Because it is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions in our body, magnesium is vital for good health. It is the fourth most bioavailable mineral and usually boasts a high absorption rate. A good intake ensures an optimum state of health and even improves severe medical conditions such as osteoporosis, depression and hypertension and symptoms such as muscle cramps, eyelid twitching, dizziness or frail bones. Magnesium indirectly contributes to strong, healthy bones, nervous system, muscle and cardiovascular health.
Ensuring an optimal intake is fairly easy, considering that most green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as cocoa and dark chocolate provide generous amounts of the mineral. However, it’s just as easy to burn through our magnesium reserves as it is to make them. For example, prolonged periods of stress can deplete our body of all of its magnesium and have us suffering the side effects of a deficiency. Even if we take supplements, they would have to be the right formula to ensure a high enough absorption rate that would correct a deficiency.
Factors impacting magnesium absorption
One of the most common magnesium forms in supplements, magnesium oxide, has an average absorption rate of 4%; in the best of conditions, the absorption rate is up to 10%. In other words, it is possible to be magnesium deficient even with a normal diet and supplementation, if the supplements contain a form with a low absorption rate. Find out more about the different magnesium forms and which to choose based on their absorption rate.
Moreover, different conditions can further impair magnesium absorption. For example, various digestive conditions can, in time, lead to malabsorption problems which means a reduced absorption of nutrients in general. Prolonged use of antibiotics can deplete magnesium and B vitamins reserves as well. Chronic stress, anxiety and depression are the top three mental health conditions that eat up magnesium and predispose to severe deficiencies.
As a mineral of great dietary importance, magnesium is essential for an overall good health. About 50% of the body’s reserves are stored in bones, while approximately 1% is found in our blood. Our body struggles to maintain constant levels of magnesium because usually only 40% of the ingested amounts are absorbed. In comparison to other minerals, this is a fairly high bioavailability. The rest is stored mostly in the cells of our muscles and internal organs.
However, an excessive intake of magnesium supplements and magnesium-based pharmaceuticals such as antacids or laxatives can lead to some unpleasant health effects which is why it is best to follow your physician or pharmacist’s advice closely and not exceed the recommended intake. Now let’s see what are the health benefits of magnesium.
What is magnesium good for?
First of all, magnesium is important for the good functioning of muscles and nerves. Since the heart is the biggest muscle in our body, it is only logical that an adequate magnesium intake is good for the heart. To be more exact, the mineral maintains a good heart rhythm, preventing the occasional skipped heart beats or palpitations as a result of excessive heat, stress or bad dietary habits such as a high caffeine intake.
To prevent such symptoms, magnesium is usually associated with potassium food supplements; this is a combination your physician may recommend especially during hot summer days or during periods of intense stress or physical effort. Also, research suggests that ensuring an adequate intake will, in time, significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, atherosclerosis and stroke.
In addition to this, magnesium promotes strong, healthy bones. Because it maximizes calcium absorption, it is recommended for people suffering from calcium deficiency and osteoporosis. Moreover, it helps regulate blood sugar levels, thus promoting normal blood pressure. Numerous studies suggest that adequate magnesium supplementation helps keep type 2 diabetes under control due to the capacity of the mineral to regulate glucose (sugar) levels. Magnesium supports energy metabolism and protein synthesis as well.
In case of a low dietary intake over prolonged periods of time, magnesium deficiency can occur. Symptoms include eye or eyelid twitching, muscles spasms, twitching at the level of the face, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity, high blood pressure, extrasystoles, brittle bones, high blood sugar levels and even type 2 diabetes. Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the deficiency.
List of benefits of magnesium
Here is a summary of the most important health benefits of magnesium:
- Maintains a regular heart rhythm, prevents and helps treat extrasystoles, palpitations and other forms of arrhythmia.
- Helps lower the risk for and prevent heart attacks.
- Regulates blood sugar levels and reduces risks of type 2 diabetes.
- Reduces insulin resistance and helps regulate insulin metabolism.
- Improves sleep quality, reducing feelings of agitation, unease, unrest, anxiety and stress.
- Helps treat panic attacks, anxiety disorder and stress-related physiologic symptoms.
- Helps prevent and manage osteoporosis by contributing to bone makeup.
- Increases the absorption of other minerals such as calcium and potassium.
Since it is literally a life-saver, it is crucial that we meet our daily demands of magnesium. Although recommendations may vary slightly, it is believed that an average adult requires about 350-450 mg of magnesium per day in order to avoid a deficiency. Our diet should easily provide sufficient amounts of the mineral, which is why it is important to ensure we consume magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios and green leafy vegetables such as spinach. If you suspect you aren’t meeting your daily needs, ask your pharmacist or doctor for magnesium food supplements.
- Dietary magnesium intake and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective studies (PubMed 1)
- Magnesium intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis (PubMed 2)
Magnesium aspartate, lactate and gluconate are the best forms of the mineral because of their high absorption rates (59% and higher). Interesting enough, none of the three forms of magnesium are commonly present in dietary supplements. Aspartate at least is a rare sight, despite its high bioavailability. Why? One can only speculate. Anyway, since food sources are a primary contributor to our health, we should concentrate on getting sufficient magnesium from our diet. Only if our diet is not enough to meet our requirements should we turn to magnesium supplements.