Magnesium is an often overlooked mineral is gaining new popularity as scientists discover its importance to overall health
Magnesium benefits have made this an emerging superstar mineral, but for decades it’s been so underrated that one study called it an “orphan nutrient.” In the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s online database at pubmed.gov, there are more than five times as many scientific articles about calcium as there are about magnesium, yet both are equally essential for the function of the human body.
The Calcium-Magnesium Partnership
These two minerals are somewhat like the opposite ends of a dimmer switch. Calcium gives bones their hardness and makes things happen by exciting nerves, contracting muscles, and contributing to the inflammation necessary to fight invaders or injury. Magnesium gives bones some flexibility, keeps them from becoming brittle, and has a “chilling out” effect, relaxing nerves and muscles and reducing inflammation. Calcium is necessary for blood to clot so that wounds can heal, while magnesium prevents harmful clots and keeps blood flowing.
When we experience a stressful situation, whether it’s an irritable boss, a traffic jam, or a workout at the gym, calcium contributes to the fight-or-flight response that kicks in, and if there isn’t enough magnesium to calm things down, we stay stressed. And without enough magnesium, high calcium levels can lead to stiff arteries and heart disease.
Magnesium Benefits: More Reasons Why Magnesium is Essential
A natural component of every cell in the human body, magnesium is essential for more than 300 internal processes that go on all the time to sustain life, including energy production. A study of post-menopausal women tested performance on a stationary bike, before and after eating a low-magnesium diet, and found that lack of the mineral made a significant difference. With low magnesium, women used 10–15 percent more energy and their heart rate increased by 10 beats per minute while doing the same amount of cycling. Magnesium can also improve sleep. In studies, other benefits of magnesium have included:
- Less risk of asthma
- Protection against type 2 diabetes
- Less depression
- Relief from symptoms of fibromyalgia
- Protection against hearing loss from very loud noise
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer and shorter migraine headaches
- Lower odds of irregular heart rhythm
- Relief from premenstrual syndrome
- Less risk for osteoporosis
Did You Know?
The U.S. government didn’t start recommending minimum intakes of magnesium until 1968—27 years after issuing calcium recommendations.
Today’s Calcium-Magnesium Imbalance
While lack of either mineral is bad for health, magnesium is the one likely to fall short because:
- Calcium is widely advertised as an essential nutrient.
- Calcium supplements are recommended by doctors.
- Calcium is added to many foods and drinks.
In comparison, magnesium doesn’t have a voice. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a TV commercial touting a food because it contains lots of magnesium?
The optimum ratio of calcium to magnesium is estimated to be 2:1 from all sources, including food and supplements, but in the average U.S. diet, it’s estimated to be 3:1, meaning too much calcium and too little magnesium.
Good sources of magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. As an example, a half-cup of cooked spinach or 1 ounce of dry-roasted almonds contains about 80 mg of magnesium, which is around 20 percent of the daily minimum recommended amount.
Forms of Magnesium in Supplements
Some forms of magnesium are more easily absorbed or are recommended for specific situations. Forms considered to be absorbed more easily include those labelled as “chelated,” and magnesium glycinate, malate, citrate, taurate, threonate, and orotate. Magnesium malate is often recommended to relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia, and magnesium threonate is sometimes formulated for brain health.
Taking more magnesium than the body can absorb can result in loose stools, and is more likely with the magnesium oxide form. The problem is easily solved by taking less of the supplement. Magnesium hydroxide is a form used in laxatives and antacids.
Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin. Epsom salt baths have been popular for years, and more recently, other magnesium salts for soaking or bathing, as well as magnesium creams and lotions, have become available.
Who doesn’t get enough magnesium?
A growing number of researchers, integrative physicians, and nutritionists consider that the U.S. government-recommended amounts of magnesium are too low and that lack of magnesium is much more prevalent than official surveys show. Even so, this is how many people are not getting the minimum recommended daily amounts (400–420 mg for men and 320–360 for most women):
|Overall U.S. population||About 50%|
|Teens||75% of boys|
|87% of girls|
|After age 70||79% of men|
|70% of women|
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Contributing editor Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. As a journalist, she specializes in covering research and expert knowledge that empowers people to lead better lives. For more information, visit www.veratweed.com.