Magnesium: everything you need to know about this important micronutrient

There has been a lot of chatter on social media over the past few months about the importance of magnesium supplements. Many suggest that symptoms such as trouble sleeping, tense muscles and low energy are all signs that you are deficient and should take a magnesium supplement.

It turns out that many of us are probably deficient in magnesium. According to research, most do not consume the recommended amount of magnesium to meet our body’s needs. It is also estimated that in developed countries between 10 and 30% of the population has a mild magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium is one of many micronutrients the body needs to stay healthy. It is essential to help over 300 enzymes carry out numerous chemical processes in the body, including those that produce protein, support strong bones, control blood sugar and blood pressure, and maintain healthy muscles and nerves. Magnesium also acts as an electrical conductor that aids heartbeat and muscle contraction.

Considering how important magnesium is to the body, it can eventually lead to a range of health problems if you don’t get enough of it. But even though most of us are probably deficient in magnesium, that doesn’t mean you should turn to supplements to make sure you’re getting enough. In fact, with proper planning, most of us can get all the magnesium we need from the foods we eat.

Signs of deficiency

Most people with a magnesium deficiency go undiagnosed because magnesium levels in the blood do not accurately reflect how much magnesium is actually stored in our cells. Not to mention that signs that your magnesium levels are low only become apparent by the time you are deficient. Symptoms include weakness, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. But the symptoms you have and their severity will depend on how low your magnesium levels are. Left unchecked, a magnesium deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of certain chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, migraines and Alzheimer’s disease.

While anyone can develop a magnesium deficiency, certain groups are more at risk than others – including children and adolescents, the elderly and postmenopausal women.

Conditions such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel syndrome, which make it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients, can make you more susceptible to magnesium deficiency, even with a healthy diet. People with type 2 diabetes and alcoholics are also more likely to have low magnesium levels.

In addition, the vast majority of people in developed countries are at risk of magnesium deficiency due to chronic diseases, certain prescription drugs (such as diuretics and antibiotics, which lower magnesium levels), declining magnesium levels in crops, and diets high in processed foods.

You can get enough through your diet

Given the many problems that can arise as a result of low magnesium levels, it is important to ensure that you are getting enough through your diet.

The recommended amount of magnesium that a person should consume daily depends on their age and health. But in general, men ages 19-51 should get between 400-420mg per day, while women should aim for 310-320mg.

Although fruits and vegetables are lower in magnesium now than they were 50 years ago—and processing removes about 80% of this mineral from food—it’s still possible to get all the magnesium you need in your diet if you plan carefully. Foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, green leafy vegetables (such as kale or broccoli), milk, yogurt, and fortified foods are all high in magnesium. One ounce of almonds alone contains 20% of an adult’s daily magnesium requirement.

While most of us can get all the magnesium we need from the foods we eat, certain groups, such as older adults and people with certain health conditions, may need a magnesium supplement. But it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any supplements.

While magnesium supplements are safe in their suggested dosages, it’s important to take only the recommended amount. Taking too much can cause certain side effects, including diarrhea, a bad mood, and low blood pressure. It is also vital that people with kidney disease do not take them unless prescribed.

Magnesium can also alter the effectiveness of several medications, including some common antibiotics, diuretics, and heart medications, in addition to over-the-counter antacids and laxatives. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor before starting magnesium supplements.

Magnesium supplements are not a quick fix. While they may be necessary at times, they do not address the underlying causes of your deficiency, such as certain health conditions that may contribute to low levels. That’s why it’s important to focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes exercise, good sleep, and a balanced diet. Not to mention that vitamins and minerals are better absorbed by the body when they come from whole foods.

Hazel Flight, nutrition and health program leader, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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