Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?

Magnesium is finally getting the attention it deserves. This mineral can help treat everything from acute attacks of asthma in children to migraine headaches, and depression. Magnesium also protects against the development of type 2 diabetes, provides pain relief for people suffering from fibromyalgia, and may even prevent hearing loss.

Every organ in the body—especially the heart, muscles, and kidneys—requires magnesium to function efficiently. Some experts would argue it plays a more vital role in overall health than other minerals in the body. Magnesium is responsible for carrying out more than 300 biochemical reactions.

Additionally, this powerful mineral keeps heart rhythm steady, maintains normal blood pressure, helps regulate sugar levels, promotes a healthy immune system and assists in energy production. If that's not enough, this tireless nutrient is also a major component of strong teeth and bones.

Get Enough Magnesium

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), magnesium deficiencies are rarely seen in the United States but dietary surveys suggest that many Americans aren't getting enough. This may be because as a nation we are fond of coffee and like our workouts challenging—caffeine and sweat can leach magnesium from the body. The recommended daily allowance of magnesium for men is 420 mg daily.

Researchers believe that having sufficient stores of magnesium is important for protection against cardiovascular and immune system disorders. Having a healthy digestive system and kidneys that do their job properly (magnesium gets excreted from the body through urine, too) ensure that the body keeps and maximizes the magnesium it gets.

Magnesium can also be added to the body through diet, so eating the right foods—and taking a supplement if advised—can make a difference. Magnesium-rich foods include:

  • Lean meats and poultry
  • Fish (especially halibut and cod)
  • Dark, green leafy vegetables like beet greens and spinach
  • Beans and legumes (such as soy beans, baked beans, and lentils)
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachio, pine, and Brazil nuts)
  • Raisin bran cereal
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Bananas
  • Whole wheat and oat flour
  • Pumpkin and squash seeds

Ruth Frechman, MA, RD, author of The Food is My Friend Diet and spokesperson for the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shares this magnesium-rich meal:

½ cup cooked, frozen spinach 78mg

1 cup brown rice 84mg

1 cup pinto beans 86mg

1 cup milk 27mg

Snack: 2 ounces almonds 160mg

Total magnesium: 435 mg

Kick up your magnesium by adding sage, dried mustard, basil, fennel seed, cumin seed, tarragon, marjoram, and coriander to your food. Seaweed, dill weed, and celery seed contain this important mineral too.

Need a reason to indulge in chocolate? You guessed it—cocoa is a rich source of magnesium and so is one other often-forbidden food—potatoes! But be sure to eat the skins.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include abnormal heart rhythms, muscle spasms and weakness, poor nail growth, confusion, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and in rare cases, seizures. As magnesium deficiency worsens, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions, and cramps can occur.

People with Crohn's disease and other gastrointestinal disorders are typically monitored for magnesium deficiency but if you've had a bout of excessive vomiting and diarrhea and aren't feeling back to normal yet, taking extra magnesium may help. Be sure to consult your physician first however.

Older adults are at increased risk of magnesium deficiency since many prescription medications can interfere with the body's ability to absorb magnesium. Certain diuretics (Lasix, Bumes, Edecrin, and hydrochlorothiazide), antibiotics (Gentamicin and Amphotericin) and anti-neoplastic medication used to treat cancer can be problematic.

If you suspect a problem, speak to your doctor. She can test your magnesium levels and suggest dietary changes or suggest taking magnesium supplements to get you feeling better soon.




National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements

Interview with Ruth Frechman, RD
Author, The Food is my Friend Diet
University of Maryland