Chronic illness of the gastrointestinal system frequently results in deficiencies in one or more important nutrients, such as magnesium. People who have Crohn's disease should be aware of their risks for such dietary deficiencies.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in our body. Fifty to 60 percent of our total magnesium supply is in our bones, and 27 percent is in our muscles.

This mineral, or micronutrient, is involved in more than 300 metabolic reactions in our body. It helps us metabolize carbohydrates and fats to produce the energy we need. Magnesium maintains nerve and muscle function, a steady heart rhythm, and is important for good bone health. It is also critical for healthy immune system. Fortunately, in normally, healthy individuals, true magnesium deficiency is rare.

One-third to one-half of our dietary magnesium is absorbed from our food, so people with Crohn's disease are more likely to suffer from magnesium deficiency thanks to gastrointestinal inflammation. This is particularly true in patients who have had a portion of their intestine removed. An inadequate supply of magnesium inhibits the immune system's ability to fight this-and other-diseases.

Since magnesium is critical for bone health, Crohn's patients are much more likely to develop osteoporosis, a disease that causes weakened bones and puts sufferers at risk for painful and potentially debilitating fractures.

The best way to prevent magnesium deficiency is to eat a balanced diet that includes foods from all the major food groups, including adequate servings of green vegetables such as spinach. The center of the chlorophyll molecule involved in photosynthesis in vegetable (and other) plants, contains magnesium, making them an excellent source of dietary magnesium. You can also find magnesium in many nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans. Processed or refined foods, such as white bread, are lacking in most nutrients.

Some of these magnesium-rich foods may be difficult for someone with Crohn's to tolerate, particularly if their disease is active. Persistent diarrhea, common in people with Crohn's disease, depletes your body of critical vitamins and minerals, further increasing your risk of magnesium deficiency.

Discuss your diet with your physician or a qualified nutritional expert who understands the needs of people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Together you can determine if it's appropriate for you to include magnesium supplements in your overall disease management plan.