4 Ways Magnesium Can Improve Your Health

magnesium rich foods

magnesiumWhat nutrient keeps your bones strong, blood pressure normal, heart beating normally and can decrease risk of diabetes? Bet you didn’t think magnesium was the answer. Magnesium does a lot more than send you running to the bathroom during a colonoscopy prep! (and this is megadoses of magnesium). Magnesium is probably the most overlooked “super-nutrient”. It’s estimated that 50 – 80% of the population is deficient in it, which probably means you! Interested yet? Learn about the role magnesium plays in health, assess if you are at risk for deficiency and find out how to increase your intake of magnesium rich foods.

Magnesium and Health
Magnesium is a mineral that can’t be made in the body so you need to consume adequate amounts daily. Every organ in the body needs it – especially the heart, muscles, and kidneys. Magnesium plays a role in over 300 processes in the body, including:

Magnesium plays an important role in glucose metabolism. It’s been found that a higher dietary intake of magnesium is associated with a significantly lower risk of diabetes. People who have diabetes tend to lose more magnesium in their urine. This subsequent magnesium inadequacy can impair insulin secretion and actions – worsening diabetes control. And if you have insulin resistance or prediabetes, consuming adequate amounts of magnesium can decrease your chances of getting diabetes by 32%.  Low levels of magnesium might worsen insulin resistance (a condition that often precedes diabetes). Lastly, healthy people with the highest magnesium intake were 37% less likely to develop prediabetes or insulin resistance than people with lower intakes. (reference)

*of note, the American Diabetes Association states that there is insufficient evidence to support the routine use of magnesium to improve glycemic control in people with diabetes.

Heart Health
Studies have found that higher serum levels of magnesium were significantly associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and higher dietary magnesium intakes were associated with a significantly lower risk of ischemic heart disease caused by a reduced blood supply to the heart muscle. Adequate magnesium intake has also been linked to decreased risk of stroke and lowered blood pressure.

Bone Health
1 in 3 women over 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will 1 in 5 men (reference).  Magnesium is an important component of bone health and is involved in bone formation. It also affects the concentrations of both parathyroid hormone and the active form of vitamin D, which are major regulators of bone homeostasis. Studies have found positive associations between magnesium intake and bone mineral density in both men and women. It’s also been suggested that magnesium deficiency might be a risk factor for osteoporosis. Diets that provide recommended levels of magnesium enhance bone health.depressed woman

Migraine headaches
Magnesium deficiency is related to factors that promote headaches, including neurotransmitter release and vasoconstriction. People who experience migraine headaches have lower levels of serum and tissue magnesium than those who do not. Some studies have shown that magnesium supplementation can reduce frequency of migraines; however more research is needed in this area. In their evidence-based guideline update, the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society concluded that magnesium therapy is “probably effective” for migraine prevention. However magnesium supplementation needs to be discussed with your doctor. (reference)

Other: magnesium also plays a role in proper functioning and relaxation of the body’s muscles, preventing muscle cramps, gastrointestinal health, possibly helping with sleep disorders, PMS, depression and fibromyalgia… to name a few.

Why are so many people deficient in magnesium?
Several reasons, including:
Our food supply contains reduced levels of minerals as compared to 50 years ago due to farming techniques
Stress depletes your body of magnesium … and who isn’t stressed out?
The bioavailability of magnesium in food is low (it’s difficult to absorb and utilize it)
Inadequate dietary intake
Chronic dieting
Numerous medications can affect your magnesium status. You may want to discuss this with your doctor.
Lastly, certain people may be more at risk for a magnesium deficiency, including people with gastrointestinal diseases,  type 2 diabetes, alcohol dependence and older adults.


How much Magnesium do you need a day?

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Magnesium
Adult males ages 19-30: 400 mg
ages 31+: 420 mg
Adult females: ages 19-30: 310 mg (pregnancy: 350 mg, lactation: 310 mg)
ages 31+: 320 mg (pregnancy: 360 mg, lactation: 320 mg)

How to test if you are deficient in magnesium
Here’s the catch – while most of us probably are deficient in magnesium, there aren’t any really accurate tests to check your magnesium levels. This is because most magnesium is inside cells or in bone, not in your blood. But despite this, the most common way to test magnesium levels is to get your serum magnesium levels checked in a blood test. Other experts, including Dr. Dennis Goodman, say a more accurate blood test is called a magnesium red blood cell (RBC-Mg) test. To comprehensively evaluate magnesium status, both laboratory tests and a clinical assessment might be required.

Food sources of magnesium 

Food Milligrams  (mg) per serving Percent DV*
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce (about 24 nuts) 80 20
Spinach, boiled, ½ cup 78 20
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce (about 18 nuts) 74 19
Cacao nibs, 1 oz 64 16
Peanuts, oil roasted, ¼ cup 63 16
Cereal, shredded wheat, 2 large biscuits 61 15
Soymilk, plain or vanilla, 1 cup 61 15
Black beans, cooked, ½ cup 60 15
Edamame, shelled, cooked, ½ cup 50 13
Peanut butter, smooth, 2 tablespoons 49 12
Bread, whole wheat, 2 slices 46 12
Avocado, cubed, 1 cup 44 11
Potato, baked with skin, 3.5 ounces 43 11
Rice, brown, cooked, ½ cup 42 11
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces 42 11
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the DV for magnesium 40 10
Oatmeal, instant, 1 packet 36 9
*Oatmeal, steel cut, ½ cup cooked
Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup 35 9
Banana, 1 medium 32 8
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces 26 7
Milk, 1 cup 24–27 6–7
Halibut, cooked, 3 ounces 24 6
Raisins, ½ cup 23 6
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 22 6
Beef, ground, 90% lean, pan broiled, 3 ounces 20 5
Broccoli, chopped and cooked, ½ cup 12 3

Are supplements needed?cacao nibs
I always say “food first”. However some people may benefit from a supplement if they know they won’t meet their needs through diet, are at risk for a deficiency (see above) or have a medical condition that may warrant extra supplementation (i.e. migraines or some GI diseases). Discuss supplements with your doctor before taking them as more is not better. In general, the amount found in a standard multivitamin or the RDA would be your goal – however this will vary from person to person. almonds

Bottom line
, I bet you’ll be hearing more about the health benefits of magnesium as times goes on. It’s the “missing mineral” from most of our diets. In writing this blog post, I was amazed at all the processes in the body it’s involved in. I was especially pleased to see that 2 of my favorite foods – almonds and cacao nibs are high in magnesium.


Magnesium Health Professional Fact Sheet
Magnificant Magnesium, Your Essential Key to a Healthy Heart and More book written by  Dr. Dennis Goodman, a physician in NYC who is also the Director of Integrative Medicine at New York Medical Associates in NYC.  I would highly recommend this book to learn more about magnesium.






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