure our body receives the nutrients it craves. And of the many supplements we elect to ingest, one of the most beneficial is magnesium.
As a mineral that plays an integral role throughout the body, daily intake of magnesium is extremely important. Believe it or not, magnesium is associated with bone health, the neutralization of stomach acids, the proper function of nerves and muscles, and much more.
To better understand why we should consume magnesium in supplement form, let’s dig a little deeper and get to know this powerful mineral.
What Is Magnesium?
We may know magnesium as the element on the periodic table with the symbol Mg and the atomic number of 12. In its elemental form, magnesium is a shiny grey solid that bears a resemblance to a few other elements in the second column of the periodic table.
But magnesium is more than an element. As it pertains to our bodies, we identify magnesium as a mineral that’s important for bone health, heart health, nerve function, and more.
While many of us get magnesium from the foods we eat, magnesium deficiency is common amongst older adults and African Americans. Low magnesium levels in the body have been linked to various diseases, including osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other health conditions.
So if we acquire magnesium from our diet, which food sources contain this beneficial mineral? A simple way to find out is to look for foods that are high in fiber. This is because foods high in fiber are also commonly high in magnesium.
Some magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, seeds like cashews, nuts, whole grains, legumes, avocado, dark chocolate, dairy products, and meat. Additionally, water that contains a high level of minerals (we refer to this as “hard” water) also contains magnesium in significant amounts.
While many of us utilize magnesium supplements as a laxative to combat constipation, in reality it serves a greater role than ensuring we can go to the bathroom.
Why Is Magnesium So Important?
We now know what magnesium is, and we even know where to find dietary magnesium in our food (eat those leafy green vegetables!). But why does this mineral play such an important role in the first place?
Believe it or not, magnesium is required to carry out over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It aids in maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, it supports a normal heart rhythm, it promotes healthy bone density to mitigate bone loss, and it even helps adjust our body’s glucose metabolism to improve blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.
Research today has also suggested that Magnesium may help prevent and manage disorders like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. It may even help combat migraine headaches and improve sleep quality, though more research is needed to solidify these claims.
Beyond the body, however, magnesium also plays a role in maintaining healthy brain function. It acts as a gatekeeper in the brain to relay signals between NMDA receptors and nerve cells. In healthy individuals, magnesium will position itself inside these receptors and prevent the receptor from firing when it shouldn’t.
When we’re not consuming enough magnesium, fewer receptors are blocked, leading to overstimulated receptors that in-turn fire with ease. This overstimulation can kill off nerve cells and cause brain damage over time.
The work that magnesium performs in our brain occurs because magnesium is actually an electrolyte. Because electrolytes are minerals that carry a charge, magnesium’s ability to carry a charge as it dissolves in body fluids, such as blood, is an important feature.
Any of us who run consistently, workout at the gym, or look to increase athletic performance understand the role that electrolytes play in normal muscle function. Within the muscle itself, calcium will bind to proteins and cause a contraction, thus leading to a generation of force and movement.
As a natural calcium blocker, magnesium ensures the muscle isn’t firing at random to generate unwanted contractions. We know these unwanted contractions as muscle cramps.
Clearly we can see that magnesium serves our body in a number of ways. Yet despite this fact, many of us suffer from a magnesium deficiency. And as a result, we must consume magnesium in supplemental form.
Should You Take Magnesium Supplements?
Believe it or not, upwards of 68% of adults in the United States don’t meet the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium every single day. The amount of magnesium we should consume depends largely on age, and magnesium intake should occur as follows:
- Men 19-30 years old: 400 milligrams
- Women 19-30 years old: 310 milligrams
- Men 31-50 years old: 420 milligrams
- Women 31-50 years old: 320 milligrams
- Men 51+ years old: 420 milligrams
- Women 51+ years old: 320 milligrams
The RDA of magnesium may change for those who are pregnant or breast-feeding, as pregnant women require more magnesium than women who are not. Supplemental magnesium is often necessary amongst those that don’t meet the above RDA. Because consuming excessive amounts of Magnesium can be toxic, parents should consult a licensed pediatrician before giving their children Magnesium in any form.
When scanning the pharmacy aisle for a magnesium supplement, it may become obvious that different forms of magnesium exist. These include magnesium chloride, magnesium aspartate, magnesium sulfate, magnesium oxide, and magnesium citrate.
Each form of magnesium will aid the body in different ways. For instance, magnesium sulfate is the equivalent of epsom salt, and therefore perfectly suited to treat sore muscles. Magnesium chloride (the most popular form), on the other hand, encourages sleep, digestion, bone health, and a sense of calm.
It’s important to remember that different forms of magnesium will benefit different bodies and individual needs.
Are There Any Side Effects?
As with most dietary supplements that seek to help us replace a missing substance, adverse effects may occur along the way.
For starters, those who consume magnesium should not do so in large doses exceeding 350 milligrams, as this could cause magnesium to build up in the body. Too much magnesium can lead to dangerous side effects, including irregular heartbeat, confusion, low blood pressure, and even death.
When not consuming magnesium in high doses, other side effects can take place that include stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Recall that magnesium is often used as a laxative, and may therefore produce unintended and uncomfortable results within our gut.
Before deciding to use supplemental magnesium, it’s always best to check with a healthcare provider who can decide if supplemental magnesium is necessary for you. Those who suffer from kidney problems or kidney disease may have a tough time clearing magnesium, and kidney stones can form as a result.
Others with bleeding disorders may notice an increase in bleeding or bruising, as magnesium seems to slow blood clotting. For these reasons and others, it is extremely important to check with healthcare professionals before deciding if magnesium supplementation is the proper course of action.
Remember that maintaining a healthy and balanced diet with foods naturally high in magnesium content will often be the best way to get the RDA.
Magnesium Supplements and You
We can clearly see the many benefits of Magnesium after diving into the details of this powerful mineral. While consuming Magnesium in recommended amounts through diet alone is the optimal way to receive our RDA, often we require Magnesium supplementation to meet our daily needs.
As with all supplements, it pays to consume in moderation, maintain a well-balanced diet, and always check with a medical professional before introducing a new supplement into our lives.
Though magnesium is a rather significant mineral that we should all consume with care, in truth it is but one of countless minerals that our body requires each day. Establishing a healthy eating routine, maintaining physical fitness, and making healthy minerals (magnesium included) a part of our day is the ultimate recipe for bodily success.