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Magnesium: Health Benefits, Foods, Functions, Deficiency and Lots More

Magnesium is an important mineral that is needed for essential body functions; it is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and it supports many important roles and metabolic activities.

It plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions including food metabolism and transmission of nerve impulses. The human body contains around 25 grams of magnesium with 50 to 60% stored in the bones and skeletal systems; It needs to be gotten through the food we eat every day and still by doing so one don’t get enough of this mineral.

Magnesium deficiency also known as hypomagnesemia is the one of the leading nutritional deficiencies in the world and this leads to a lot of health problems including heart attack; when the level of magnesium is very low in the body, heart attack can occur because this mineral prevents irregular heartbeat. Below are the amazing ways this mineral boost and support our health.

Hundreds of biochemical reactions depend on magnesium: Every cell in the body contains magnesium and requires it for optimal function; 60% of magnesium is found in the bones while the remaining 40% is distributed among the muscles, soft tissues and body fluids including blood. This mineral acts as a co-factor or “helper molecule” in many biochemical reactions carried out by enzymes.

More than 600 reactions in the body require magnesium for successful metabolism. It helps in digestion by converting foods into energy; it creates new proteins from amino acids, it creates and repairs DNA and RNA, it helps in contraction and relaxation of the muscles and it regulates neurotransmitters which send messages throughout the brain and nervous system.

It prevents asthma: This important mineral has shown promise in the short-term treatment of asthma attack; it relaxes the smooth muscles at the bronchial levels by blocking excess calcium through its influence on calcium channels across the cell membranes.

It increases energy: This essential mineral is used to create the energy currency of the body “ATP”; it activates Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Having a low level of magnesium in your body can lead to low energy, fatigue, getting tired easily during exercise or during a physical activity and low levels of oxygen.

It helps in the production of collagen: Magnesium helps in the production of collagen; this protein is found in the skin and fibrous tissues. Collagen is also found in the bones, gut, cartilage, cornea, blood vessels and invertebral discs. The more collagen a person has in any part of the body, the stronger that body part becomes.

It boosts the performance of athletes: This mineral helps in moving blood sugar into the muscles and it removes and prevents the buildup of lactic acid which can cause pain; lactic acid builds up in the muscle during exercise. It boosts athletic performance and also help aged people and those with chronic diseases.

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Many studies have been conducted and have proved the benefits it bestows to athletes; in one study, volleyball players who took 250 mg of magnesium a day experienced improvement in jumping and arms movement. Another study gave athletes magnesium supplement four times a week and they ran faster, their cycling and swimming also improved. The mineral also reduced their insulin and stress hormone levels.

It promotes the absorption of minerals: Magnesium helps the body to absorb vital vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium and phosphorous. Absorption of minerals occurs in the small intestine and this helps in the detoxification of many harmful toxins in the body.

It clams nerves and anxiety: For GABA to function effectively, magnesium is needed; GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that produces serotonin the happy hormone. This mineral also helps to regulate hormones that calm the brain and promote relaxation. A deficiency in this mineral can affect sleep (can lead to insomnia), it can also lead to depression, stress and anxiety.

It controls the functions of the bladder: Bladder problems come with discomforting signs and symptoms like frequent urge to urinate; magnesium can give relief to those suffering this. It also fights infections, interstitial cystitis and nephritis which contribute to bladder control issues.

It fights depression: This essential mineral plays a critical role in the functions of the brain which can affect mood; many studies have linked low levels of magnesium to an increased risk of depression. Some experts believe that low level of magnesium in modern foods may be responsible for the cases of mental illnesses and depression and magnesium supplements have help to reduce the symptoms of depression and it is even effective in improving mood as an anti-depressant drug.

It treats sleep disorders: Magnesium makes it easier for one to fall asleep and get a good night’s rest. The circadian rhythm shifts as one ages and this can be caused by nutritional deficiency; it puts aged people at risk of insomnia. It lowers the symptoms of insomnia, improves sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset, it lowers the concentration of cortisol and aids early morning awakening.

It is effective against type II diabetes: Health experts believe that 48% of diabetics are deficient in this mineral; low levels of magnesium in the body can impair the ability of insulin in regulating the amount of blood sugar.

A study proved that those with the lowest intake of magnesium have a higher risk of developing diabetes; while those with the highest intake were 47% less likely to become diabetic. In another study, diabetics who took high doses of magnesium each day had significant improvement in their blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c levels.

The effects will depend on how much magnesium you are getting from foods because some studies did not see improvement in blood sugar or insulin when magnesium supplements were used on people who are deficient in this mineral.

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It prevents constipation and other digestive problems: This mineral relaxes the muscles within the digestive tract and intestinal walls and these control digestion and bowel movement. Magnesium neutralizes stomach acid and moves stool freely through the intestine and thereby help one poop freely. Researchers have linked low intake of magnesium with constipation and when given magnesium supplements, the constipation reduced and some studies showed that it is effective than most laxatives.

It lowers blood pressure: Studies have shown the ability of this mineral to lowers blood pressure; in one study, people who took 450 mg of magnesium every day had a significant decrease in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure; it had no effect on those with normal blood pressure, only those with high blood pressure.

It relieves muscle aches and spasms: This mineral has an important role to play in neuromuscular signals and muscle contractions; when the level of magnesium in the body is low, one will experience muscle spasms. This mineral enables the muscle to relax and contract and it helps one to move around. It also helps to balance the levels of calcium in the body because accumulation of calcium in the body caused by supplements can cause problems in the control of muscles including the muscles of the heart.

It reduces inflammation: Chronic inflammation which causes rapid aging, chronic diseases and obesity has been linked with a deficiency in magnesium; deficiency of this mineral leads to the highest levels of inflammatory markers and it increases the levels of blood sugar, insulin and triacylglycerides. Magnesium supplements can reduce CRP (C-Reactive Proteins) and other markers of inflammation in older adults; obese people and those with pre-diabetes.

It regulates the levels of calcium, potassium and sodium: Magnesium plays a crucial role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across the membranes of the cells; magnesium works with calcium to form the structural component of the bones and it is also required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA and the powerful antioxidant glutathione.

It prevents migraines: Migraines are different from regular headaches; they are painful and debilitating headaches, it comes along with nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise. Some researchers are of the opinion that those who suffer from migraines are more likely to be deficient in magnesium and a few studies prove that magnesium can prevent and treat migraines.

In one study; one gram of magnesium supplement provided relief from migraine more quickly and effectively than a common medication, magnesium rich foods also helps in reducing the symptoms of migraines. The way magnesium control migraine headache pain is by releasing pain reducing hormones, reducing vasoconstriction or constriction of blood vessels; it can do this because it is involved in the functions of neurotransmitters and circulation of blood.

It is important for the heart: The heart needs this mineral to function properly; the left ventricle of the heart has a very high amount of magnesium; when there is a deficiency in this mineral a heart occur can occur due to severe muscle spasm. Magnesium also works with calcium to support proper blood pressure levels and prevent hypertension.

It reduces insulin resistance: The metabolic disease type II diabetes is mostly caused by insulin resistance and this condition is characterized by the inability of the muscles and liver cells to properly absorb sugar from the bloodstream.

Many people with this disease are deficient in magnesium which plays a crucial role in this process. Insulin resistance leads high levels of insulin in the bloodstream which can lead to the loss of magnesium in the urine further leading to a deficiency in this nutrient. Increasing the intake of magnesium can help this condition; supplementing also reduces insulin resistance and blood sugar levels even in people who have no diabetes.

It prevents osteoporosis: The bones require magnesium for proper formation; it also influences the activities of osteoclasts and osteoblasts that help in building a healthy bone density. It also helps in balancing the concentration of vitamin D in the blood which is needed to regulate bone homeostasis; high intake of this mineral leads to increased bone mineral density in both men and women. Research also shows that this mineral can prevent and reverse osteoporosis in women when they increase their magnesium intake.

It improves the symptoms of PMS: PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) is a common disorder among women of child bearing age; during this period they experience irritability, mood swings, fatigue, abdominal cramps and water retention. Increasing the intake of magnesium at this time will improve mood, reduce the retention of water and relieve other symptoms of PMS.

Preeclampsia: Intravenous doses of Magnesium are sued as standard treatment for preeclampsia which is a type of hypertension induced by pregnancy; it prevents the progression of preeclampsia to eclampsia and its eclamptic seizures that accompany it. It reduced high blood pressure because it acts as a calcium antagonist and facilitates the release of prostaglandins which reduce inflammation and mediate blood pressure.

How is the level of magnesium measured in the body?

Assessing the level of magnesium in the body is difficult because most of the magnesium in the body is located in the bones, skeletal system and in the cells; it is not located in the blood and this makes the test difficult and misleading.

Despite this, the level of magnesium is still assessed by measuring the concentration of magnesium in the blood (serum), saliva and urine. No single method is accurate and that is why health experts advise people to include magnesium rich foods in their everyday diet.

What happens when magnesium is deficient in the body?

We already know the role this vital mineral plays in the body and when it is little or absent in the body, it can cause serious symptoms and conditions like: hypertension, cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, liver damage, migraine, Alzheimer’s disease, headaches, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, loss of appetite, fatigue, numbness and tingling, seizures, personality changes, allergies, kidney stones, thyroid problems, respiratory issues, type II diabetes, confusion and poor memory, weight loss, infertility, anxiety, mood swings, tremors or involuntary eye movement, asthma, irritability, panic attacks, blood clots, bowel disease, irregular heart rhythm and spasm, nutrient deficiencies (like vitamin K, vitamin B1, calcium and potassium), restless leg syndrome, worsened symptoms of PMS and menstrual cramps, insomnia, behavioral disorders, osteoporosis, tooth cavities, muscle weakness and cramps, impotence, preeclampsia and eclampsia, recurrent bacterial or fungal infection due to low levels of nitric oxide or a suppressed immune system.

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Natural sources of Magnesium

Magnesium is present in any food that contains dietary fiber; it is found in green leafy vegetables, avocados, almonds, cashews, potatoes, pumpkin seeds, peanut, shrimps, brown rice, raw cow milk, shrimps, blacked eyed peas, sea vegetables, tomatoes, lima beans, artichokes, kidney beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, dark chocolate, quinoa, halibut, salmon, mackerel, spinach, Swiss chard, black beans, mug beans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, soy milk, oatmeal, edamame,  bananas, melons, nuts, seeds, legumes and some whole grains and magnesium supplements.

This is the best way to get your magnesium because there is no risk of toxicity or overdose because it is present in little amount in these foods. Magnesium also works best when combined with other nutrients like vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

It is better to focus on a healthy diet that includes all the above mentioned foods to meet the daily requirement for this vital mineral; supplements should only be used in severe cases of deficiency and it should be prescribed by a doctor and taken under his supervision.

Magnesium supplements

These are taken to increase the content of magnesium in the body but it must be recommended by a doctor; because they can cause adverse side effects when overtaken or taken for a long time. These supplements are available in a variety of forms; the type that dissolves in liquid is easily absorbed in the gut than the less soluble forms. The different types of magnesium supplements that are common are:

Magnesium Chelate: This type is usually bound to multiple amino acids and it restores the normal level of magnesium in the body; it is the type that is commonly found in most natural foods and it is highly absorbable by the body.

Magnesium Orotate: This type has orotic acid and it is beneficial to the heart.  

Magnesium Citrate: This type is combined with citric acid and it can have laxative effect in some cases when taken in high doses; it improves digestion and prevents constipation and other problems associated with digestion.

Magnesium Threonate: This type is not always available; it has a high level of absorbability and it can easily penetrate the mitochondrial membrane.

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Magnesium Glycinate: This is mostly recommended for anyone with a deficiency in magnesium; it is highly absorbable and it is less likely to cause laxative effects.

Magnesium Chloride Oil: This is an oily form of magnesium supplement; it can be applied to the skin, hair, feet and other body parts. It is also given to people with digestive problems and disorders that prevent normal absorption of magnesium from their foods; it is used by athletes to reduce muscle pain, heal wounds and skin irritations and to also increase energy and endurance.  

It is believed that the magnesium in citrate, chelate and chloride forms are absorbed better than the magnesium supplements in oxide and magnesium sulfate forms. Intravenous or injected magnesium is used in the treatment of eclampsia during pregnancy and during severe asthma attacks; it is also the main ingredient in many laxatives and antacids.

What are the side effects of taking magnesium supplements?

Though these supplements work and are effective in handling some medical conditions; they also give side effects when taken in higher doses or over a long period of time. Some of the side effects from overdose of magnesium supplements are Nausea, cramps, diarrhea, upset stomach, low blood pressure, kidney problems, retention of urine, depression, lethargy, cardiac arrest, difficulty breathing, loss of control of the central nervous system and coma and in extreme cases, death.

Magnesium supplements should not be taken in some medical conditions; that is why it is not good to self-prescribe supplements and drugs. People with intestinal disease, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease should contact their doctor before taking these supplements.

These supplements should also be avoided when on certain medications because it cause interact with some drugs and cause problems. People who are taking diuretics, antibiotics and heart medicines should ask their doctors if it is safe to add magnesium supplements.

What are the causes of magnesium deficiency?

  • Deletion of nutrients in the soil; this lowers the lowers the amount of magnesium available to crops and it affects the presence of this vital mineral in crops
  • High intake of processed foods and soft drinks
  • Regular intake of soft water although too much hard water can harm the kidneys
  • Digestive disorders that leads to malabsorption of magnesium in the gut.
  • Birth control pills can affect the absorption of magnesium
  • Over medications; high use of prescription medication and antibiotics can damage the digestive tract and affect the absorption and utilization of magnesium.
  • Alcohol
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Aging
  • Too much sugar; over consumption of sugar can lead to this because sugar is an anti-nutrient
  • Genetic disorders

How much magnesium does the body need?

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Below is the recommended dietary allowance for all ages:

Children:

  • Birth to 6 months needs 30 mg/day
  • 7 months to 11 months needs 75 mg/day
  • 1 – 3 years needs 80 mg/day
  • 4 – 8 years needs 130 mg/day
  • 9 – 13 years needs 240 mg/day

Males:

  • 14 – 18 years needs 410 mg/day
  • 19 – 30 years needs 400 mg/day
  • 31 years and above needs 420 mg/day

Females:

  • 14 – 18 years needs 360 mg/day
  • 19 – 30 years needs 310 mg/day
  • 31 years and above needs 320 mg/day

Pregnant females:

  • Under 19 years of age needs 400 mg/day
  • 19 to 30 years needs 350 mg/day
  • 31 years and above needs 360 mg/day
  • Breastfeeding females:
  • Under 19 years of age needs 360 mg/day
  • 19 to 30 years needs 310 mg/day
  • 31 years and above needs 320 mg/day

Effective absorption of magnesium depends on:

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  • The diet as a whole
  • The overall magnesium status of the person
  • The health status of the gastrointestinal tract
  • The amount of magnesium in the diet

References;

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26404370
  2. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/34/9/2116%20%20
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25748766
  4. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/121311p12.shtml
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25540137
  6. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#en54%20
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25748766
  8. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390811003054%20
  9. http://www.ancient-minerals.com/magnesium-benefits/health/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19271419
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16542786
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22364157
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17172008
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24465574
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26322160
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  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25204013
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  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19020533
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19359148

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