Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, but did you know that we can only absorb 30% of the magnesium we eat?
The human body has what is called a ‘saturation level’ and once that level has been reached with the magnesium we have consumed, the small intestine can absorb no more.
Magnesium plays several important roles in the health of both your body and your brain. You may however not be getting the right amount of magnesium that you need even if you follow a balanced, healthy diet. The recommended daily consumption of magnesium is 400–420 mg per day for men and 310–320 mg per day for women. Magnesium is distributed throughout our body with 60% to bones, 26% to the muscles and the rest to soft tissue and fluids, including blood.
Foods rich in magnesium are green leafy vegetables, legumes and nuts, shellfish (especially mollusks: clams,mussels etc) and crustaceans such as prawns, lobster and shrimp. All these are part of the Mediterranean Diet, so if you follow this way of eating you will probably have no need to take magnesium supplements. There are exceptions however, for example if you suffer with conditions such as chronic diarrhea, alcoholism and kidney problems, or if you are taking diuretic drugs. These can lead to low magnesium levels, but consult a doctor who will prescribe supplements if needed.
How do you know if your body is low in magnesium?
The lack of this mineral is very rare and usually appears in patients who are staying in hospital. Some symptoms that may be experienced are tremors, nausea, muscle spasms, vomiting, anorexia, ventricular arrhythmias and changes in calcium and potassium levels.
So what other benefits does magnesium give us?
Magnesium fights depression
Magnesium plays a critical role in brain function and studies have shown that there may be a link between depression and magnesium deficiency. Taking a supplement may reduce symptoms of depression in some people and in some cases, the results can be dramatic. A randomized controlled trial in adults with depression, showed that by taking a 450mg supplement of magnesium improved mood as effectively as taking an antidepressant drug.
It has benefits against type 2 diabetes
Studies suggest that about 48% of people with type 2 diabetes have low levels of magnesium in their blood. This can affect the insulin's ability to keep blood sugar levels under control.
Additional research also indicated that people with a low magnesium intake have a higher risk of developing diabetes and another study that followed more than 4,000 people for 20 years discovered that those with the highest magnesium intake were 47% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
These effects however may depend on how much magnesium you are actually getting from food. This is because in a different study, magnesium supplements did not improve blood sugar or insulin levels in people who weren't deficient.
Magnesium can lower blood pressure
Studies have shown that taking magnesium can help lower blood pressure.
One study showed that people who took 450 mg per day experienced a significant decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. These benefits may however only occur in people who have high blood pressure.
A further study found that magnesium only lowered blood pressure in people with high blood pressure, but had no effect on those with normal levels.
It can help prevent migraines
Migraine headaches are not a pleasant thing to have at the best of times. They are painful, debilitating and can often be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise.
Some researchers believe that people who suffer from migraines are more likely than others to be deficient in magnesium. A few encouraging studies have in fact suggested that magnesium can prevent and even help treat migraines.
One study showed that taking a magnesium supplement of 1 gram provided relief from an acute migraine attack more quickly and effectively than a common medication. In addition to this, magnesium-rich foods may also help reduce migraine symptoms.
Magnesium improves PMS symptoms
Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS, is one of the most common disorders among women of childbearing age.
Symptoms can include water retention, tiredness, irritability and abdominal cramps. Interestingly though, magnesium has been shown to improve mood, reduce water retention and other symptoms in women with PMS.
Magnesium is absolutely essential for good health, you can get it from both food and supplements.