Magnesium - Everything You Need To Know

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

What does tofu, lava lamps, and Epson salts have in common? It is none other than the mineral known as magnesium, which helps coagulate tofu, create the "lava" in the lava lamp, and serves as the active ingredient in the soothing properties of Epson salts. Indeed, magnesium is a vital mineral the body cannot function without.

What Does Magnesium Do?

Important in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, this mineral can also help with:

  • Bone formation: Our bones contain roughly two thirds of our body's magnesium overall. The mineral is important in the formation of the physical bone structure, as it helps phosphorous and calcium binding.
  • Nerve and muscle function: Magnesium is known to help relax nerve and muscle tension by serving as a chemical gate blocker that stops calcium from activating, and tensing the muscle and nerves. Hence, in cases of magnesium deficiency, muscle tension, soreness and spasms are common.
  • Protection of cardiovascular system: Epson salts, which contain magnesium, are often used to treat a form of hypertension prevalent in pregnant women. This mineral also helps keep heart rhythms steady and maintain healthy blood pressure, which in turn, protects the cardiovascular system.
  • Metabolic functions: Magnesium interacts with many enzymes within the body, and is vital in many forms of energy metabolism and protein synthesis. It can help metabolize proteins, carbohydrates and fats, thus regulating blood sugar levels. Hence, magnesium is vital to almost all systems of the body, and can help ward off potential health diseases such as diabetes.

Food Sources of Magnesium

Since our body cannot spontaneously generate this mineral, we have to "outsource" magnesium to keep ourselves healthy. The most common way is through ingestion, either through naturally occurring food sources or through supplements. Below are some food sources rich in magnesium.

Fresh Vegetables

Deep-hued, green-colored vegetables, which are rich in chlorophyll, are great sources of magnesium. For example, spinach is often hailed as an excellent source of magnesium. Cruciferous vegetables such as Swiss chard, kale, broccoli and mustard greens are also full of the mineral, along with turnip greens, green beans, cucumber and celery. Summer squash and black eye peas, while not necessarily green in color, are still a great source of magnesium. To reap the maximum amount of nutrients, be sure to avoid overcooking these vegetables.

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, cashews, peanuts and soybeans, to name a few nuts, are attainable food sources of magnesium, and can be easily incorporated into the diet. Roasted or raw nuts can make healthy snacks, and nut butters, such as almond and peanut butter, are widely available in grocery stores. Seeds that are high in the mineral include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds. Next time you blend yourself a smoothie, throw a handful of flax seeds in there, or incorporate them into your favorite salad.

Whole Grains

Whole wheat products, such as buckwheat flour, contain a good amount of magnesium as the mineral is found in the outer bran shells, which are normally removed in refined flour or white bread. Whole grain cereals, such as oatmeal, are also high in magnesium. To incorporate whole grains into your diet, you can swap your usual white toast for whole wheat toast, or add some whole oats and bran flakes to your morning cereal. Better yet, swap the sugary cereals out altogether and replace it with healthy shredded wheat.

Other Sources

Sometimes, magnesium can be found in more unexpected food sources. For example, the "hard water" that leaves hard-to-remove water stains in the shower is actually rich in magnesium. Halibut, a type of fish, is also an excellent source of magnesium, as well as dairy products such as milk and yogurt.

Side Effects: Too Much or Too Little Magnesium?

When levels of magnesium are too low in the body, the body may give signs of symptoms of deficiency. The most common signs include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Muscle contractions and cramps
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rates
  • Headaches
  • Depression, seizures, or personality changes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

If left untreated, magnesium deficiency can lower calcium and potassium levels in the blood and result in serious medical conditions. Too little magnesium has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, anxiety disorders, migraines and osteoporosis.

While magnesium is very difficult to overdose if taken from natural food sources, individuals who take synthetic magnesium supplements can still be at risk of magnesium overdose. Too much of the mineral can decrease calcium absorption in the body. Signs and symptoms for magnesium toxicity, interestingly, are similar to magnesium deficiency, and may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in mental status
  • Extremely low blood pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss in appetite

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency or toxicity may indicate absorption problems within the digestive and renal systems. Therefore, be sure to consult a physician regarding these warning signs to rule out other possible health problems.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

The recommended dietary allowances for magnesium vary based on the individual's gender and age group:

Age in years

Male (daily)

Female (daily)

1 to 3

80 mg

80 mg

4 to 8

130 mg

130 mg

9 to 13

240 mg

240 mg

14 to 18

410 mg

360 mg

19 to 30

400 mg

310 mg

Over 31

420 mg

320 mg

For individuals who have pre-existing medical conditions or are taking prescribed medication, it is best to consult a doctor for the appropriate amount of magnesium that can be taken.

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