Magnesium, an essential mineral, is a micronutrient that is both humble and great. It holds the key to many different metabolic reactions but plays its role behind the scenes, disliking the limelight. Consumers aren’t fully aware of this powerhouse nutrient and the sheer magnitude of its importance on our health. This is why 50% of us are deficient in it without even realizing it, suffering from the symptoms of its deficiency. Unfortunately, the Western diet doesn’t provide many rich sources of magnesium and, compounded with life stresses and excessive amounts of caffeine (which depletes magnesium), it’s no wonder that so many of us are lacking in this vital mineral.
Magnesium is an essential mineral, which means we need to ingest it in order to meet the threshold for its optimal purpose. We can find magnesium in leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans,and dark chocolate. We can also find it in supplemental forms but there are some that are better absorbed by the body than others. Magnesium citrate, glycinate, acetyl taurate and malate are better absorbed than magnesium oxide and sulfate. Supplements are usually regarded as safe and not associated with significant side effects. However, the elderly and those with chronic kidney disease are more susceptible to hypermagnesemia, which essentially means high levels of magnesium. Extremely high levels of magnesium can lead to magnesium toxicity, which causes low blood pressure, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and even death. However, this is rare and usually caused by accidental overdose of supplements, laxatives and antacids that have magnesium in them. For this reason, the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) has created a Tolerable Upper Limit (UL) for supplemental magnesium of around 350 milligrams (mg) per day to prevent overdosing and significant side effects.
Now that we know how to attain magnesium, let’s learn about its wonderful job throughout the body. Magnesium is essential for carbohydrate metabolism and insulin secretion, and thereby important for blood glucose regulation. Diabetics are more at risk for magnesium deficiency through increased urinary secretion. A 2021 review of 25 studies found that magnesium supplements significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes and in those at high risk for diabetes, compared to placebo treatments. Not only is it important in blood glucose regulation but it’s also involved in blood pressure regulation. It promotes the release of nitric oxide, which helps relax blood vessels.
Magnesium also plays an important part in your body’s role in stress response. Pickering, Mazur and Trousselard (2020) showed through their research that people who are perpetually stressed have lower levels of magnesium than those who are not. It can also aid those who suffer from depression and anxiety through the same mechanisms. A 2017 study of 112 people with depression found that daily supplementation with 248 mg of magnesium chloride for 6 weeks led to significant improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to a placebo group.
Similarly, magnesium is necessary for proper nerve function, optimal blood flow to the brain and prevention of related inflammation. Deficiency is a risk factor for migraines and tension headaches. A number of studies show that magnesium supplements are helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of migraines and tension headaches. Magnesium also activates GABA, a neurotransmitter responsible for sleep regulation. This can help improve your sleep!
Magnesium is a big advocate for bone health as well. It helps maintain healthy bones by supporting osteoblasts, cells that support bone building and inhibiting osteoclasts, cells that break down bone. Our bones contain up to 60% of the total magnesium in our body! It’s also needed for the absorption and metabolism of Vitamin D, which plays a role in bone health as well.
This is a lot of information to take in, but I hope we realize the magnitude of magnesium and its capabilities of it potentially improving our lives if we take enough of it! Nutrients are here to help us perform optimally in all of our activities of daily living and promote not just longevity of life, but improved quality of life as well.
Melissa Papir is a registered dietician working in long-term care nutrition in Washington Heights, New York. She works with middle-aged to elderly residents to provide nutrition info that can help boost her clients’ quality of life. Melissa loves to write about nutrition in her spare time, and can be reached at [email protected]